AFS Urges Biden Administration to Boost Funding for National Wildlife Refuges

October 4, 2022

President Joseph R. Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing to request that you prioritize the National Wildlife Refuge System in your Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 budget proposal by including a robust increase for the Operations and Maintenance accounts of the National Wildlife Refuge System, accounting for inflationary costs, salary increases, and the significant increase in visitation and land base of the Refuge System since 2010. The current enacted funding level of $519 million is drastically insufficient, and has led to a Refuge System strained under the weight of critically low staffing levels and lost capacity. It is crucial that Congress and the Administration address this unsustainably low level of funding in FY 2024.

As the only system of federal public lands focused primarily on wildlife conservation and habitat, the National Wildlife Refuge System must play a key role in achieving the biodiversity and climate targets set forth under the America the Beautiful Initiative. Further, the Refuge System’s Urban Wildlife Conservation Program, which seeks to bolster recreational access, is well-positioned to support the outreach and recreation efforts outlined in America the Beautiful. With at least one refuge in every state, the Refuge System provides rural and urban communities recreational opportunities, like angling, hunting, bird watching, and environmental education. The Refuge System requires a substantial increase in funding to effectively fulfill its conservation mission, provide opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation, and connect communities to nature.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is an important asset for our country. Refuges are home to over 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, over 1,000 species of fish, and 513 threatened and endangered species. Over 65 million people annually visit the nation’s 568 refuges, which are found in every state and territory and within an hour’s drive of every major city. The Refuge System provides families and everyday Americans access to some of the nation’s best hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, photography, and more.

As more Americans explore our wild places, management of these places must keep up to ensure the safety of their visitors. Although annual visitors to the Refuge System increased by 38 percent since 2010, the Refuge System’s budget has only increased by 3 percent since FY 2010. This, along with the addition of 13 refuges, 2 million land acres, and 597 million acres of marine national monuments, significant staff cuts (1,000 FTE since 2010), and increased pressures from natural events like wildfires and flooding, has put the Refuge System under increasing fiscal strain. In order to properly steward its lands and waters, the Refuge System requires additional conservation planning dollars: while Comprehensive Conservation Plans are required to be updated every 15 years, 40 percent of them are out of date.

Increased investment in the Refuge System is not only warranted, but also a wise investment in local economies. In FY 2020, Refuges generated about $3 billion in economic benefits for local economies and supported over 41,000 jobs. In fact, studies have shown that every dollar invested in our Refuge System by the federal government returns about five dollars in local economic activity.

Thank you for your attention to and consideration of this important request. We recognize the ongoing challenges facing the discretionary budget and look forward to working with you to support these vital programs.


Alaska Wilderness League
American Birding Association, Inc.
American Fisheries Society
American Rivers
American Sportfishing Association
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers
Boone and Crockett Club
Braided River
California Waterfowl Association
Camp Fire Club of America
Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates
Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports
Defenders of Wildlife
Delta Waterfowl
Ducks Unlimited
Endangered Species Coalition
Environment America
Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges
Friends of Bombay Hook NWR, Smyrna DE
Friends of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge
Friends of Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge
Friends of Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge
Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges
Friends of Neal Smith NWR
Friends of Red River NWR
Friends of the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge
Friends of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge Complex
Houston Safari Club Foundation
Izaak Walton League of America
Marine Conservation Institute
National Audubon Society
National Deer Association
National Ocean Protection Coalition
National Wildlife Federation
National Wildlife Refuge Association
North American Grouse Partnership
Ohio Environmental Council
Orion: The Hunter’s Institute
Ruffed Grouse Society & American Woodcock Society
Safari Club International
Seeding Sovereignty
Sierra Club
The Conservation Fund
The Nature Conservancy
The Wilderness Society
The Wildlife Society
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Trout Unlimited
Waterway Advocates
Wildlife Forever
Wildlife Management Institute
Wildlife Mississippi

Debra Haaland, Secretary, Department of the Interior
Tommy Beaudreau, Deputy Secretary, Department of the Interior
Shannon A. Estenoz, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks
Martha Williams, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Cynthia Martinez, Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System
Stephenne Harding, Senior Director for Lands, White House Council on Environmental Quality
Jessica Ennis, Public Engagement Director, White House Council on Environmental Quality
Kate Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, Department of the Interior
Jacob Glass, Natural Resources Division, Office of Management and Budget
Shantha Ready Alonso, Director of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Department of the Interior