BRICE PRAIRIE, WI (WXOW)—America's National Wildlife Refuges continue to be strong economic engines for local communities across the country.
Banking on Nature report found the refuges bring $2.4 billion into the national economy.
"This study shows that national wildlife refuges repay us in dollars and cents even as they enrich our lives by protecting America's natural heritage and providing great recreation," Dan Ashe, FWS Director said. "That's inspiring and important news, especially as our economy continues to gain strength."
Business at Schafer's Boats and Baits has been steady, for at least the eight years Tony Christnovich has owned it.
"I think it's the scenery number one," Christnovich said. "The bluff land, the water, the great fishing we've been having on Lake Onalaska and wide variety of fish we have."
Across the 19 county area the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge spans, visitors brought $161 million into the economy.
"You see what it does for the local communities and that's a return of almost 50 dollars for every appropriated dollar for operation and maintenance," Jim Nissen, District Manager, Upper Mississippi NWFR said.
He said the river attracts people here and having the refuge adds to that.
"We have quite a list of activities," Nissen said. "Right now we have hunting and fishing going and we have trapping and observation opportunities with waterfowl migration, eagle migration."
Even as much as the Upper Mississippi NWFR is used, Christnovich thinks it's still a well kept secret.
"A lot of people go out, go fishing on inland lakes, go up north and places like that," Christnovich said. "Actually we have some of the best fishing in the state of Wisconsin right on the river."
But we have to take care of the river to keep it that way.
"I think we have to become proactive and as a community," Christnovich said. "Whether it's Holmen, La Crosse, Onalaska, we should do something to preserve this lake so we continue to have good fishing."
And so those 4.4 million visitors keep coming to our area.
The National Wildlife Refuge System is the largest network of lands in the nation set aside for wildlife, with 561 national wildlife refuges – at least one refuge in every state – covering more than 150 million acres.
Wildlife-related recreation fuels much of this economic contribution. The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, which informs the Banking on Nature report and is published every five years by the Service, found that more than 90 million Americans, or 41 percent of the United States' population age 16 and older, pursued wildlife-related outdoor recreation in 2011, and spent nearly $145 billion.
Among other key findings from the USFWS Banking on Nature report:
Refuges showing standout economic returns or jobs include:
The Southeastern region of the U.S. – with the most refuges and many popular attractions, such asOkefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (GA), J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge (FL), and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (NC) – had the most visitors of any region – more than 12.4 million in FY 2011. The Southeastern region also generated the most combined jobs of any region: 9,455.
The Banking on Nature report used 92 national wildlife refuges for its economic sampling. Daily per-person spending data were drawn from the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation and the Service's Refuge Annual Performance Plan (RAPP) for FY 2011.
Researchers examined visitor spending in four areas: food, lodging, transportation and other expenses (such as guide fees, land-use fees and equipment rental). Local economies were defined as those within 50 miles of each of the 92 refuges studied. The national estimate was reached by extrapolating results for these 92 refuges to the Refuge System as a whole.
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