If the National Wildlife Refuge System were a corporation, you might
consider investing in its stock.
A recent report commissioned by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service states that more than 90 percent of customers,
those human visitors to wildlife refuges, are "satisfied or very satisfied
with their refuge experience."
Ultimately, the extensive survey report will
help the National Wildlife Refuge System fine tune its public appeal, not
for profit but for conservation.
Based on more than 3,000 visitor satisfaction surveys, the report compiled
information from 43 refuges throughout the country, each hosting a visitor
center, an environmental education program, and an annual visitation of at
"In many ways, we really are trying to 'win investors,'" said Fish and
Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams. "One of our most valuable
conservation resources is people, and to get them interested in the refuge
system is to get them invested in conservation."
Survey analysis revealed that almost 90 percent of respondents would likely
visit a refuge again within two years.
According to the report, visitor
satisfaction was "not only consistently high, it was also durable. That is,
even visitors who perceived some aspect of a refuge's services or
facilities to be inadequate were very likely to express overall
satisfaction with regard to their refuge visit."
While there do not appear to be any fundamental areas of concern related to
visitor satisfaction, the refuge system will use the survey results to
hone, and broaden, its appeal.
The survey data analysis cited specific
areas that may enhance the visitor experience such as greater law
enforcement presence and increased road sign visibility.
Another conclusion reached through analysis is that the National Wildlife
Refuge System could benefit by extending its outreach efforts to broader
audiences which, according to Williams, is "one of many issues we have
already begun addressing."
In addition to conserving natural habitat for
wildlife, the National Wildlife Refuge System is enhancing a variety of
wildlife-dependent recreation for the public. Additionally, the Service is
expanding environmental education programs to instill a conservation ethic
that can be passed down from generation to generation.
"In our increasingly
urbanized world," Williams said, "it is crucial that people have places to
experience, and thereby cherish, the outdoors."
The report also helped the National Wildlife Refuge System better
understand public attitudes towards its fee demonstration program. Most
refuges are open to the public at no cost, but about 25 percent charge
nominal entrance fees or charge for special activities and additional
Survey results found that an overwhelming majority of visitors,
94 percent, did not mind the fee. In fact, statistical analysis found that
while the fee did not restrict visitation at all, nearly 90 percent of
visitors felt strongly that the refuge provided them with an excellent
"We are glad to see that so many people are pleased with their refuge
experiences," said Williams. "Refuges are places that the public should
want to visit, again and again, and the public should feel entitled to tell
us how we can keep refuges at the top of their 'to do' list."
The Fish and Wildlife Service developed the survey in accordance with the
President's call for citizen-centered government.
The Service is planning
to use the survey on other refuges to further gauge the visitor experience,
and it is also working with other agencies within the Department of
Interior to refine the mechanism of visitor surveying on all Department
Future refuge surveys may expand to invite public participation as
volunteers in Refuge Friends groups, community-based nonprofit
organizations aimed at increasing support for the refuge system. Many of
the original surveys analyzed in the current report were distributed and
collected by Refuge Friends and volunteers.
Citizen support was crucial in the early days of the National Wildlife
Refuge System. On March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside a
tiny island off the coast of Florida as a preserve and breeding ground for
Today, the National Wildlife Refuge System encompasses
nearly 95 million acres on 540 wildlife refuges in all 50 states, and hosts
some 35 million people annually.
Like a no-risk investment with guaranteed
returns, the National Wildlife Refuge System will continue to provide a
great value as long as the American public remains invested in conserving
its natural heritage.
Come visit a refuge near you, and join the National Wildlife Refuge System
as it celebrates a Century of Conservation.