County Judge, Veronica Escobar

  • Valley's three National Wildlife Refuges provide economic boost
  • Michele Angél

  • AUSTIN, November 29 - A report released Wednesday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that national wildlife refuges provide a huge boost to the economy.

  • Recreational use on national wildlife refuges generated almost $1.7 billion in total economic activity during fiscal year 2006, according to the report titled "Banking on Nature 2006: The Economic Benefits to Local communities of National Wildlife Refuge Visitation."

  • The Valley's Laguna Atascosa, Santa Ana, and the Lower Rio Grande River Valley wildlife refuges together earn an estimated $125 million for the region, according to a related study by the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.

  • “It’s important to note, that number is not an indicator of all the money generated because of the refuges,” said Nancy Brown, outreach specialist for the South Texas Refuge Complex. The number from the McAllen study does not include the income generated by hunting or fishing, she said.

  • Brown also noted that the refuges support those lucrative industries.

  • According to the national study, nearly 35 million people visited national wildlife refuges in 2006, supporting almost 27,000 private sector jobs and producing about $543 million in employment income.

  • The national report analyzed recreational participation and expenditures for freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, migratory bird hunting, small game hunting, big game hunting and non-consumptive activities, including wildlife observation.

  • The report concluded that about 82 percent of total expenditures nationally came from non-consumptive recreation - that is recreation other than hunting or fishing.

  • Brown said that many people come to the Valley's wildlife refuges to bird watch or to catch sight of an ocelot, bobcats, jaguarondi, or white-tail deer. She added that there are approximately 1,200 different plant species in biotic communities.

  • In addition, recreational spending on refuges generated nearly $185.3 million in tax revenue at the local, county, state and federal level, according to the study.

  • Researchers for FWS concluded that the economic benefit is almost four times the amount appropriated to the Refuge System that same year.

  • “We've always known that national wildlife refuges enrich Americans' lives,” said FWS Director H. Dale Hall.
  • “This report reveals that the Refuge System, while admirably fulfilling its conservation mission, also repays us in dollars and cents. Those economic benefits go far beyond the System's mandated mission to ensure wild creatures will always have a place on the American landscape.”

  • Brown agreed. She said that while wildlife refuges improve the quality of life for people in the Valley, they were also important for wildlife.

  • “Green jays need a place other than trees in mall parking lots to breed,” Brown said.

  • “The refuges increase the property value. Local residents walk, hike, and use these places to watch nature and relax. People live in a technical age. People now choose to live in communities with parks and green spaces.”

  • The timing of the report is important, Brown said, because the Department of Homeland Security wants to use a part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Refuge to build a border fence. Environmentalists, along with local elected officials, are fighting hard to stop the fence being built.

  • The researchers used findings from 80 national wildlife refuges considered typical, in terms of the nation's recreational interests and spending habits.

  • Calculation of the total economic activity included money spent for food and refreshments, lodging at motels, cabins, lodges or campgrounds, and transportation.

  • The report also used visitation numbers from the individual refuges. The System encompasses 97 million acres and 548 national wildlife refuges.

  • While the primary purpose of the Refuge System is to conserve native fish and wildlife and their habitat, priority is given to hunting fishing, wildlife photography, wildlife observation, environmental education, and interpretation.

  • For a copy of the report, or to find more information on the National Wildlife Refuge System, visit

    © Copyright of the Vox Veritas Corporation dba Rio Grande Guardian,; Melinda Barrera, President, 2007. All rights reserved.

  • County Judge
    Veronica Escobar