Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Enhance National Wildlife Refuges Becomes Law

WASHINGTON, DC – The bipartisan, bicameral Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act, H.R. 3979, which reauthorizes the National Wildlife Refuge System’s volunteer, community partnership and education program through Fiscal Year 2022, has been enacted into law after passing Congress in recent weeks. These critical programs help to ensure public access to refuges across the country for exploring, hunting, fishing and studying wildlife.

The legislation was introduced by Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, respectively, and Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Rob Wittman (R-Va.), Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), Garret Graves (R-La.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (I-N.M.I.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif).

America’s 561 National Wildlife Refuges are located in all 50 states and the five territories. They make up 850 million acres of pristine public lands and waters dedicated to the conservation of fish and wildlife. Wildlife refuge volunteers are individuals who want to give back to their communities, parents who want to be good stewards of the land and set examples for their children, retired people willing to share their wealth of knowledge, concerned citizens of all ages who want to learn more about conservation and passionate people who enjoy the outdoors and want to spread the word about America’s greatest natural treasures. Their contribution is significant: in Fiscal Year 2016, 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.

“Delaware’s Prime Hook and Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuges are natural treasures and this law will help ensure that Delawareans are able to experience and enjoy them for years to come,” said Senator Carper. “Wildlife refuges are more than beautiful spaces, too. They support our economies and provide habitats for many beloved species. But it takes the efforts of thousands of volunteers, dedicating their time and energy to keep these places productive and pristine for our wildlife, friends, neighbors and families year after year. I’m grateful that Congress could come together on this bipartisan effort and allow these stewards of our environment to continue their selfless efforts to enhance our wildlife refuges.”

“America is blessed with natural beauty and amazing wildlife,” said Senator Barrasso. “National Wildlife Refuges play an important role in conservation efforts and support local economies by promoting outdoor recreation. I am pleased Congress has passed this legislation to renew these valuable programs.”

“We must remain vigilant in protecting the breathtaking wildlife and beautiful environment God has given us,” said Congressman Jeffries. “The Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act is a commonsense measure that will help us accomplish that critical goal. My colleagues in both the House and Senate should be commended for their commitment and leadership in this bipartisan effort.” 

“This is a big win for our refuge volunteers,” said Congressman Wittman. “National Wildlife Refuges host nearly 50 million visitors each year supporting local economies, however that would be impossible without the valuable contribution of volunteers and community groups. Reauthorizing these programs ensures that our nation’s refuges will continue to be enjoyed by tourists, sportsmen and women, and conservationists for years to come. I am thrilled that President Trump signed this legislation into law.”

The bill was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 371 to 14 and by voice vote in the Senate. 

The bill is supported by: The American Bird Conservancy; American Fisheries Society; American Hiking Society; American Sportfishing Association; Boy Scouts of America; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Defenders of Wildlife; Ducks Unlimited; Izaak Walton League of America; Marine Conservation Institute; National Audubon Society; National Wildlife Federation; National Wildlife Refuge Association; The Corps Network; The Nature Conservancy; The Wilderness Society; Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership; Trout Unlimited and The National Wild Turkey Federation.