[Federal Register: October 17, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 201)]
[Page 61356-61362]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

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Fish and Wildlife Service

[RIN 1018-AG47]

Draft Policy on Maintaining the Ecological Integrity of the 
National Wildlife Refuge System; Notice

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: We (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) propose to establish an 
internal policy to guide personnel of the National Wildlife Refuge 
System (Refuge System) in implementing the clause of the National 
Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (Refuge Improvement Act) 
that calls for maintaining the ``biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health'' of the Refuge System. The holistic integration 
of these three qualities constitutes ecological integrity. The concept 
of ecological integrity requires a frame of reference for natural 
conditions. Our frame of reference extends from 800 AD to 1800 AD. The 
former date marked the beginning of an ecological transformation 
associated with higher temperatures; the latter approximates the advent 
of the industrial era, including drastic and widespread habitat loss. 
In areas where pre-industrial European settlement was particularly 
intensive, however, our frame of reference may be shorter. Natural 
conditions also include those that would have persisted or evolved to 
the present time if European settlement and industrialization had not 
occurred. At each refuge, we ascertain natural conditions, assess 
current conditions, and strive to decrease the difference. However, we 
are especially concerned with ecological integrity of the Refuge System 
as a whole, which can conflict with the maintenance of ecological 
integrity at individual refuges. In some cases, we may compromise the 
ecological integrity of a refuge for the sake of maintaining a higher 
level of ecological integrity at the Refuge System scale.

DATES: Submit comments on or before December 1, 2000.

ADDRESSES: Send comments or questions concerning the draft ecological 
integrity policy via mail, fax, or email to: Elizabeth Souheaver, 
Chief, Branch of Wildlife Resources, National Wildlife Refuge System, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 670, 
Arlington, Virginia 22203; fax (703) 358-2248; e-mail Ecointegrity__ 
policy_comments@ fws.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Elizabeth Souheaver, Chief, Branch of 
Wildlife Resources, National Wildlife Refuge System, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 670, Arlington, 
Virginia 22203; telephone (703) 358-1744.

    Disposition. The policy presented in this notice is a draft policy 
that may be modified pursuant to public comment. The finalized policy 
will constitute Part 601 Chapter 3 of the Fish and Wildlife Service 
    Comment Solicitation. We seek public comments on this draft policy 
and will consider all comments received during the 45-day comment 
period. You may submit comments by any one of several methods:
     You may mail comments to: Elizabeth Souheaver, Branch 
Chief of Wildlife Resources, National Wildlife Refuge System, U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 670, Arlington, VA 
     You may fax comments to: Elizabeth Souheaver, Chief, 
Branch of Wildlife Resources, National Wildlife Refuge System, (703) 
    You may comment via the Internet to: Ecointegrity__policy__
     You may hand-deliver comments to the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Refuge System, Room 670, 4401 North 
Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA.
    Our practice is to make comments, including names and home 
addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular 
business hours. Individual respondents may request that we withhold 
their home address from the record, which we will honor to the extent 
allowable by law. There also may be circumstances in which we take the 
initiative to withhold from the record a respondent's identity, as 
allowable by law. If you wish that we withhold your name and/or 
address, you must state this prominently at the beginning of your 
comment. However, we will not consider anonymous comments. We will make 
all submissions from organizations or businesses and from individuals 
identifying themselves as representatives or officials of organizations 
or businesses, available for public inspection in their entirety.
    We published a notice in the Federal Register on January 23, 1998 
(63 FR 3583) notifying the public that we would be revising the Fish 
and Wildlife Service Manual, establishing regulations as they relate to 
the Refuge Improvement Act, and offering to send copies of specific 
draft Fish and Wildlife Service Manual chapters to anyone who would 
like to receive them. We will mail a copy of this draft Fish and 
Wildlife Service Manual ecological integrity chapter to those who 
requested one. In addition, this draft Fish and Wildlife Service Manual 
ecological integrity chapter will be available on the National Wildlife 
Refuge System web site (http://refuges.fws.gov) during the 45-day 
comment period.

Ecological Integrity Draft Policy (Fish and Wildlife Service 
Manual, Part 601, Draft Chapter 3)

3.1  What Is the Purpose of This Chapter?

    This chapter provides policy for maintaining and restoring the 
biological integrity, biological diversity, and environmental health of 
the National Wildlife Refuge System. Throughout this policy, we use the 
term ``ecological integrity'' to refer to biological integrity, 
biological diversity, and environmental health.

