Washington, DC — National Wildlife Refuges suffer from a vast disparity in federal resources available for their operations, according to a fiscal analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Acre-for acre, national parks receive nearly six times the tax support that wildlife refuges obtain while national forests receive more than twice the appropriations level for refuges.
“President Bush has admitted that our national parks are under-funded and is now proposing a financial infusion but has yet to acknowledge that refuges are subsisting on an anorexic diet of federal rations,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “If our national parks could be analogized to the middle class, our national forests are living on food stamps and our refuges have been reduced to dumpster diving.”
Based upon a review of the current (FY 06-7) and proposed (FY 08) federal budgets and programs –
- Acre-for-acre, national wildlife refuges receive 17 cents for every dollar spent for support of national parks. Similarly, national forests see 37 cents for every park dollar;
- The trend in recent years has aggravated the gaps in funding levels among the three national recreational lands systems. President Bush’s proposed FY 08 budget would worsen the disparity for national forests while negligibly narrowing the gulf for national refuges; and
- While the national park system has substantially more visitors than the refuge total, refuge visitation tends to be more intensive with hunting and fishing (outlawed in most parks), activities that require more ranger supervision and enforcement than hiking or bird watching.
Compared to the National Park Service (NPS), the National Wildlife Refuge System is bigger (96 million acres vs. 84 million acres for NPS) with more units (545 individual refuges and 37 wetlands management areas vs. 390 NPS units).
This year, fiscal constraints will lead to the elimination of more than one in ten refuge staff slots, leaving nearly one third of all refuges without staff, a condition called “Preservation Status.” At the same time, the U.S. Forest Service is preparing to close hundreds of campgrounds due to funding shortfalls. By contrast, the NPS is preparing to invest an additional billion dollars into its parks over the coming decade.
“We need a national recreational lands policy that does not have its components competing against each other for fiscal crumbs,” added Ruch, noting that the refuges, parks and forests are often part of the same ecosystem and depend upon each other for resource values, such as habitat protection. “Righting this imbalance is a matter of priorities. For example, the estimated total current shortfall in both refuge and forest funding is less than the $200 million that we are spending each and every day in Iraq.”