Strategic Plan U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Mission Goal 2. Habitat Conservation: A Network of Lands and Waters

An ecologically diverse network of lands and waters--of various ownerships--is conserved in cooperation with others to provide habitats for migratory birds, imperiled species, interjurisdictional fish, marine mammals and species of international concern associated with those ecosystems.

Habitat is fundamental for self-sustaining populations of fish, wildlife and plants as well as for functional ecosystems. The Service's goal is to conserve fish and wildlife by protecting and restoring the habitat on which they depend. Habitat in its simplest terms is home: a place to eat, drink, rest and raise young, year in and year out. The Service has both a regulatory and a land management role in protecting and restoring habitat. Our most visible program, the National Wildlife Refuge System, provides a national network of homes - a lifeline for millions of migratory waterfowl; open spaces for elk, pronghorn and caribou; and wild niches for the rare and endangered. This habitat is as diverse as the wild things living there. Refuges protect tundra, grasslands, deserts, forests, rivers, marshes, swamps and remote islands - virtually every type of habitat and landscape found in the United States. On many refuges we restore what was ditched, drained and cleared, and actively manage wetlands, grasslands and forests to provide the variety of habitat needed by diverse wildlife. Active management of habitat includes managing natural and prescribed fires and conserving or improving air quality. As such, the Service manages natural fires or prescribed burns in order to restore vegetation and habitat to a natural range of conditions and species diversity.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has long advocated the National Wildlife Refuge System as the foundation for ecosystem stability and connectivity throughout the United States. With more than 500 Refuges containing approximately 93 million acres, the National Wildlife Refuge System is the world's most significant system of habitat protected and managed for the benefit of fish and wildlife species. This system, because it belongs to the American public, is in and of itself a trust resource of the federal government. The National Fish Hatchery System is also part of the Service's land base. These too, are public trust resources that will contribute to the overall success of ecosystem restoration. The Service has and will continue to make every effort to have National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries be the example of ecosystem stability in areas throughout the country and an available tool to ecosystem recovery. But it is also recognized that the systems of Refuges and Hatcheries cannot do the job alone.

As noted before, nearly 70% of all fish and wildlife habitat in the United States is in private ownership. There must be a close partnership between the private land owners that feel a strong kinship with the natural resources, and the Service as we work to improve conditions for all natural resources. The primary reason for the addition of species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the loss of habitat. The Service is committed to bonding efforts on Service lands with those of the private sector to stabilize ecosystems, which in turn helps prevent species from declining to the point where protection under the Endangered Species Act is necessary. Ecosystem teams and partnerships contributes to our success in conserving the America's biological diversity and helping the Service meet the challenges of conserving fish and wildlife by protecting and restoring natural ecosystems.

Long-Term Goals

2.1 Habitat Conservation On Service Lands

By 2003, meet the identified habitat needs of the Service lands by ensuring that 93,654,000 acres (total acreage in the NWRS) are protected, of which 3,500,000 acres will be enhanced or restored. In addition, 80% of contaminated cleanup projects will be completed according to their original schedule.

This long-term goal addresses managing and preserving habitat quality of the lands and waters owned and managed the Service, principally the National Wildlife Refuge System. These lands form a network of habitats of the quality and quantity sufficient to perpetuate species associated with ecosystems conserved and thus sufficient for future generations of Americans to benefit from their national fish and wildlife heritage. Protecting, enhancing or restoring habitat involves placing acreage under active management practices that are compatible with fish and wildlife management (e.g., haying, farming, grazing, forest improvement, or exotic plant control). Other activities may be required to physically manipulate the landscape to allow it to become compatible with fish and wildlife management goals (e.g., planting native grasses, reestablishing wetland vegetation, or changing the hydrology of the land).

The actions the Service will take to deliver this goal will include numerous management and protection actions, such as habitat assessment studies to determine habitat quality, habitat restoration to improve habitat quality for identified species, moist soil and wetland management actions to improve habitat productivity, improved pest management practices to benefit refuge resources, fire management to prevent habitat degradation, law enforcement to prevent illegal use of refuge resources, and other management techniques as necessary to meet local resource management goals (e.g., grazing, mowing, haying, and farming).