3.2  What Is the Scope of This Policy?

    This policy applies to the National Wildlife Refuge System as a 
whole and to all individual units within the System.

3.3  What Is the Ecological Integrity Policy?

    We will, first and foremost, maintain existing levels of ecological 
integrity at all landscape scales. In addition, we will restore lost 
elements of ecological integrity at all landscape scales where it is 
consistent with refuge purposes.

3.4  What Are the Objectives of This Policy?

    A. Provide guidelines for determining what conditions constitute 
ecological integrity.
    B. Provide guidelines for determining how to maintain existing 
levels of ecological integrity.
    C. Provide guidelines for determining how and when to restore lost 
elements of ecological integrity.

3.5  What Is the Authority for This Policy?

    The authority for this draft policy is the National Wildlife Refuge 
System Administration Act of 1966 as amended by the National Wildlife 
Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, 16 U.S.C. 668dd-668ee (Refuge 
Administration Act). This law states that ``In administering the 
System, the Secretary shall--(A) Provide for the conservation of fish, 
wildlife, and plants, and their habitats within the System; (B) ensure 
that the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of 
the System are maintained for the benefit of present

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and future generations of Americans; (C) plan and direct the continued 
growth of the System in a manner that is best designed to accomplish 
the mission of the System, to contribute to the conservation of the 
ecosystems of the United States, to complement efforts of States and 
other Federal agencies to conserve fish and wildlife and their 
habitats, and to increase support for the System and participation from 
conservation partners and the public; (D) ensure that the mission of 
the System described in paragraph (2) and the purposes of each refuge 
are carried out, except that if a conflict exists between the purposes 
of a refuge and the mission of the System, the conflict shall be 
resolved in a manner that first protects the purposes of the refuge, 
and, to the extent practicable, that also achieves the mission of the 
System; * * *'' The law also provides that, in administering the 
National Wildlife Refuge System, ``* * * the Secretary is authorized to 
* * * Issue regulations to carry out this Act.''

3.6  What Do These Terms Mean?

    A. Biological diversity. The variety of life and its processes, 
including the variety of living organisms, the genetic differences 
among them, and communities and ecosystems in which they occur.
    B. Biological integrity. Biotic composition, structure, and 
functioning at genetic, organism, and community levels consistent with 
natural conditions, including the natural biological processes that 
shape genomes, organisms, and communities.
    C. Ecological integrity. Biological diversity, biological 
integrity, and environmental health.
    D. Environmental health. Composition, structure, and functioning of 
soil, water, air, and other abiotic features consistent with natural 
conditions, including the natural abiotic processes that shape the 
    E. Native. Not introduced. Present under natural conditions.
    F. Natural conditions. Composition, structure, and functioning of 
ecosystems thought to exist during a reference period from 
approximately 800 AD to the onset of European settlement or the 
industrial era and that would have persisted or evolved to the present 
time if European settlement had not occurred or the industrial era had 
not arrived. Our assessment of natural conditions is based on sound 
professional judgment.
    G. Sound professional judgment. A finding, determination, or 
decision that is consistent with principles of sound fish and wildlife 
management and administration, available science and resources, and 
adherence to the requirements of the National Wildlife Refuge System 
Administration Act of 1966 (16 U.S.C. 668dd-668ee), and other 
applicable laws. Included in this finding, determination, or decision 
is a refuge manager's field experience and knowledge of the particular 
refuge's resources.

