BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Our national wildlife refuge system is a big moneymaker, pumping more than $24 billion into the economy every year and supporting more than 35,000 jobs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says. The report comes at a time many polls have shown a growing disconnect between people (both adults and children) and the natural world. The phenomenon has reached such a supposed fever pitch that writer Richard Louv even coined a term to describe it -- nature deficit disorder -- in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods. It would seem national wildlife refuges offer more than a glimmer of hope that people's interest in nature and wildlife is not only not dead, but robust enough to turn a healthy profit. The findings of the report, Banking on Nature, were unveiled this month by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell during a visit to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
The report found that much of the money generated by wildlife refuges is due to wildlife-related recreation such as hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. In fact, The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation found that more than 90 million Americans, or 41% of people over 16, spent nearly $145 billion in pursuit of wildlife-related outdoor activities in 2011. The overwhelming majority (71%) of visitors engaged in "non-consumptive" wildlife activities such as viewing and photographing, whereas 17% visited for the purpose of fishing and 7% for hunting. The report also found that refuge visitors accounted for around $343 million in local, county, state and federal tax revenue annually. Altogether, the $24 billion national refuges bring in is more than five times the $492 million price tag for maintaining the system as appropriated in the federal budget for fiscal year 2011. Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuges in Texas, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, which produced $30 million, $174 million and $106 million a year, respectively. The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuges, which spans several states including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, was found to be another big economic winner. The refuge brought in $226 million last year while run on a budget of $4.9 million, meaning it accrued about $46 in revenue for every $1 spent in its budget. It also supports 1,394 jobs, the greatest number in any of the 92 refuges sampled for the survey. Ultimately, though, it is the wildlife refuges in the Southeastern region of the U.S. that attract the most visitors per year. The region, which has more wildlife refuges than any other in the country, supports employment for 9,455 positions. "This study shows that national wildlife refuges repay us in dollars and cents even as they enrich our lives by protecting America's natural heritage and providing great recreation," USFWS Director Dan Ashe said in a press release. "That's inspiring and important news, especially as our economy continues to gain strength."