WASHINGTON, D.C. - Nov. 15, 2017 - The Subcommittee on Federal Lands of the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing today on H.R.3979, Keeping America's Refuges Operational Act of 2017 (KARO). Ducks Unlimited Virginia State Chairman Dan Ross testified on behalf of the legislation that would help ensure Americans can visit, explore, fish and hunt wildlife for generations to come.

This bipartisan legislation was introduced by Rep. Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY-08) and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA-01).

"The Keeping America&squo;s Refuges Operational Act of 2017 will reauthorize the National Wildlife Refuge System Volunteer, Community Partnership and Education programs," said Dan Ross Virginia state chairman for Ducks Unlimited. "Without refuge work accomplished by volunteers to maintain the 561 National Wildlife Refuges, including the 14 refuges in Virginia, these natural resources and waterfowl havens would be hard pressed to stay productive, open, and operational."

Refuge volunteers and community groups help contribute more than 20 percent of all refuge work each year. In Fiscal Year 2016, 40,000 volunteers donated 1.4 million work hours, with donated time equaling nearly 1,000 full-time employees. Every $1 appropriated to coordinate volunteers translates to $10 worth of volunteer services.

"National Wildlife Refuges host nearly 50 million visitors each year supporting local economies, however that would be impossible without the valuable contribution of volunteers and community groups," said Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA-01). "Reauthorizing these programs will ensure that our nation&squo;s refuges will continue to be enjoyed by tourists, sportsmen and women and conservationists for years to come. I am happy to see the Keep America&squo;s Refuges Operational Act receiving the attention it deserves, and I want to thank Ducks Unlimited for being an important voice in preserving our refuges."

With more than 560 national wildlife refuges spanning more than 146 million acres, national refuges are vital habitat for our nation&squo;s wildlife. Three hundred and thirty refuges are open to public hunting, in accordance with state regulations.

"Once a species is extinct, there is no turning back," said Rep. Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY-08). "Like the founding fathers of our great country, we must protect American wildlife and the ecosystems they depend on. The Keep America&squo;s Refuges Operational Act is a common-sense measure that will prove to be a strong step in that direction."

The nation&squo;s first wildlife refuge, Florida&squo;s Pelican Island, was founded in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt. As of October 2016, the National Wildlife Refuge System is responsible for managing more than 850 million acres of lands and waters, including five national marine monuments, 561 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. There is at least one national wildlife refuge in each state and U.S. Territory, nearly all are open with free entry.

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 14 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org.

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