WHAT IS A NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Opinion By Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A lot of people in Louisiana are talking about ducks these days. They especially want to know where the ducks are and what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is doing to manage them, namely produce more to hunt. Some think that refuges should be managed solely to provide places to hunt. Others think a refuge is a sanctuary – a place free from hunting to let migratory birds have a safe place to live, breed, rest and raise their young along their flyways.

We are dedicated to managing refuges to support wildlife for the benefit of everyone. The hunting community has been our conservation partner since the refuge system was established 100 years ago, and we remain grateful and understanding to their needs. At the same time, we also must consider all other species and their unique biological needs. Additionally, an important conservation community of bird watchers, hikers, and other outdoor users is growing, and we are dedicated to fulfilling their needs as well. But animals and plants always come first.

National Wildlife Refuges are the only Federal network of lands in the world where wildlife comes first. With 542 refuges across the country, one in every state and in many of our territories, we help provide habitat for waterfowl, migratory songbirds, endangered species, and other wildlife and plant resources. We manage refuges according to the requirements of the law and the best scientific information available wildlife for the benefit of present and future generations. This includes hunting, fishing, environmental education, interpretation, wildlife observation and photography. These activities can only be allowed when they are determined to be compatible with the purposes for which a refuge was established.

Most of the refuges in Louisiana were established along the Mississippi Flyway to provide habitat for migratory birds -- especially ducks -- but also migratory songbirds and shorebirds. Of the 23 National Wildlife Refuges in Louisiana, 18 offer waterfowl hunting. More and more visitors are also enjoying other wildlife-related activities and studies show that these users are contributing significantly to local economies. More than 1.4 million visitors a year come to these refuges to enjoy many activities, including hunting, which is an economic mainstay of Louisiana.

We provide high quality hunting opportunities on national wildlife refuges in Louisiana, including opportunities for modern firearm, primitive weapon, and archery hunts for all Americans, not just the ones that can afford to be in a hunt club. Many of these refuges are also open to a variety of upland game, including deer and turkey. Some hunts are managed through a lottery system while other areas are open to unlimited use during State established seasons. Many refuges provide special hunts for youth and people with disabilities. Each refuge has a website that provides the details of hunting opportunities specific to that refuge.

As wildlife managers, we share the same frustrations as hunters and other conservationists when faced with declining waterfowl populations. We also realize that most of these trends are cyclical and the days of abundant waterfowl will return if we manage our waterfowl and habitat properly.

So when you think of a National Wildlife Refuge, I hope you will consider that they may actually be both a hunters paradise AND a sanctuary. For without the sanctuaries and the vital habitat they protect to enhance duck and other migratory bird populations, we would all surely lose these treasured species for present and future generations. I invite you to visit a wildlife refuge near you, there is one within an hour and a half drive of every major city. Check out the job we are doing to manage your lands. Come and enjoy the myriad of activities that can be found on your National Wildlife Refuges with an understanding that these places are managed for wildlife first and for the enjoyment of all.

For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our website at http://southeast.fws.gov. For specific information about waterfowl hunting issues at Louisiana refuges, visit our website at: http://southeast.fws.gov/louisiana_waterfowl_issues.

Sam Hamilton is the Southeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Atlanta, Georgia, and is a member of the Service Regulations Committee that sets the annual waterfowl hunting frameworks nationwide. (Editor’s Note: Photo available at http://southeast.fws.gov/info/welcome.html.)

 


EDITORS NOTE: Possible Sidebar to Accompany OP-ED

Some examples of National Wildlife Refuges in Louisiana:

Boque Chitto National Wildlife Refuge: All of the 36,447 acres of are open to waterfowl hunting.

Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge: 50,000 acres of the 70,000-acre are open to waterfowl hunting.

Grand Cote National Wildlife Refuge: For the first time this year, we are opening to waterfowl hunting.

Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge: Offers hunting, and is also strategically located sanctuary on the boundary of the coastal marsh and agricultural habitats, as well as the southern terminus of the Mississippi and Central Flyways, making the refuge critically important to migratory birds, especially wintering waterfowl. The refuge is one of the key wintering areas in the continent for pintails, with a wintering population that has reached almost 400,000 – which is 50% to 80% of the entire southwest Louisiana midwinter survey. The sanctuary at Lacassine Pool is an important wintering area for pintails and critical to the long-term viability of continental populations.

Delta National Wildlife Refuge: has successfully added over 1,000 acres to the refuge’s marshes during projects designed to increase waterfowl habitat. Seeking to re-introduce a long-lost natural siltation process, crevasses or breaks in Mississippi River levees were created to allow silt that has collected on the river bottom to be deposited into shallow, open water areas. This process leads to the formation of additional marsh habitat, which provides ideal resting and feeding areas for migratory waterfowl.

Handy Brake and Breton Island: Closed to hunting. Breton Island in the Gulf of Mexico was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 as a sanctuary for resting and wintering seabirds and allows only limited public use, to ensure the long-term protection of these species.