|The Mountain-Prairie Region|
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
September 9, 1999
Eric Eckl: 202-208-5636
SERVICE SEEKS COMMENTS ON PROPOSED REFUGE USE POLICY
"COMPATIBILITY DETERMINATIONS" TO INVOLVE PUBLIC
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, interest 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 Promiseenvisions 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 http:// 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- 58-2248, 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 fish
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