Three dollars.

Roseate spoonbills, J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Roseate spoonbills, J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Fotophilius/Flickr

That is the amount of money per acre the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System has to spend to protect the 150 million acres of land under its care. In return, the 561 national wildlife refuges provide America with 34,000 jobs and an estimated $4.2 billion to local economies according to a report released last week by the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE). The report goes on to detail that 47 million people visit the refuges every year and that every dollar invested in the system returns up to $8 to local economies. And while national wildlife refuges benefit local economies, their main purpose is to provide habitat for animals that are frequently pushed out of their native lands.

Refuges provide a habitat for some 700 bird, 220 mammal, 250 reptile and amphibian, and 1,000fish species. The Fish and Wildlife Service has a wide range of responsibilities in all 50 states and even the Pacific Islands, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Navassa Island. With the increasingly tight budget, the refuges get added help from volunteers that help to accomplish 22 percent more work than can be accomplished by staffed positions. The combined efforts help protect some 280 threatened and endangered species. At American Forests, we want to help protect nature in every way possible — and help an agency that is already doing so much with so little — so we do our part by aiding restoration efforts in national wildlife refuges.

Each year, we help out various wildlife refuges. For instance, this year, we are helping put an end to forest fragmentation in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge by planting more than 33,000 trees — augmenting our more than 15 years of cooperative work in this refuge alone. This area of Texas is home to a wide variety of animals. The refuge is a popular destination for migrating birds with 530 species of birds accounted for. In addition, the refuge provides a safe living space for two big cats, the ocelot and jaguarundi. These animals help to keep the balance of a healthy ecosystem. The wildlife refuge land we work to keep healthy gives back to more than just wildlife, though. It gives back to us, too, through an array of ecosystem services.

Lower Klamath Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
Lower Klamath Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: International Rivers

The 150 million acres of refuge land serve Americans with countless recreational activities and a wide variety of ecosystem services, such as cleaning water and air, preventing floods and storing carbon. The ecosystem services these lands provide are estimated to be somewhere around $32.3 billion a year according to the CARE report.

National wildlife refuges are essential to the environmental well-being of this country, but it takes a certain amount of funding to keep them up and running. However, the money invested is gained back by local economies that rely on tourists who support business such as eco-tourism and the necessities like food and lodging. As previously stated, the returns can be up to 800 percent for these local economies. Beyond the money, we must realize how important and priceless these refuges are. Big and small, we support them all. Without them a great deal of biodiversity would be lost, and we would live in a country facing an increased amount of environmental problems. So, go out and enjoy your favorite wildlife refuge and remind our politicians that they should not cut funding for our national wildlife refuges.