3.7  What Are the Principles Underlying This Policy?

A. Wildlife First
    The Refuge Administration Act clearly establishes that wildlife 
conservation is the singular National Wildlife Refuge System mission. 
House Report 105-106 accompanying the National Wildlife Refuge System 
Improvement Act of 1997 states ``* * * the fundamental mission of our 
Refuge System is wildlife conservation: wildlife and wildlife 
conservation must come first.'' Maintaining biological integrity, 
biological diversity, and environmental health are integral and high 
priority components of wildlife conservation.
B. Maintaining Ecological Integrity of the System and Accomplishing 
Refuge Purposes
    Each refuge will be managed to fulfill refuge purposes as well as 
to help fulfill the System mission. If a conflict exists between 
managing for refuge purposes and the System mission, the conflict will 
be resolved in a manner that first protects the refuge purposes, and, 
to the extent practicable, that also achieves the System mission. 
Likewise, if a conflict exists between managing for refuge purposes and 
maintaining or restoring the ecological integrity of the System, the 
conflict will be resolved in a manner that first protects the refuge 
purposes, and, to the extent practicable, that also maintains or 
restores the ecological integrity of the System. When refuge managers 
select management actions that fulfill refuge purposes, they will 
follow as closely as possible the guidelines provided in this 
ecological integrity policy so as to maximize our ability to maintain 
the ecological integrity of the System while fulfilling refuge 
purposes. These decisions are based on sound professional judgment.
C. Ecological Integrity in a Landscape Context
    Biological integrity, biological diversity, and environmental 
health occur at various landscape scales from local to ecosystem, 
national, and international. All refuges have varying levels of 
biological integrity, biological diversity, and environmental health, 
and they contribute to ecological integrity at multiple landscape 
scales. At the local landscape scale, ecological integrity varies at 
individual refuges to the extent that refuge habitats have been altered 
and natural conditions have been compromised. Also, refuges contribute 
to ecological integrity at other landscape scales, especially when they 
provide for populations and habitats that have been lost at the larger 
landscape scales. When determining strategies to maintain and restore 
ecological integrity, we consider refuges in the context of multiple 
landscape scales from local to international.
D. Maintenance and Restoration of Ecological Integrity
    We will, first and foremost, maintain existing levels of ecological 
integrity at all landscape scales. In addition, we will restore lost 
elements of ecological integrity at all landscape scales where it is 
consistent with refuge purposes. Maintaining and restoring ecological 
integrity helps to minimize the effects of further loses of natural 
conditions at all landscape scales.
E. Management Based on Goals and Objectives
    Refuge purposes and the System mission serve as the basis for goals 
and objectives at all levels of the System (e.g., System, Regional, 
ecosystem, and refuge level). When we develop these goals and 
objectives we include goals and objectives for maintaining and 
restoring the ecological integrity of the System as described in this 
F. Wildlife and Habitat Management
    Refuge management ranging from preservation to active manipulation 
of habitats and populations is necessary to maintain ecological 
integrity. We favor management that mimics natural processes to achieve 
refuge purposes, goals and objectives, and to help fulfill the System 
mission, goals and objectives. Our management may differ from the 
frequency and timing of natural processes when necessary to compensate 
for the loss of habitat that existed under natural conditions at 
landscape scales beyond the refuge boundaries.
G. Adaptive Management
    We make management decisions based on sound professional judgment 
and we evaluate the effectiveness of these decisions by comparing 
results to desired outcomes. If the results are unsatisfactory, we 
assess the causes of failure and adapt our management decisions 
accordingly. In part, we base management decisions on natural resource 
related research that has been

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conducted on refuges. This type of research adds to the general body of 
information related to natural resource management and aids us in 
continually adapting our management decisions. We generally encourage 
natural resource related research on refuges.
H. Sound Professional Judgment
    We use sound professional judgment to determine what conditions 
constitute ecological integrity, how to maintain existing levels of 
ecological integrity; and how and when to restore lost elements of 
ecological integrity. These determinations are inherently complex and 
require us to consider our field experiences and knowledge of refuge 
resources, particularly biological resources, and make conclusions that 
are consistent with principles of sound fish and wildlife management 
and administration, available scientific information, and applicable 
laws. We consult with others inside and outside the Service as 

3.8 What are our responsibilities?

A. Director
    (1) Provides national policy, goals and objectives for maintaining 
and restoring the ecological integrity of the System.
    (2) Ensures that national plans and partnerships support 
maintaining and restoring the ecological integrity of the System.
    (3) Ensures that the national land acquisition strategy for the 
System is designed to maintain the ecological integrity of the System 
at all landscape scales.
B. Regional Director
    (1) Provides regional policy, goals and objectives for maintaining 
and restoring the ecological integrity of the System. Regional policy 
will include guidance pertaining to the relative merits of pursuing 
ecological integrity on a particular refuge versus pursuing ecological 
integrity for other landscape scales.
    (2) Ensures that regional and ecosystem plans, and regional 
partnerships support the maintenance and restoration of Refuge System 
ecological integrity.
    (3) Resolves conflicts that arise between maintaining ecological 
integrity at the refuge landscape scale and maintaining ecological 
integrity at larger landscape scales.
C. Regional Refuge Chief
    (1) Ensures that individual refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plans 
support the maintenance and restoration of Refuge System ecological 
    (2) Reviews and ensures that refuge management programs that occur 
on many refuges (e.g., fire management) are consistent with this 
D. Refuge Manager
    (1) Follows the procedure outlined in section 3.9 of this chapter.
    (2) Incorporates the principles of this policy into all refuge 
management plans and actions.
    (3) Ensures that refuge management plans, goals and objectives are 
consistent with System, regional and ecosystem goals and objectives to 
maintain ecological integrity.