Conserving habitat quality on the lands and facilities under the jurisdiction of the Service includes identifying and locating contaminants, assessing their impacts and cleaning up contaminants to prevent or reduce exposure of fish and wildlife resources to pollutants. The Service will deliver this goal through conducting contaminant investigations to discover or identify contaminated sites or those potentially in violation of environmental laws and regulations. Based on this information, specific cleanup projects for identified sites are designed and proposed annually by Service Regions for competitive funding. Proposed cleanup projects are evaluated, ranking criteria are applied to all submissions, and funds are awarded annually to the highest ranked projects and as funds are available for that year. Projects funded range from simple removal actions on a facility to complex remediation projects that may take more than one year to accomplish and may impact several facilities at once. On selected sites, the Service monitors habitat quality and fish and wildlife health to ensure that the cleanup actions taken were appropriate to protect fish and wildlife resources at Service facilities.

2.2 Infrastructure Stewardship On Service Lands

By 2003, 23% of mission critical water management and public use facilities will be in fair or good condition as measured by the Facilities Condition Index.

The Service must maintain an extensive infrastructure of buildings, facilities, and equipment to effectively carry out its fish and wildlife conservation mission, to provide public safety, and to accommodate the over 31 million annual visitors to Service lands. This infrastructure includes about 5,000 buildings, 7,000 miles of roads, 3,000 miles of dikes, thousands of water control structures, and a wide variety of vehicles and equipment. While industry standards call for annually funding maintenance at 2 to 4% of the replacement value of facilities, over the last decade hatcheries and refuges have received only about 1% of the replacement value of their facilities for their maintenance needs. As a result, the lists of deferred maintenance projects in both Hatcheries and Refuges have grown substantially. Using the Facility Condition Index, which is the cost of deferred maintenance projects as a fraction of the total capitalized value of a facility, the average facility in both the National Fish Hatchery System and the National Wildlife Refuge System must be characterized as being in poor condition.

Service delivery of this goal will be measured through an improved facility condition index which will be sought by a combination of targeting available maintenance funds to improve facilities, designing new facilities in a way that minimizes future maintenance needs, and in some cases closing or reducing the extent of facilities to be maintained. Also, the Service needs to improve information in the Real Property Inventory System to evaluate the condition of real property and facility contributions to the Service's mission. Our baseline will be determined by FY 2000, which will help the Service meet its long-term goal in FY 2003.

2.3 Habitat Conservation Off Service Lands

By 2003, improve the fish and wildlife populations focusing on trust resources, threatened and endangered species, and species of special concern by enhancing, restoring and/or creating 250,000 acres of wetlands habitat, restoring 395,000 acres of upland habitat, and enhancing and/or restoring 2,500 riparian or stream miles of habitat off-Service lands through partnerships and other identified conservation strategies.

The habitat potential of lands held or managed by other than the Service is tremendous. This long-term goal focuses on two basic delivery strategies for working outside the Service that together help define, shape, and sustain a network of lands and waters that provide the basis for ecosystem health. The first strategy emphasizes the development of local or watershed based partnerships with other federal agencies, tribes, states, local governments, conservation organizations, citizen groups, and private land owners. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan, which serves as the foundation of the Service's 10 habitat joint ventures, has been instrumental in promoting new partnerships with federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, corporations, and private individuals for habitat protection, restoration, and enhancement projects. These partnerships help shape the network of lands necessary to improve the survival and sustainability of the nation's fish and wildlife resources. To be successful, the Service must consider both habitat needs and the needs of people who depend on natural resources for economic, subsistence, and recreational endeavors. Some of these agreements with partners address both individual species and populations, while others focus on landscape, flyway, or watershed goals.

The second strategy for delivering this goal is through the consideration of fish and wildlife resources and the habitat on which they depend when the Service reviews federal permits and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses and performs formal and informal consultations under the Endangered Species Act, as well as through the Service's private lands program. The Service provides a broad array of technical assistance to its state, federal and tribal partners to promote the protection, restoration, and enhancement of important habitat types. For example, the Service maintains a National Wetlands Inventory which is integral to assessing the location and status of important wetland habitats. Whether our actions involve efforts to reduce the impacts of pollution and hazardous materials on fish and wildlife habitat or to identify resource threats and possible mitigation techniques, the goal is to return natural functions to lands and waters affected by human activity. While it is not possible to quantify with precision the number of acres where the adverse impact of man's actions is avoided, lessened, or reversed, we estimate that through consideration of our partners and consultation, technical assistance, and habitat restoration on private land, hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat are protected each year.

External Factors Affecting Mission Goal 2

There are several key factors external to the Service and beyond its control that could significantly affect the achievement of this long-term goal. They include:

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