December 20, 2010

CARDIN, KRATOVIL PRAISE SENATE PASSAGE OF LEGISLATION TO SUPPORT OUR NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE SYSTEM

Volunteers are critical to maintaining our nation's wildlife refuge system which serves as a foundation of our national heritage and our local economies

Washington, DC - Late Friday, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 4973, The National Wildlife Refuge Volunteer Improvement Act of 2010 .   Written and introduced by Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD) and shepherded through the Senate by U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), H.R. 4973 strengthens existing volunteer coordination and engagement programs for the National Wildlife Refuge System.   The legislation now goes to the President for his signature.

 

"Facilitating and strengthening volunteer work on our wildlife refuges, is critical to the health of our nation's premiere system of public lands preserved for fish and wildlife habitat conservation," said Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife.   "These lands serve as a foundation of a multi-billion dollar wildlife-dependent economy as well as our nation's natural and cultural heritage.   I want to commend Congressman Kratovil for his leadership on this issue and thank the thousands of volunteers in Maryland and around the country whose work on refuges is a gift to us all."

 

"I am pleased that this important legislation has passed the Senate.   Volunteers play a critical role in the operations of Wildlife Refuges across the country, including the Eastern Shore's own, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge," Congressman Kratovil said.   "I am grateful that the Refuges enjoy the strong volunteer support of groups like Friends of Blackwater.   This bill strengthens and supports volunteerism at National Wildlife Refuges."

 

Conserved fish and wildlife habitat, like that provided by the National Wildlife Refuge System, is the backbone of many local economies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that 87 million U.S. residents age 16 and older participated in wildlife-related recreation in 2006, spending $122 billion on fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching.   In Maryland, state residents and nonresidents spent $1.2 billion on wildlife recreation.   In 2008, at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, visitor spending totaled $2.6 million, generating $1 million in employment income, 44 local jobs and over $597,300 in total tax revenue.

 

But our refuge system struggles with an estimated operations and maintenance budget backlog of $3.7 billion. To meet these challenges, the Service has nurtured partnerships with Friends' organizations and recruited volunteer contributions. Today, volunteers assist with physical refuge maintenance, conduct scientific monitoring, and lead educational programs, among other activities. Last year more than 37,000 volunteers worked in National Wildlife Refuges nationwide, donating 1,611,936 hours of time with an estimated dollar value of $32.6 million.

 

Congress first gave support to these volunteer efforts with the National Wildlife Refuge System Volunteer and Community Partnership Enhancement Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-242). H.R. 4973 amends this existing program to reauthorize funding through 2014 and to direct the Service to carry out a National Volunteer Coordination Program as well as publish a national volunteer coordination strategy.