Don't Cut Down That Forest: Wildlife Refuges Are A $2.4 Billion Industry In The United States


Wildlife preserves are typically thought of as a necessary sacrifice for local communities. In place of more homes, businesses, and, one would think, money, residents get to enjoy the beauty of the region's natural surroundings.

A recent report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, however, found that wildlife refuges are a prime source of revenue for local towns and villages, Wisconsin Public Radio News reported. Nationwide, they represent a $2.4 billion industry.

Around 46 million people visited wildlife preserves in fiscal year 2011, according to the report. Their $2.4 billion in expenditures supported 35,000 jobs and $792.7 million in employment revenue. The government (at all levels) benefited via $342.9 million in additional tax revenue.

Preserves make money from entrance fees, parking fees, restaurants, gift shops, and more. Their visitors, also called eco tourists, are often not from the area. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' report, 70 percent of eco tourists aren't local, which means that a greater portion of outside revenue has a chance at funneling back into the local community. Non regional eco tourists also tend to spend more, accounting for 77 percent of all revenue.

Wildlife sanctuaries are self-sustaining, according to the report. Approximately 72 percent of expenditures came from non-consumptive recreation, such as hiking and camping, while the remaining 28 percent consisted of consumptive activities like hunting and fishing.

The 373-page report tracked 92 different refuges from all eight regions demarcated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. One of the largest and most visited park was the Upper Mississippi River Refuge, which stretches across four states. From bird watchers to deer and fowl hunters to nature lovers, the preserve generates a $145 million impact on the local area.

"They're jobs that support the recreation industry," said Jim Nissen, the refuge's La Crosse district manager, who also added that many of the park's visitors aren't from the area. "It could be someone working in a restaurant; it could be someone working at an entity that sells boats."

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