National Refuges Hailed as 'Sanctuary to Wildlife'
Monday, October 17, 2022
National Wildlife Refuge Week may be over, but public lands are important to animals and plants year-round. There are about 600 wildlife refuges across the country, including nearly two dozen in Montana. The refuge system is the only public-lands system managed first and foremost for wildlife.
Christian Hunt, senior federal lands policy analyst with Defenders of Wildlife, said most major cities are within an hour's drive of one.
"These places provide sanctuary to wildlife -- and really, human access to nature -- in a world where both are becoming increasingly rare," said Hunt.
Hunt said the refuge system supports about 1/3 of all species listed as endangered, which he said is critical, especially in light of a recent study that showed wildlife populations have declined nearly 70% since 1970.
Hunt said one of the biggest threats to refuges is the lack of funds. Defenders of Wildlife argued that the system needs $1 billion, but currently is allotted only about half that.
"Dollars are needed to provide all these services that people and wildlife both depend on in the larger refuge system," Hunt said.
Between 2010 and 2022, the refuge system has lost 25% of its staff. But Hunt notes that visitation has skyrocketed to these lands by 38% over that period.
"That's a shame," Hunt said. "Because refuges provide immense economic benefits to local communities. Billions of dollars. They support thousands of jobs, and they generate a lot of economic output for the communities that surround these places."
In Montana, some of the refuges include the Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge, Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the National Bison Range.
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