3.9 How do we implement this policy?

    The Director, regional directors, regional chiefs and refuge 
managers carry out their responsibilities as specified in section 3.8 
of this chapter. In addition, refuge managers:
    A. Identify the refuge's purposes.
    B. Ascertain natural conditions for the refuge, including 
representative successional stages.
    C. Assess current conditions and compare them to natural conditions 
to determine the most appropriate management strategies for maintaining 
and restoring ecological integrity. This assessment includes 
determining the capabilities and limitations of the refuge to maintain 
and restore ecological integrity.
    D. Consider the refuge's importance to local, ecosystem, national 
and international landscape scales of ecological integrity.
    E. Identify the refuge's roles and responsibilities within the 
Regional and System administrative levels.
    F. Consider the relationships among biological integrity, 
biological diversity and environmental health, and resolve conflicts 
that may result when attempting to maintain and restore all three.
    G. Consider refuge purposes and, in coordination with the 
comprehensive conservation planning process, prescribe appropriate 
wildlife and habitat management to maintain and restore ecological 
integrity at the appropriate landscape scales.
    H. Evaluate the effectiveness of our management by comparing 
results to desired outcomes. If the results of our management 
strategies are unsatisfactory, assess the causes of failure and adapt 
our strategies accordingly.

3.10 What factors do we consider when maintaining and restoring 
ecological integrity?

    This section provides guidance for maintaining and restoring each 
component of ecological integrity; that is, biological integrity, 
biological diversity, and environmental health. We plan for the 
maintenance and restoration of each component, while considering all 
three components in an integrated and holistic manner.
A. Biological Integrity
    We evaluate biological integrity by examining the extent to which 
biological composition, structure, and function have been altered from 
natural conditions. Biological composition refers to biological 
components such as genes, populations, species, and communities. 
Biological structure refers to the organization of biological 
components, such as gene frequencies, social structures of populations, 
food webs of species, and niche partitioning within communities. 
Biological function refers to the processes undergone by biological 
components, such as genetic recombination, population migration, the 
evolution of species, and community succession.
    Biological integrity lies along a continuum from a biological 
system completely altered by industrial development to a completely 
natural system. No landscape retains absolute biological integrity. 
However, we strive to prevent the further loss of natural biological 
features and processes; that is, biological integrity.
    Maintaining or restoring biological integrity is not the same as 
maximizing biological diversity. Maintaining biological integrity may 
entail managing for a single species or community at some refuges and 
combinations of species or communities at other refuges. For example, a 
refuge may contain critical habitat for an endangered species. 
Maintaining that habitat (and, therefore, that species), even though it 
may reduce biological diversity at the local landscape scale, helps 
maintain biological integrity and biological diversity at the national 
landscape scale.
    In deciding which management activities to conduct to accomplish 
refuge purposes while maintaining biological integrity, we start by 
considering how the ecosystem functioned under natural conditions. For 
example, we consider the natural frequency and timing of processes such 
as flooding, fires, and migration. Our management will mimic these 
natural processes in natural frequencies and timing at the local 
landscape scale, where they support accomplishing refuge purposes.
    We may find it necessary to modify the frequency and timing of 
natural processes at the local landscape scale to fulfill refuge 
purposes or to contribute

