Banking on Nature Report 2017

While there are all sorts of measurable benefits ranging from air and water quality to biodiversity and habitat protection, we also track how public lands bring money and jobs into your local economy. Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge was featured in the latest assessment along with more than 160 other refuges and wetland management districts.


 Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge brings you more than watchable wildlife, it’s good for the economy

July 8, 2019

We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service know that public lands are valuable and those who visit them know that they help improve the quality of life and the health of the community. There are countless benefits to having access to recreation like birding, hiking, hunting and fishing, but did you know that public lands are good for the economy too?

While there are all sorts of measurable benefits ranging from air and water quality to biodiversity and habitat protection, we also track how public lands bring money and jobs into your local economy. For more than 20 years, we’ve been publishing a national assessment that highlights economic contributions associated with recreational use on National Wildlife Refuge System lands. Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge was featured in the latest assessment along with more than 160 other refuges and wetland management districts. Here are some highlights.

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1990 and was originally named Walnut Creek National Wildlife Refuge. While its name was changed by Congress in 1998 to honor Congressman Neal Smith, whose support was instrumental in establishing this beautiful piece of prairie, the refuge mission remained the same - to protect, reconstruct and manage the diverse native ecosystems of tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, and sedge meadow. The refuge was the first large-scale tallgrass prairie ecological restoration in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

More than 600,000 people in the greater Des Moines area are within an hour drive of the refuge, which makes Neal Smith the perfect place to get the word out about conservation efforts. Not only is the refuge an educational hub for local schools, it’s also a huge propagation center for the monarch-friendly plants that our team is planting with citizens in Des Moines as part of the People for Pollinators Program. The Prairie Learning and Visitor Center is a major environmental education facility that includes exhibits, meeting rooms, theater laboratory-classroom, bookstore and research facilities.

In 2017, the refuge had about 285,000 recreational visits which contributed to the economies of Jasper and Polk Counties in Iowa. Non-consumptive recreation - things like birding, photography and hiking - accounted for about 284,000 of those visits, with residents comprising 60 percent of that visitation. This type of recreation brought in $2.6 million to the local economy, with non-residents accounting for $1.6 million or 62 percent of those expenditures.

Refuges like Neal Smith help fuel the American economy. These tangible benefits are in addition to the invaluable ecosystem services like flood and erosion protection, air and water purification and wildlife habitat protection.

Learn more by checking out the full report: Banking on Nature 2017: The Economic Contributions of National Wildlife Refuge Recreational Visitation to Local Communities

Learn more about Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.