House committee approves bill to support wildlife refuges

The House Committee on Natural Resources unanimously approved a bill to support the National Wildlife Refuge System’s educational and volunteer programs in a June 15 markup.

The Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act of 2022 (H.R. 6734; KARO) amends the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 (16 U.S.C. 742) to reauthorize the volunteer services, community partnerships and refuge education programs of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is the nation’s only set of federal lands dedicated to the conservation and management of America’s native wildlife. It is composed of 568 National Wildlife Refuges located in all 50 states and U.S. territories, and encompasses more than 850 million land and marine acres across dozens of diverse habitat types.

With millions of visitors each year, many refuge systems offer environmental education and interpretation programs, most of which are volunteer-run by Refuge Friends groups, which are nonprofits that support the refuge system, and other community partners. According to a recent U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works press release for the KARO Act Senate companion bill (S. 4194), more than 11,000 volunteers donated 68,879 hours of their time to benefit the National Wildlife Refuge System in Fiscal Year 2021. The value of this time contribution is equal to $18.5 million and equivalent to 318 full-time refuge staff.

The reauthorization of the refuge system’s many volunteer and educational programs—like trail maintenance and habitat restoration opportunities, the Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program, Indigenous Connections and America’s Wild Read—ensures that people will continue to care about and play a role in the stewardship of the National Wildlife Refuge System, as well as preserve it for future generations.

The Wildlife Society supports the Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act and will continue to advocate for robust funding of the National Wildlife Refuge System as a member of the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement.

Header Image: A black-billed magpie (Pica hudsonia) picks ticks off of a young bull moose (Alces alces) at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. Credit: Tom Koerner/USFWS