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to ecological integrity at larger landscape scales. For example, under 
natural conditions, an area may have flooded only a few times per 
decade. Migratory birds dependent upon wetlands may have used the area 
in some years, and used other areas that flooded in other years. 
Because many wetlands have been converted to agriculture or other land 
uses, the remaining wetlands must produce more habitat, more 
consistently, to support wetland-dependent migratory birds. Therefore, 
to conserve biological integrity at larger landscape scales we may 
flood areas more frequently and for longer periods of time than they 
were flooded under natural conditions.
B. Biological diversity
    We evaluate biological diversity at various taxonomic levels, 
including class, order, family, genus, species, subspecies, and--for 
purposes of Endangered Species Act implementation--distinct population. 
These evaluations of biological diversity begin with population surveys 
and studies of flora and fauna. The System's focus is on native species 
and natural communities.
    We also evaluate biological diversity at various landscape scales, 
including local, ecosystem, national, and international. On refuges, we 
typically focus our evaluations of biological diversity at the local 
scale; however, these local evaluations can contribute to assessments 
at larger landscape scales.
    We strive to maintain populations of breeding individuals that are 
genetically viable and functional. We provide for the breeding, 
migrating, and wintering needs of migratory species. We also strive to 
maximize the size of habitat blocks and maintain connectivity between 
blocks of habitats, unless such connectivity causes adverse effects on 
wildlife or habitat (e.g., by facilitating the spread of invasive 
    At the community level, the most reliable indicator of biological 
diversity is plant community composition. We use the National 
Vegetation Classification System to identify biological diversity at 
this level.
C. Environmental Health.
    We evaluate environmental health by examining the extent to which 
environmental composition, structure, and function have been altered 
from natural conditions. Environmental composition refers to abiotic 
components such as air, water, and soils, all of which are generally 
interwoven with biotic components (e.g., decomposers live in soils). 
Environmental structure refers to the organization of abiotic 
components, such as atmospheric layering, aquifer structure, and 
topography. Environmental function refers to the processes undergone by 
abiotic components, such as wind, evaporation, and erosion. A diversity 
of abiotic composition, structure, and function tends to support a 
diversity of biological composition, structure, and function.
    Environmental health affects biological integrity at all levels. 
Consistent with the wildlife first principle, we are especially 
concerned with environmental features as they affect living organisms. 
For example, at the genetic level, we manage for environmental health 
by preventing chemical contamination of air, water, and soils that may 
interfere with reproductive physiology or stimulate high rates of 
mutation. Such contamination includes carcinogens and other toxic 
substances that are released within or outside of refuges.
    At the population and community levels, we consider the habitat 
components of food, water, cover, and space. Food and water may become 
contaminated with chemicals that are not naturally present. Activities 
such as logging and mining or structures such as buildings and fences 
may modify security or thermal cover. Unnatural noise and light 
pollution also compromise security. Unnatural physical structures, 
including buildings, reservoirs, and other infrastructure, may displace 
space. Refuge facility construction and maintenance projects necessary 
to accomplish refuge purposes should be designed to minimize their 
impacts on the environmental health of the refuge.

3.11  How Do We Apply Our Management Strategies to Maintain and Restore 
Ecological Integrity?

    We strive to manage for ecological integrity in a holistic manner 
by optimizing the combination of biological integrity, biological 
diversity, and environmental health. We balance these three components 
of ecological integrity by considering refuge purposes, landscape 
scales, and the wildlife first principle. Considered independently, 
management strategies to maintain and restore biological integrity, 
biological diversity, and environmental health may conflict.
    For example, physical structures and chemical applications are 
often necessary to maintain biological integrity and to fulfill refuge 
purposes. We may use dikes and water control structures to maintain and 
restore natural hydrological cycles, or use rotenone to eliminate 
invasive carp from a pond. These unnatural physical alterations and 
chemical applications would compromise environmental health if 
considered in isolation, but they may be appropriate management actions 
for maintaining ecological integrity when they are essential for 
maintaining biological integrity and accomplishing refuge purposes.
    We may remove physical structures to promote endangered species 
recovery in some areas, or we may remove plants or animals (e.g., 
beavers) to protect structures (e.g., dikes), depending upon refuge 
purposes. Unless we determine that a species was present in the area of 
a refuge under natural conditions, we will not introduce or maintain 
the presence of that species for the purpose of biological diversity. 
We may make exceptions where areas are essential for the conservation 
of a threatened or endangered species and suitable habitats are not 
available elsewhere. In such cases, we strive to minimize unnatural 
effects and to restore or maintain natural processes and ecosystem 
components to the extent practicable without jeopardizing refuge 

3.12  What Do We Use as a Frame of Reference for Natural Conditions?

    We examine the time period from 800 AD to European settlement or to 
the industrial era to choose a timeframe that is appropriate for 
determining natural conditions for a given area of the country. In each 
area of the country, the timeframe for determining natural conditions 
must be long enough to define the full range of an area's plant 
community succession, fire regimes, hydrology, and climatic cycles. 
Natural conditions also may include those natural evolutionary forces 
and events, such as range expansions, that would have occurred if 
European settlement had not occurred or the industrial era had not 
    We use 800 AD as the starting point for natural conditions because 
it marks a major ecological transition in North America. The period 
from 800 AD to the industrial era includes warm, cool, and moderate 
climates that supported a variety of naturally occurring ecosystems. We 
use both European settlement and the industrial era as end points for 
determining natural conditions because we recognize both for causing 
landscape alterations. European settlers cleared land, established 
farms, and built towns and cities. Their impacts on the landscape 
varied, depending on density and land use. During the industrial era, 
the use of intensive energy sources, such as fossil fuels, have 
resulted in degradation and

