The public would be formally involved for the first time
in decisions on recreation and other public uses on units of America's
93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System under the draft compatibility
policy and regulations released today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service. The Service will accept written comments on the proposal through
November 8, 1999. This draft policy and regulation is one of the most
significant management and public use policies for the system.
"National wildlife refuges are places where the needs
of wildlife come first, but the refuge system welcomes almost 35 million
visitors each year," said Acting Service Director John Rogers. "Compatibility
is the tool refuge managers use to ensure that recreation, educational
activities, and other uses don't interfere with wildlife conservation
within the refuge system."
As required by the 1997 National Wildlife Refuge System
Improvement Act, the revised draft policy outlines a standard process
to review the impacts of proposed and existing public use. Managers
would have to consider the mission of the entire refuge system along
with the purposes of their individual refuges in the review. The actual
standard (defined as a use that will not "materially interfere with
or detract from" these conservation goals) would not change. Public
uses that are determined to be incompatible will not be allowed.
"During these reviews, refuge managers will take steps
to notify and involve the public such as posting notices at the refuge
visitors centers and in local newspapers," Rogers said. "Using a more
coordinated approach with our neighbors and partners will strengthen
our ability to conserve wildlife on a much broader scale."
The 1997 law also established "priority public uses"--
hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, environmental
education and interpretation -- that are especially welcome on refuges
and receive preference over other uses. Under the revised policy, refuge
managers would be encouraged to seek resources to offer these activities
if they were determined to be otherwise compatible.
In addition to recreation, the policy would also apply
to activities conducted as part of a wildlife or habitat management
program, such as cooperative farming of grain crops that provide feed
for migrating birds. The proposed policy would not allow making a proposed
refuge use compatible through replacement of lost habitat values or
other compensation. For example, interests proposing rights-of-way through
refuge lands will no longer have the option to purchase new habitat
to make up for impacts from their activities.
As before, the compatibility policy does not apply to
private property within refuge boundaries, and does not affect the terms
of conservation easements and other agreements between the Service and
private landowners. In Alaska, however, the compatibility policy does
apply to the village lands in national wildlife refuges in Alaska withdrawn
under section 22(g) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. These
lands were deeded to Alaska Native Village Corporations with specific
restrictions, called covenants, on their sale and use.
In addition to satisfying a legal requirement, revising
the compatibility policy represents a major step towards realization
of Fulfilling the Promise, a long-term road map developed by the Service
and its partners last year as guidance for strengthening the National
Wildlife Refuge System. Fulfilling the Promise envisions National Wildlife
Refuges as "Models of Land Management . . . which foster broad participation
in natural resource stewardship."
The full text of the proposed compatibility policy and
regulations can be found in the September 9, 1999 Federal Register,
on the Internet at www.refuges.fws.gov, or are available from the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Refuges, 4401 North Fairfax Drive,
Arlington, Virginia, 22203; telephone 703-358-1744. Written comments
can be provided to the Chief, Division of Refuges, at the same address,
via fax on 703- 358-2248, or via the Internet to Compatibility_Policy_Comments@fws.gov
and Compatibility_Regulations_Comments@fws.gov though November 8, 1999.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal
agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife
and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American
people. The Service manages the 93- million-acre National Wildlife Refuge
System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands
of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates
66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance
offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces
Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages
migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries,
conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps
foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees
the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars
in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife
agencies. Release #: N99-034
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