In late April, the Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act was signed into law. This legislation reauthorizes the National Wildlife Refuge System volunteer, community partnership, and education programs that help ensure the public can visit, explore, fish, hunt, and study wildlife for generations to come.
H.R. 3979 passed the House in December, with overwhelming bipartisan support. The companion bill in the Senate, S. 1940, was agreed to by voice vote in April 2018 and went to the President’s desk for signature.
The 566 U.S. National Wildlife Refuges are located in all 50 states and the 5 territories. They make up 150 million acres of pristine public lands dedicated to the conservation of fish and wildlife. Volunteers make a significant contribution to refuges. In Fiscal Year ‘16, 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. Volunteers work side-by-side with refuge staff to conduct fish and wildlife population surveys, fight invasive species, lead tours and educational activities, maintain trails, and operate visitor centers.
AFS supported this legislation and appreciates the leadership of Congressmen Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) in authoring the bill, along with original cosponsors Rob Wittman (R-Va.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Garret Graves (R-La.), Gregorio Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands), Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), as well as Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) who introduced the Senate companion bill.