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elimination of habitats, exterpitation of species, and created a need 
for both local and landscape level conservation efforts.
    In the United States, European settlement and the industrial era 
began approximately 1600 AD and 1800 AD, respectively. In some areas 
the land use changes that degrade or destroy wildlife habitat did not 
begin until much later than 1800, particularly in Alaska. In these 
areas, we may extend the frame of reference for natural conditions 
beyond 1800.
    In some cases, non-natural and irreversible changes have occurred 
since the industrial era. For example, some areas have been converted 
to urban or industrial uses, some species have been driven to 
extinction, and widespread phenomena like global warming may 
increasingly impact ecosystems. We acknowledge the existence of such 
irreversible, non-natural changes and strive to maintain remaining 
levels of ecological integrity without investing resources in futile 
management activities. However, where feasible we will attempt to mimic 
the structure, composition and function of natural conditions.

3.13  Where Do We Get Information on Natural Conditions?

    Information on natural conditions may be ethnographic, historical, 
archeological, or paleoecological. Ethnographic information consists 
primarily of Native American oral traditions and belongings passed down 
through many generations. Historical information includes the written 
and, in some cases, the pictographic accounts of explorers, surveyors, 
traders, and others present in the United States prior to the 
industrial era. Archeological information comes from collections of 
cultural artifacts maintained by scientific institutions. 
Paleoecological information comes from a variety of ecological 
artifacts including fossils, packrat middens, pollen cores, soil 
sediments, and tree rings.
    We obtain information on natural conditions from our investigations 
and from partners in academia, conservation organizations, and other 
Federal, State, Tribal, and local government agencies. In many cases, 
we use historical vegetation maps to provide data on natural 
conditions. Such historical maps are usually drawn at relatively coarse 
scales, perhaps to the level of vegetation alliance. Small areas such 
as bogs would have gone undocumented or undetected in the historical or 
paleoecological records, and generally a comprehensive list of plant 
and animal species is not available or necessary. The determination of 
natural species and ecosystem composition will be based on sound 
professional judgment. We periodically update our information on 
natural conditions with results from ongoing archeological and 
paleoecological studies.
    When information on natural conditions is not available for a 
particular area, we obtain information on natural conditions of nearby 
areas that have similar environmental traits at a broad scale, 
including topography, geology, soils, and climate. We use these 
conditions as a proxy for natural conditions of the area in question.

3.14  How Do We Incorporate Information From the Natural Conditions 
Reference Period Into Our Management Decisions?

    Maintaining biological integrity, biological diversity, and 
environmental health requires an ecological frame of reference. This 
frame of reference allows us to contrast current conditions with the 
natural conditions that existed prior to European settlement and the 
advent of the industrial era. The reference period guides us in two 
ways. It provides information on how the landscape looked prior to 
changes in land use that destroyed and fragmented habitats and resulted 
in diminished wildlife populations and the extirpation or extinction of 
species. It also allows us to examine how natural ecosystems function 
and maintain themselves. We use these conditions as a frame of 
reference in which to set current management goals.
    We use the natural conditions frame of reference to identify 
composition, structure, and functional processes that naturally shaped 
ecosystems. We especially seek to identify keystone species, indicator 
species, and types of communities that occurred during the frame of 
reference. We also seek to ascertain basic information on natural 
structures such as predator/prey relationships and topography. Finally, 
we seek to identify the scale and frequency of processes that 
accompanied these components and structures, such as fire regimes, 
flooding events, and plant community succession. Where feasible, we 
also pursue ecological integrity by eliminating unnatural biotic and 
abiotic features and processes not necessary to accomplish refuge 
    We do not expect, however, to reconstruct a complete inventory of 
components, structures, and functions for any successional stage 
occurring during the frame of reference. Rather, we use sound 
professional judgment to fit the pieces together as if building a 
puzzle. For example, if there is fossilized evidence that beavers lived 
in an area, then we may conclude that there were beaver dams with 
associated floral and faunal components, community structure, and 
hydrological functions. Similarly, if tree ring analysis indicates a 
highly regular fire regime of every 10-15 years in a ponderosa pine 
forest, we may conclude that this functioned to maintain an understory 
with a relatively open structure, with a community of plants and 
animals typical of open-structured ponderosa pine forests.
    We ensure that our management activities result in the 
establishment of a community that fits within the natural successional 
series, unless doing so conflicts with accomplishing refuge purposes. 
For example, if we determine that an area in question was an aspen 
parkland in 1800, we may manage for aspen parkland or any other 
community that fits within the natural successional series, with a 
focus on natural communities and ecological processes that are rare, 
declining, or unique. We often choose to maintain non-climax 
communities pursuant to refuge purposes or to contribute to ecological 
integrity at the regional, national, or international landscape scale. 
We favor techniques such as fire or flooding that mimic or result in 
natural processes to maintain these non-climax communities. However, 
where not precluded by refuge purposes, we allow or, if necessary, 
encourage natural successional processes.
    If there is evidence that certain successional stages naturally 
were precluded, we do not attempt to manage for those stages. For 
example, if a volcanic eruption in the 12th century impounded water 
that flooded a forest, creating a lake in the process, we would not 
drain the lake to reproduce the forest. Reproducing conditions that 
naturally ceased to exist compromises ecological integrity.

