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On March 11, I posted a diary about the Bush administration’s plan to eliminate 20% of the staff in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Members in the House have mounted a campaign to increase the Refuge System budget and prevent the massive cutbacks. Now there’s an effort underway in the Senate to do the same, and Russ Feingold is leading the way. Here’s how you can help.

Refuge supporters Sen. Russ Feingold and Sen. Olympia Snowe are collecting signatures for a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment asking them to increase the FY08 budget for the National Wildlife Refuge System to $451.5 million. This is the same amount as recommended by refuge supporters in the House, who have also contacted their appropriations committee.

If this budget amount is not achieved, the National Wildlife Refuge System will be forced to proceed with massive staff cuts as laid out by the Bush administration. Impacts of the cuts at our wildlife refuges will include the following: a reduction of environmental education programs for thousands of school children; reduction of biological surveys and invasive species monitoring; reduction of endangered species protection; reduction of monitoring for poaching and ATV abuse; reduction of hunting and fishing access; and closures at numerous Visitor Centers for multiple days during the week, which will greatly impact local tourism dollars. In addition, de-staffed refuges will be closed to the public and will deteriorate as the managers overseeing them will sometimes be located hours away at neighboring refuges and will be unable to provide proper oversight and upkeep.

Every region of the System has now published their downsizing plans, including the Mountain-Prairie Region of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which just today announced that they will be making the following cuts – cuts that are similar to every other region in the country:

  • Regional office in Denver will lose 32% of its staff
  • Colorado will lose 20% of its staff on its 7 refuges
  • Kansas will lose almost a third of its staff on its 4 refuges
  • Montana will lose over 15% of its staff on more than 20 refuges
  • Nebraska will lose over 13% of the staff on its 6 refuges
  • North Dakota will lose over a fifth of its staff on over 40 refuges
  • South Dakota will lose a quarter of its staff on its 6 refuges
  • Utah will lose almost a fifth of it staff on 3 refuges
  • and Wyoming will lose over half its staff on 7 refuges, including the National Elk Refuge which is visited by approximately 900,000 visitors every year

The Refuge System is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and is currently composed of 545 refuges, 37 wetland management districts, and 3,000 waterfowl production areas representing all 50 states and totaling about 96 million acres. The System protects approximately 280 endangered species and millions of migratory waterfowl, yet 90% of the Refuge System is open to the public for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, and environmental education. This accessibility results in visitation of over 40 million people annually and over $1.4 billion generated in annual total economic activity, in addition to the creation of over 24,000 private sector jobs.

But despite the value and importance of the Refuge System, the Bush administration is determined to make massive cuts to people and programs. And the debate is not about money. Grady Hocutt -- former refuge manager and a Refuge Keeper with the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility -- made this point clear when he stated that "Redirecting a tiny fraction of what audits show is wasted and stolen in Iraq would allow for full funding of all refuge system needs."

Now that the Democrats have taken Congress, the Refuge System can be saved. But you must act now.

I am urging you to contact your senator today and ask them to sign Russ Feingold’s letter requesting a budget of $451.5 million for the Refuge System. This is the amount that will prevent a violent assault on the only federal land system where wildlife is supposed to come first.

Here is the statement from the nonprofit National Wildlife Refuge Association:

Strong supporters of our National Wildlife Refuge System, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), are sending a letter to the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee urging them to increase funding for the Refuge System to $451.5 million for fiscal year (FY) 2008. This funding level will stabilize losses of staffing and programs vital to ensuring the Refuge System's wildlife conservation mission. Without support from fellow Senators, the appropriators have little incentive to increase the budget on their own!

Action Needed:
Urge your U.S. Senator to sign on to the letter to the Senate
Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior currently being circulated. Your action is needed NOW - the deadline for signers is Wednesday, MARCH 28TH!

Here is a sample letter, but since the deadline is March 28, I urge you to call as well:

I respectfully ask that you support increased stewardship funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System for FY 2008. While vitally important to our nation’s wildlife, refuges provide unparalleled opportunities to hunt, fish, watch wildlife and educate children about nature. Without increased funding for refuges, wildlife conservation and public recreation opportunities will be jeopardized.

Your colleagues, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), are sending a letter to the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee urging them to increase funding for the Refuge System to $451.5 million for FY08. This funding level will stabilize losses of staffing and programs vital to ensuring the Refuge System’s wildlife conservation mission.

As a constituent and citizen concerned about the wildlife in our state, I hope you will join Senators Feingold and Snowe in urging members of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee to increase funding for the Refuge System.

To sign the letter, please contact Kelly Reed in Senator Feingold's office or Patrick Woodcock in Senator Snowe's office.

Thank you for your help! We must prevent the Bush administration from killing off wildlife conservation in America.

Originally posted to Naturegal on Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 05:01 PM PDT.

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