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Norton Celebrates Volunteerism at Florida's "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 23, 2002

Contact:
Hugh Vickery, 202/501-4633


(Sanibel Island, Fla.) -- Interior Secretary Gale Norton celebrated National Volunteer Week by honoring volunteers at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida, and echoing President Bush’s call on Americans to give two years of service during their lives.

Volunteering is an American tradition and an incredible force for good in our country,” Norton said. “As a people, we must recommit ourselves to serve our communities, our nation and the world.”

In his State of the Union Address, President Bush challenged America with a call for each citizen to dedicate 4,000 hours of service. He established the USA Freedom Corps, which serves as a coordinating council, similar to the National Economic Council or the National Security Council, and connects Americans with service organizations large and small in communities across the country.

“I hope that Americans, especially young Americans, will answer the President’s call and contact the USA Freedom Corps,” Norton said. The Corps has a Web site, www.usafreedomcorps.gov, or can be reached by telephone at 1-877-USA-CORP.

“Volunteers play an important role in the National Wildlife Refuge System and particularly at “Ding” Darling,” Norton said. The refuge’s volunteer program includes more than 238 volunteers who donated approximately 21,000 hours to support the refuge last year.

In addition, the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, which funds the refuge’s volunteer program, raised more than $2.5 million to build a world-class visitor center. The visitor center, which opened last October, is the focal point for approximately 800,000 visitors who enjoy the refuge each year.

“Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is one of the nation’s most visited national wildlife refuges,” Norton said. “To accommodate the high volume of visitors, a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and private citizens is essential. It is impossible to overstate the value of groups such as the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society or the dedicated commitment of volunteers who increase the quality of the visitor experience.”

The National Wildlife Refuge System includes 538 refuges encompassing nearly 95 million acres of wildlife habitat throughout the country, the largest system of lands in the world dedicated to wildlife conservation. More than 36,000 volunteers, or 10 times the refuge system’s workforce, donated 1.4 million hours during 2001 to support the system and other Fish and Wildlife Service programs.

Volunteers at “Ding” Darling and other refuges work in visitor centers, conduct bird watching walks, maintain and repair equipment, work with school children and provide other services. In addition, volunteers work at National Fish Hatcheries, Ecological Services field offices, and other regional and field offices throughout the country.

Norton emphasized President Bush’s strong commitment to the National Wildlife Refuge System, including proposing a record $56.5 million increase in the system’s budget for 2003.

“The refuge system is a national treasure,” Norton said. “The additional funding will allow us to reduce a long-standing maintenance backlog on the system and ensure our refuge managers have the resources need to ensure these special lands continue to be healthy and whole.”

Norton also reiterated her call for a new environmentalism that empowers citizens to do conservation work on their land and in their communities. She highlighted the new $100 million Cooperative Conservation Initiative in President Bush’s 2003 budget as an example of the new environmentalism.

The $100 million will be distributed in challenge grants to landowners, land-user groups, environmental organizations, communities, local and state governments and industries for conservation projects that advance the health of the land and benefit people.

Half the new money, or $50 million, will be distributed to states to fund cost-share grants for innovative conservation projects. This will allow states to work within their communities to come up with innovative solutions to our conservation challenges.

The other half will be used by the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management to fund cost-sharing grants. For example, a Park Service superintendent working with a private conservation group on a project on a park could obtain a grant to match the contributions of the group so that the project could go forward.


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