The bipartisan, bicameral Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act, HR 3979, which reauthorizes the National Wildlife Refuge System’s volunteer, community partnership and education program through fiscal 2022, has been enacted into law after passing Congress in recent weeks.

These programs help to ensure public access to refuges across the country for exploring, hunting, fishing and studying wildlife.

The legislation was introduced by Sens. Tom Carper, D-Delaware; and John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, as well as Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York; Rob Wittman, R-Virginia; Frank LoBiondo, R-New Jersey; Garret Graves, R-Louisiana; Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona; Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, I-Northern Mariana Islands; and Mike Thompson, D-California.

The nation’s 561 National Wildlife Refuges are located in all states and five territories. They make up 850 million acres of pristine public lands and waters dedicated to the conservation of fish and wildlife. Wildlife refuge volunteers are individuals who want to give back to their communities, parents who want to be good stewards of the land and set examples for their children, retired people willing to share their wealth of knowledge, concerned citizens of all ages who want to learn more about conservation and passionate people who enjoy the outdoors. In fiscal 2016, 40,000 volunteers donated 1.4 million hours. The value of their time contribution is equal to $30.6 million. The loss of their service would also be significant: volunteers and groups make up 20 percent of the total service work product, or the equivalent of 649 full-time employees.

“Delaware’s Prime Hook and Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuges are natural treasures and this law will help ensure that Delawareans are able to experience and enjoy them for years to come,” said Carper. “Wildlife refuges are more than beautiful spaces, too. They support our economies and provide habitats for many beloved species. But it takes the efforts of thousands of volunteers, dedicating their time and energy to keep these places productive and pristine for our wildlife, friends, neighbors and families year after year. I’m grateful that Congress could come together on this bipartisan effort and allow these stewards of our environment to continue their selfless efforts to enhance our wildlife refuges.”

The bill was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 371 to 14 and by voice vote in the Senate.