Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, headquartered in the Oceanville section of Galloway Township, is a world- famous wildlife resource for shorebirds, migrating waterfowl and birds of prey.
The 47,000-acre coastal refuge is also a substantial economic resource, according to a new federal report, with an estimated $4.1 million a year spent by visitors and a total economic effect of $8.3 million a year.
Forsythe was one of 92 refuges from among 560 nationwide that was reported in detail in the new version of “Banking on Nature: The Economic Benefits of National Wildlife Refuge Visitation to Local Communities.”
The report combines data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation for 2012 and the division’s Refuge Annual Performance Plan.
For the fiscal year ending in 2012, visitors to Forsythe viewing and photographing wildlife and natural scenery spent $2,714,500, the report says.
About three-quarters of that was spent by visitors from beyond the Atlantic, Burlington and Ocean counties that include portions of the refuge, showing that ecotourism just at Forsythe is a significant contributor to the local economy.
“Refuge visitors pay for recreation through entrance fees, lodging near the refuge, and purchases from local businesses for items to pursue their recreational experience,” the report says.
Fishing was the next most lucrative use of Forsythe, with expenditures of $1,325,400 last year. Hunting accounts for another $44,500.
This spending for so-called “consumptive uses” of the refuge reversed the pattern for wildlife observation, with more than 60 percent being done by local residents.
The study says the spending associated with visits to Forsythe sustains 45 jobs with annual employment income of $1.9 million, and results in total state, local and federal tax revenue of $887,600.
Forsythe is most famous for its eight-mile wildlife drive around two impoundments in the wetlands northwest of Atlantic City. Until 1984, the area was known as Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge, after the island town to its east.
The refuge is recognized globally for its birds and the support it provides them, mostly during migrations, but also for its critical nesting habitat.
Forsythe is a Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, and part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. Endangered species such as piping plover, black skimmer and least tern nest on the beaches of its Holgate unit.
This is prime time for the fall waterfowl migration, when ducks and geese fill the impoundments and eagles and falcons look to prey on them.
The federal assessment of the economic impact of Forsythe is probably conservative, because it’s hard to gather data on spending by visitors on meals, beverages, gasoline, or a side trip to the casinos.
A 2006 study by economist Richard Perniciaro, director of Atlantic Cape Community College’s Center for Regional and Business Research, found ecotourism is a $500 million industry in Cape May County.
Birding and other outdoor recreation accounted for $522 million of the county’s $4.6 billion tourism economy in 2005.
The spending was responsible for the employment of more than 35,000 people who earned $793 million total, and generated about $343 million in local, state and federal taxes.
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