WASHINGTON, DC – Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and John Barrasso (R-WY), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, respectively, along with Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), Rep. Rob Wittman (VA-01), Rep. Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2), Rep. Garret Graves (LA-6), Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ-3), Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (I-NMI) and Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-05) have introduced a bipartisan bill to support our National Wildlife Refuge System. The Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act, H.R. 3979, will reauthorize the National Wildlife Refuge System volunteer, community partnership and education program. This program helps ensure public access to our refuges for exploring, hunting, fishing and studying wildlife.
America’s 561 National Wildlife Refuges are located in all 50 states and the five territories. They make up 850 million acres of pristine public lands and waters dedicated to the conservation of fish and wildlife. Wildlife refuge volunteers are individuals who want to give back to their communities, parents who want to be good stewards of the land and set examples for their children, retired people willing to share their wealth of knowledge, concerned citizens of all ages who want to learn more about conservation, and passionate people who enjoy the outdoors and want to spread the word about America’s greatest natural treasures. Their contribution is significant: in Fiscal Year 2016, 40,000 volunteers donated 1.4 million hours. The value of their time contribution is equal to $30.6 million. The loss of their service would also be significant: volunteers and groups make up 20% of the total service work product, or the equivalent of 649 full-time employees.
Senator Carper said: “Not only are National Wildlife Refuges economic engines and environmental resources, they are national treasures that all Americans should be able to enjoy for generations to come. But pristine areas like Prime Hook and Bombay Hook in Delaware don’t stay pristine by accident. It is thanks to the hard work of dedicated volunteers that millions of nearby residents and visitors alike can enjoy these spaces year after year. These men and women give their time and talents to be good stewards of the world around us, and we must make sure they have the resources necessary to do this important work from which we all benefit.”
Rep. Jeffries said: “Once a species is extinct, there is no turning back. Like the Founding Fathers of our great country, we must protect American wildlife and the ecosystems they depend upon. The Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act is a commonsense measure that will prove to be a strong step in that direction.”
Rep. Wittman said: “National Wildlife Refuges host nearly 50 million visitors each year supporting local economies, however that would be impossible without the valuable contribution of volunteers and community groups. Reauthorizing these programs will ensure that our nation’s refuges will continue to be enjoyed by tourists, sportsmen and women, and conservationists for years to come.”
Rep. Sablan said: “National Wildlife Refuges are important places for visitors to explore, learn and enjoy outdoor recreation. Volunteers are the lifeblood of many of these areas, contribute millions of hours and provide a significant economic return to the American taxpayers. Congress needs to support the volunteers program.”
Rep. Grijalva said: “We need committed volunteers to help our national wildlife refuges now more than ever. With Republicans cutting conservation funding and endangered species at risk, we all need to contribute to protecting the lands and waters we love.”
The bill is supported by: The American Bird Conservancy; American Fisheries Society; American Hiking Society; American Sportfishing Association; Boy Scouts of America; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Defenders of Wildlife; Ducks Unlimited; Izaak Walton League of America; Marine Conservation Institute; National Audubon Society; National Wildlife Federation; National Wildlife Refuge Association; The Corps Network; The Nature Conservancy; The Wilderness Society; Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership; Trout Unlimited and The National Wild Turkey Federation.
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