Did you know that the Bush administration is now in the process of removing 20% of the staff in the National Wildlife Refuge System? Did you know that this massive staff cutback will force many refuges to end environmental education programs for thousands of school children, will end biological surveys, will close Visitor Centers for multiple days each week, will limit hunting and fishing access, and will even close some refuges entirely? There’s a lot you should know, and there is something you can do to help.
What is the National Wildlife Refuge System? 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 immense value and popularity of the Refuge System, it is one of the most cash-strapped land agencies in the federal government with an annual budget of less than $4 per acre, which is a miserly amount when compared to the National Park Service, which operates on a budget of more than $20 per acre.
The Refuge System needs an annual increase of $16 million to compensate for inflation, rising energy and technology costs and general increases in compensation and refuge expansions.
But the Bush administration says they don’t have the money. They have $6 billion for oil company tax breaks. They have $8 billion a month for Iraq. They have over $1 billion for abstinence-only education. But they don’t have $16 million for the Refuge System.
So each region of the Refuge System – which is already severely understaffed -- is cutting its employees. What kinds of cuts are we talking about?
Northeast Region: In the first phase of cuts, approximately 24 permanent positions will be eliminated and 20 other positions will be reassigned.
Southeast Region: In the next three years, 80 full-time staff positions will be eliminated. This follows the elimination of 64 field positions from 2004-2006 and will result in a 20% reduction in staff.
Midwest Region: A total of 71 positions will be abolished or 20% of the workforce and 3 additional refuges will be de-staffed.
Southwest Region: A dozen biologists will be cut as well as 11 refuge managers, among other field staffers. Arizona will see a 16% reduction in field staff at refuges, while New Mexico will lose 20%, Oklahoma 18% and Texas 11%.
Northwest Region: Staff reduction plan coming soon.
Impacts of the cuts include a reduction of environmental education programs for thousands of school children, reduction of biological surveys and invasive species monitoring, 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.
Despite President Bush’s declining interest in America’s wildlife refuges, the reality is that as pressure builds on the nation’s stressed wildlife populations – pressure from global warming, pollution, sprawl, invasive species, poaching, and wetlands destruction – the need for a well managed, scientifically sound Refuge System has never been greater.
What You Can Do Now:
According to the nonprofit National Wildlife Refuge Association:
Members of the House National Wildlife Refuge Caucus, Representatives Ron Kind (D-WI), Jim Saxton (R-NJ), Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Michael Castle(R-DE) are sending a letter to the House Interior and Environment appropriations subcommittee urging them to increase funding for the NWRS to $451.5 million for FY'08. This funding level will stabilize losses of staffing and programs so vital to ensuring the Refuge System's wildlife conservation mission. Without support from fellow members of Congress, the appropriators have little incentive to increase the budget on their own.
Urge your U.S. Representative to sign onto the letter to House Interior & Environment appropriators currently being circulated regarding funding for the Refuge System. Your action is needed NOW - the deadline for signers is TUESDAY, MARCH 13TH!!
See the list below to see who has already signed as of March 8, 2007.
If your rep is not on the list, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Please call as soon as you can.
If the staffer you talk to needs additional info, tell them their rep can sign the letter by contacting Andy Oliver (Saxton) at 5-4765 (Andy.Oliver@mail.house.gov) or David DeGennaro (Kind) at 5-5506 (david.DeGennaro@mail.house.gov).
Signers as of March 8, 2007
- Abercrombie (D-HI)
- Allen (D-ME)
- Baldwin (D-WI)
- Henry Brown (R-SC)
- DeFazio (D-OR)
- DeGette (D-CO)
- Dingell (D-MI)
- Ellison (D-MN)
- Gene Green (D-TX)
- Hastings (D-FL)
- Hinojosa (D-TX)
- Herseth (D-SD)
- Hooley (D-OR)
- Kucinich (D-OH)
- Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ)
- Maloney (D-FL)
- McDermott (D-WA)
- McNerney (D-CA)
- Dennis Moore (D-KS)
- Gwen Moore (D-WI)
- Oberstar (D-MN)
- Pallone (D-NJ)
- Rahall (D-WV)
- Shays (R-CT)
- Tauscher (D-CA)
- Mark Udall (D-CO)
- Van Hollen (D-MD)
- Weiner (D-NY)
- Don Young (R-AK)