Refuge Planning
Northeast Region
Land Protection Plans

1. What is the process in planning land protection?

We use land protection planning to study opportunities to conserve land, including adding it to the National Wildlife Refuge System. We can protect land in various ways, by purchase, easement, or long-term lease. The planning process begins when we learn of areas of wildlife habitat highly valuable for trust species such as migratory birds or threatened or endangered species. Often, the long-term resource plans of the Service or other agencies identify such areas, or another conservation group or interested individual brings them to our attention.

We then develop a preliminary project proposal to assess the general value of the area. If our Director approves that proposal, we commence detailed planning, which includes developing a National Environmental Policy Act compliance document, a Land Protection Plan, and a Conceptual Management Plan. Detailed planning—the LPP process—commences upon the Director’s approval of our preliminary proposal.

Once our Director grants approval to conduct detailed planning, a planning team of Service biologists, planners, realty specialists, and refuge managers identifies a study area for detailed planning and evaluation. The land under consideration may simply expand the size of an existing refuge, or may justify establishing a new refuge.

Next, the team announces the study, and seeks public input to gather more information about the study area and identify any management issues or public concerns. Based on the needs of habitat protection and the issues and concerns raised during public involvement, the team develops alternatives for conserving habitat and setting refuge boundaries. We describe and analyze those alternatives and publish them for public review and comment in the following documents.

  • A NEPA document—either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)—evaluates the effects of each alternative on the physical, biological, social, and economic environment.

  • A Land Protection Plan (LPP) for affected landowners describes resource protection needs, proposes a refuge boundary, and identifies in priority order the ownerships that we may acquire from willing sellers.

  • A Conceptual Management Plan (CMP) provides general management direction. The CMP identifies refuge purpose(s), interim goals, and preexisting compatible wildlife-dependent recreational uses (hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, environmental education and interpretation) we will allow to continue until we have determined their compatibility. That interim period is the time between our expansion or establishment of a refuge and our completion of its approved comprehensive conservation plan. Refuges functioning under conceptual management plans will also develop step-down management plans, as appropriate.

2. Will all the land in the study area become part of the proposed refuge?

When we identify a study area, it is normally too early in the evaluation and planning process to answer yes or no. We identify a specific, geographic study area in which to focus our further evaluation of habitat. The planning team evaluates habitat conditions and other factors to determine what lands, if any, the refuge proposal should include. After we receive public comments that identify issues on the study area, and after further analysis of wildlife use, current and past land use, and local land use planning issues, the planning team may modify the study area. The team then develops alternative refuge boundary locations and potential habitat protection measures, and presents them in a NEPA document and LPP for public review and comment. Those documents identify the lands and habitats in the study area that would be suitable for inclusion within the Refuge System.

3. How do we determine what land to include in the final refuge boundary?

After the public comment period for the NEPA document and LPP, the planning team reviews those comments and incorporates them into a final, preferred alternative that identifies the preferred boundary and habitat protection measures for the decision documents we submit to our Director for approval. Establishing an approved refuge boundary requires the Director’s approval; the Director determines what action, if any, the Service will take.

4. What does an approved refuge boundary mean?

An approved refuge boundary identifies areas of important, sensitive resources we want to protect for a long period. The private owners of land within a refuge boundary retain all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of private land ownership. After the Director approves a refuge boundary, we can offer to purchase land or enter into management agreements with willing owners of land within that boundary. Land does not become part of the Refuge System unless we purchase it or enter into a management agreement with the landowner.

5. How can I get involved in the planning process?

You can ask to be on our mailing list, provide comments early in the process, review and comment on the documents, and participate in any public workshops. Your input helps us identify the issues, alternatives, and solutions that make the Refuge System work for both wildlife and people. If you are on our mailing list, we will notify you of all planning activities and opportunities to provide information and comments.

For additional information on land protection planning, please see "Land Protection Planning for the National Wildlife Refuge System."

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Last updated: November 2, 2016