Value of Our National Wildlife Refuges



I recently read in the Grand Forks Herald that an avid birder from Massachusetts recently flew to Minneapolis, rented a car, and drove to Grand Forks in an effort to observe sharp-tailed grouse. He was on a mission to break the world record of observing over 748 different species of birds in one year. He found the sharp-tails near Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge west of Grand Forks.

It isn’t every day that someone travels a great distance to North Dakota to see birds, but it happens more than you might realize. And the presence of the National Wildlife Refuge is also more important than we may think.

Some of you may have seen the news about the economic impact of National Wildlife Refuges which ran in some North Dakota newspapers this fall. A recent report by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that visitation to National Wildlife Refuges infuses the economy with around $2 billion annually.

We generally think of National Wildlife Refuges as areas to protect plants and animals. We may not think of the refuges in economic terms, but we probably should. Nationally, in addition to the dollars generated by visitation, the refuges also support around 25,000 employees and generate around $343 million in local, state, and federal taxes. It is interesting to note that only about 28% of the dollars spent on visits to the refuges are for hunting and fishing. Around 75% is spent for other non-consumptive activities such as bird watching, hiking, nature watching, picnicking, and the like. So refuges are not only safeguarding wildlife and other natural resources, but they are also helping support local economies by providing a variety of nature based recreational opportunities.


North Dakota is home to 62 National Wildlife Refuges, which is more than any other state. These refuges were largely established for the preservation and management of waterfowl populations here in the prairie pothole region, the biggest duck factory in North America. But we are increasingly finding that these refuges are also providing some unexpected and unique economic opportunities for a variety of outdoor recreational activities. The wildlife refuges, along with other public and private lands right here in North Dakota have the potential to significantly contribute to the economic development of the state.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.



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