3.15  How Do We Manage Populations To Maintain and Restore Ecological 

    We maintain, or contribute to the maintenance of, viable 
populations of native species. We design our wildlife population 
management strategies to support accomplishing refuge purposes while 
maintaining or restoring ecological integrity. We formulate refuge 
goals and objectives for population management to maintain natural 
densities, social structures, and population dynamics at the local 
level, except where precluded by refuge purposes or by population 
objectives set by national plans and programs--such

[[Page 61361]]

as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan--in which the System is 
a partner.
    Natural densities are relatively stable for some species and 
variable for others. We manage populations for natural densities and 
levels of variation, while assuring that densities of endangered or 
otherwise rare species are sufficient for maintaining viable 
    On some refuges, including many of those having the purpose of 
migratory bird conservation, we establish goals and objectives to 
maintain densities higher than those that would naturally occur at the 
refuge level because of the loss of surrounding habitats. By 
maintaining higher densities at the refuge level, we more closely 
approximate natural levels at larger landscape scales such as flyways. 
We try to prevent, however, densities at excessive levels that result 
in adverse effects on wildlife and habitat. The effects of producing 
densities that are too high may include disease, excessive nutrient 
accumulation and the competitive exclusion of other species. We use 
sound professional judgment to determine prudent limits to densities.
    We consider population parameters such as sex ratios and age class 
distributions when managing populations to maintain and restore 
ecological integrity. Within the constraints of refuge purposes, we set 
our goals and objectives for these parameters within the range of 
values occurring under natural conditions, especially for resident 
populations. For example, ungulate populations with natural social 
structures are characterized by a high percentage of males with 
significant horns or antlers that are attractive to hunters and the 
viewing public alike. Population management plans, goals, and 
objectives for migratory populations generally are set at ecological 
scales broader than the refuge level, although refuges may play 
important roles in these efforts.
    We encourage cooperation and coordination with State fish and 
wildlife management agencies in setting refuge population management 
goals and objectives. Regulations permitting hunting and fishing within 
the System will be, to the extent consistent with this policy, in 
keeping with State fish and wildlife laws, regulations, and management 
    We support the reintroduction of extirpated native species. We 
consider such reintroduction in the context of surrounding landscapes. 
We do not introduce species on refuges outside their historic range or 
introduce species if we determine that they were naturally extirpated, 
unless such introduction is essential for the survival of a species and 
prescribed in an endangered species recovery plan, or is essential for 
the control of an invasive species and prescribed in an integrated pest 
management plan.

