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Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to Become the Largest National Wildlife Refuge in the Caribbean


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 3, 2003

Contact:
Oscar Diaz or Fernando Nunez, (787) 741-2138
Susan Silander, (787) 851-7258 x38
Christine Eustis, (404) 679-7287

On May 1, 2003, approximately 15,500 acres of the former Navy bombing range in eastern Vieques will be added to the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. The Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act of 2001, Public Law No. 106-398, as amended by Public Law No. 107-107, requires the Navy to transfer these lands to the Department of the Interior to be managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a National Wildlife Refuge.

The land transfer will increase the area currently managed as a National Wildlife Refuge on Vieques to just over 18,000 acres, to create the largest National Wildlife Refuge in the Caribbean. The unique area includes beaches used by threatened and endangered sea turtles for nesting, subtropical dry forest, mangrove lagoons, salt flats and bioluminescent bays.

"The Service understands the rich history and deep cultural significance of this land to all Viequenses, and the conservation and restoration of part of Puerto Rico=s natural heritage will provide tremendous benefits for present and future generations," said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Congress has told us to protect these lands for wildlife. We have a proud history of protecting wildlife and their habitat, and we are honored to be stewards of this land for the public."

"While we have very serious concerns over the known dangers of unexploded ordnance and further extensive investigations must be conducted to find out what parts of the Refuge will be safe for people, the opportunity to do really great things for wildlife in the Caribbean is tremendous," said Hamilton. "We have enjoyed a close working relationship with the Commonwealth Government and look forward to continuing this relationship in the future. We will work with all interested parties to manage the Refuge for the benefit of the community of Vieques."

"We want to stress our commitment to ensure the safety of everyone who visits the Refuge," said Oscar Diaz Marrero, Refuge Manager of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. "Right now, only two beaches have been screened for unexploded ordnance and determined to be safe - Bahia Corcho (also known as Red Beach) and Bahia de la Chiva (also known as Blue Beach). They will be open to the public upon the transfer of the land."

How will the Fish and Wildlife Service manage the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge once the land in eastern Vieques is transferred?

All National Wildlife Refuges are administered consistent with the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997. The Service is committed to providing public access to as much of the Refuge as is safely possible for wildlife-related recreational activities and when determined to be compatible with the purpose of the Refuge.

What about the unexploded ordnance and military munitions?

Safety first. While the presence of unexploded ordnance will result in prohibiting public access to certain areas until clean-up is complete in order to provide for public safety, we do know that, at a minimum, the beaches at Bahia Corcho and Bahia de la Chiva will be open to the public upon the transfer of the land. Because we are trustees of this natural heritage for the public, our highest priority will be to work with Federal, Commonwealth and Municipal governments, and the public towards obtaining a clean and safe Refuge.

What happens next?

Upon the transfer of the land, we will evaluate what activities may be compatible on the Refuge including fishing, hunting, hiking, biking, photography, wildlife observation, among others. The National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act requires the Service to prepare a Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan which provides for public involvement in the process. During the planning process we will talk to the public in ATown Hall-type@ meetings as we establish management priorities and explore opportunities for non-invasive and low-impact activities such as ecotourism. Restoration of degraded habitats through reforestation, reestablishment of hydrology, and the removal of exotic species will be a priority.

How can the public help in the protection, management and restoration of the resources in eastern Vieques?

We encourage everyone to volunteer to support conservation efforts and help with projects to ensure that the Refuge is managed for the benefit of both people and wildlife. Visit our Refuge to learn about its natural habitats. Share this information with your friends and family. Work with the Service to restore habitats so that they may be enjoyed by you and future generations.

Overview of The Caribbean Islands National Wildlife Refuge:

The Caribbean Islands National Wildlife Refuge complex comprises a total of nine refuges.

Five refuges are located in Puerto Rico: Cabo Rojo, Laguna Cartagena, Desecheo, Culebra, and Vieques. Three others are in the US Virgin Islands: Sandy Point, Buck Island and Green Cay. Another, Navassa Island, is located off the coast of Haiti. Refuges provide habitat for threatened and endangered species, migratory and resident birds, and other wildlife and offer outstanding wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities, including fishing, hunting, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation. Refuges also provides economic opportunities to local communities through nature-based recreational activities, while retaining the unique ecological integrity of the resources.

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 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 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, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.


Photos: http://southeast.fws.gov/hotissues/Vieques/


For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our home page at http://southeast.fws.gov/ or http://www.fws.gov/.



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