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Bill to Support Volunteers on Wildlife Refuges Heard on Capitol Hill Today

KARO Act Hearing Credit: Kristen Berry
KARO Act Hearing Credit: Kristen Berry

Today, November 15th at 10:30 a.m., a hearing on Capitol Hill was held in the House of Representatives concerning H.R.3979, the Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act (KARO) of 2017.  This bill would reauthorize the Volunteer and Community Partnership Act and continue allowing access to the public for recreational and volunteering opportunities through 2022.

In attendance were 9 members of the House Natural Resources Committee, Federal Lands subcommittee.  One of the speakers testifying in support of the KARO Act was our very own Caroline Brouwer, NWRA’s Director of Government Affairs.  During the hearing, NWRA also presented a letter from 53 Refuge Friends Groups in support of the KARO Act.

“Volunteers and Friends groups are the backbone of our local refuges, and we always appreciate the opportunity to brag about them,” Brouwer said before outlining the many ways volunteers contribute to the enhancement of their local refuges.

Caroline Brouwer testifying in support of KARO
Caroline Brouwer testifying in support of KARO Credit: Kristen Berry

Through an increase of public awareness in their communities, volunteers and friends group provide the support refuges need to thrive.  Spanning all age groups and coming from different walks of life, volunteers on refuges display the diversity of our country and provide our refuges with many unique resources.  In 2016, the Refuge System had over 42,000 volunteers who contributed more than 1.5 million hours of work.  20% of the total service work on refuges can be attributed to the dedication of volunteers.

The collaborative effort that exists between refuge staff and volunteers is impressive, and it is vitally important to support both volunteer efforts and overall Operations and Maintenance funding levels.  As outlined during the hearing, low funding for the Refuge System is an enormous problem facing the health of our refuges.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Colleen Hanabusa (D, Hawaii) asked whether or not refuges received adequate funding. Brouwer replied that currently the Refuge System only receives $484 million annually when in fact full funding would be at least $900 million.

In normal budget times, volunteers and Friends organizations help add capacity to the refuge and supplement the refuge budget by contributing expertise and manpower. Unfortunately, we are not in normal budget times, and with shrinking budgets, volunteers and Friends have become even more essential, performing critical habitat work, leading classrooms, and a multitude of other tasks that are vital to a functioning refuge but would go undone without volunteer support.

In reference to the value of volunteers in the refuge system, Congressman Rob Wittman (D, Virginia) asked what would happen to the Refuge System if volunteers were not helping out at refuges. Brouwer replied that we would lose the connection between the local community and the land. She brought to light that many of the people you first encounter on refuges, such at the front desk or manning the gift shop, are in fact volunteers.

So far, this legislation has 12 co-sponsors, with a 13th added just after the hearing. 5 co-sponsors are Democrats, and 8 are Republican.

To see the Refuge Friends Group letter presented at the hearing click the image below and a video from the hearing can be viewed here.

Permanent link to this article: http://refugeassociation.org/2017/11/bill-to-support-volunteers-on-wildlife-refuges-heard-on-capitol-hill-today/

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