3.16  How Do We Manage Habitats To Maintain and Restore Ecological 

    We maintain existing levels of ecological integrity at all 
landscape scales. In addition, we will restore lost elements of 
ecological integrity at all landscape scales where it is consistent 
with refuge purposes. Maintaining and restoring ecological integrity 
helps to minimize the effects of further loses of natural conditions at 
all landscape scales.
    Our habitat management plans call for the appropriate management 
strategies that mimic natural conditions and accomplish refuge 
objectives. For example, prescribed burning to maintain natural fire 
regimes or water level management to mimic natural hydrological cycles 
are often necessary to maintain natural plant and animal communities in 
fragmented landscapes. Farming, haying, logging, livestock grazing, and 
other extractive activities are permissible habitat management 
practices only when prescribed in plans to meet wildlife or habitat 
management objectives, and only when more natural methods, such as fire 
or grazing by native herbivores, are not feasible.
    We do not allow refuge uses or management practices that result in 
the maintenance of non-native plant communities unless we determine 
that there is no other feasible alternative for accomplishing refuge 
purposes. For example, where we do not require farming to accomplish 
refuge purposes, we cease farming and strive to restore natural 
habitats. Generally, farming must be identified as an important 
contribution to ecological integrity at larger ecosystem, regional, or 
national scales. Where past land uses and management practices have 
modified habitats, and where restoration is feasible, we restore 
natural habitats in the pursuit of ecological integrity. We use native 
seed sources in ecological restoration. We do not use genetically 
modified organisms in refuge management unless we determine their use 
essential to accomplishing refuge purposes and the Director approves 
the use.

3.17  How Do We Manage Non-Native Species To Maintain and Restore 
Ecological Integrity?

    We prevent the introduction of invasive species, detect and control 
populations of invasive species, and provide for restoration of native 
species and habitat conditions in invaded ecosystems. We develop 
integrated pest management strategies that incorporate the most 
effective combination of mechanical, chemical, biological, and cultural 
controls while considering the effects on environmental health.
    We require no action to reduce or eradicate self-sustaining 
populations of non-native, non-invasive species (e.g., pheasants) 
unless those species interfere with accomplishing refuge purposes. We 
do not, however, manage habitats to increase populations of these 
species unless such habitat management supports accomplishing refuge 

3.18  How Does This Policy Affect The Acquisition Of Lands For The 

    We consider the mission, goals, and objectives of the System in 
planning for its strategic growth. We will take a proactive approach to 
identifying lands, from national and regional perspectives, that are 
critical for maintaining or restoring the ecological integrity of the 
System. We will integrate this approach into all Service strategies and 
initiatives related to the strategic growth of the System. We 
incorporate the guidance in this chapter when we evaluate the potential 
of an area to contribute to the conservation of the ecosystems of the 
United States. When evaluating potential new refuges, we consider how 
such refuges will contribute to maintaining the ecological integrity of 
the System.
    We use the Land Acquisition Priority System to rank potential 
acquisitions once the Director approves significant expansions or new 
refuges. Our Land Acquisition Priority System includes components that 
gauge the contributions of refuges to maintaining and restoring 
ecological integrity.

3.19  What Is The Relationship Between Ecological Integrity And 

    When completing compatibility determinations, refuge managers use 
sound professional judgment to determine if a refuge use will 
materially interfere with or detract from the fulfillment of the System 
mission or the refuge purposes. Inherent in fulfilling the System 
mission is not degrading the ecological integrity of the refuge and the 
System. Refuge uses that we reasonably may anticipate to conflict with 
maintaining the ecological integrity of the refuge or the System are 
contrary to fulfilling the System mission and are therefore not 
compatible. Specific policy for compatibility is found in 603 FW 2.

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3.20  What Is The Relationship Between Ecological Integrity and 
Comprehensive Conservation Planning?

    We integrate the principles of this policy into all aspects of 
comprehensive conservation planning as we write plans to direct long 
range refuge management and identify desired future conditions for 
planned refuges (602 FW 1.7 D).

3.21  How Do We Protect Ecological Integrity From Actions Outside Of 

    When actions of others that occur off refuge lands or waters that 
injure or destroy the natural resources of a refuge, refuge managers 
should address those problems as soon as possible to protect the 
property of the United States and to protect the biological integrity, 
biological diversity, and environmental health of the refuge and the 
System. The refuge manager should first inform the person or entity 
responsible and request cooperation. Our first effort to avoid and 
rectify injury should always be partnerships or voluntary cooperation 
with adjacent landowners and others. If these efforts fail to protect 
the refuge, refuge managers should request the Office of the Solicitor 
for assistance in pursuing civil remedies, such as an injunction or 
damages, just as any other landowner would.
    Primary Author: Brian Czech, Conservation Biologist, Branch of 
Wildlife Resources, National Wildlife Refuge System, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, is the primary author of this notice.

    Dated: September 24, 2000.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 00-26398 Filed 10-16-00; 8:45 am]