[Federal Register: January 16, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 10)]
[Page 3809-3823]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 3809]]


Part VII

Department of the Interior


Fish and Wildlife Service


Policy on Maintaining the Biological Integrity, Diversity, and 
Environmental Health of the National Wildlife Refuge System; Notice

[[Page 3810]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

RIN 1018-AG47

Policy on Maintaining the Biological Integrity, Diversity, and 
Environmental Health of the National Wildlife Refuge System

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: We (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) issue a final policy to 
guide personnel of the National Wildlife Refuge System (System) in 
implementing the clause of the National Wildlife Refuge System 
Improvement Act of 1997 (Refuge Improvement Act) directing Secretary of 
the Interior to ensure that the ``biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health'' of the System is maintained. This policy applies 
to all units of the System. The policy is an additional directive for 
refuge managers to follow while achieving refuge purpose(s) and System 
mission. It provides for the consideration and protection of the broad 
spectrum of fish, wildlife, and habitat resources found on refuges and 
associated ecosystems. Further, it provides refuge managers with an 
evaluation process to analyze their refuge and recommend the best 
management direction to prevent additional degradation of environmental 
conditions and, where appropriate in achieving refuge purpose(s) and 
System mission, restore lost or severely degraded components. Lastly, 
it provides guidelines for refuge managers to follow in dealing with 
external threats to biological integrity, diversity, and environmental 

DATES: This notice is effective February 15, 2001.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Elizabeth Souheaver, Acting Chief, 
Division Natural Resources, National Wildlife Refuge System, U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 670, Arlington, 
Virginia 22203; telephone (703) 358-1744. Please note that the full 
text of the policy appears at the end of this notice. In addition, the 
chapter will be available on the System web site Http://
refuges.fws.gov, select link to ``Administration: Federal Register 
Notices'' * * * then click on ``2001 Notices'' to find ``Biological 
Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health.''



    We published a notice in the Federal Register on January 23, 1998 
(63 FR 3583) notifying the public that we would be revising the Fish 
and Wildlife Service Manual, establishing regulations as they relate to 
the Refuge Improvement Act, and offering to send copies of specific 
draft Fish and Wildlife Service Manual chapters to anyone who would 
like to receive them. We published a proposed policy notice in the 
Federal Register (65 FR 61356) on October 17, 2000 with a 45-day 
comment period ending on December 1, 2000. We extended that comment 
period to December 15, 2000 with a notice published in the Federal 
Register on December 4, 2000 (65 FR 75731).
    The proposed policy was derived from Section 5(a)(4)(B) of the 
Refuge Improvement Act that the Secretary of the Interior ``ensure that 
the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of the 
System are maintained * * *'' The policy presented in this notice is a 
final policy that has been modified after consideration of public 
comment. The finalized policy will constitute part 601 Chapter 3 of the 
Fish and Wildlife Service Manual.

Purpose of This Policy

    The purpose of the policy is to provide guidance for maintaining, 
and restoring where appropriate, the biological integrity, diversity, 
and environmental health of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Response to Comments Received

    The combined comment periods totaled 60 days. We received 106 
comments from the following sources: Non-governmental organizations 
(36); State agencies or commissions (31); Federal agencies or 
facilities (9); local or county governmental agencies (3); and 
individuals (24). The key points raised by these comments fell into 10 
general categories:
     Creation of the term ``ecological integrity'' and its 
     Definition of the term ``natural conditions'' and 
application of the concept in management;
     Impact of the policy on the ongoing refuge management 
     Impact of the policy on recreational use of refuges, 
primarily hunting and fishing;
     Concern that the policy would not meet specific refuge 
purpose(s) in favor of the System mission or some other management 
     Concern that the policy might adversely affect private 
property rights of refuge neighbors, and does not adequately recognize 
the State interests in how we manage refuges;
     Confusion regarding management for biological integrity, 
diversity, and environmental health at various landscape scales;
     Concern that the policy contains too many exceptions;
     General support either for the entire policy or 
significant elements of it; and
     A collection of other issues.
    We read and addressed all the comments in the categories cited 
above. These comments, as well as any resulting changes to the policy, 
are cited below. Eight response letters included comments which were 
not relevant to the policy. These were not addressed.

Issue 1: The Term ``Ecological Integrity''

    Comment: Most of the commenters (9 of 14) who cited this term 
stated that it went beyond the Refuge Improvement Act by creating a 
term that was not contained in the law or legislative history. Another 
stated it provided managers too much latitude to threaten private 
landowners. Still others stated it was too academic and basically 
unnecessary to meet the requirements of the Refuge Improvement Act. One 
commenter supported the term but stated the definition needed further 
refinement pursuant to scientific literature and that we should provide 
more guidance as to how to measure it.
    Response: We never intended for the term ``ecological integrity'' 
to be more than a convenient means of referencing the terms biological 
integrity, diversity and environmental health. We agree, however, that 
as we used the term throughout the policy it appeared to take on 
meaning beyond the reference to the three terms. We abandoned the term 
in the final policy and substitute its appearance with the three 
specific terms as they appear in the law.

Issue 2: The Definition of the Term ``Natural Conditions'' and Its 
Application in Management

    Fifty-nine of 106 commenters made specific references to the 
definition of natural conditions. Of these, 14 generally favored the 
concept and the remainder expressed concern about the concept and/or 
its application in management. An additional 9 commenters indicated 
general support for the policy overall, thus indicating support for the 
concept as well. However, even the 14 commenters who specifically 
endorsed the concept did so with various qualifications or suggestions. 
Overall, the commenters raised the following concerns:
    Comment: A reference period is unnecessary, since the Refuge

[[Page 3811]]

Improvement Act merely requires us to maintain the biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health necessary to meet refuge 
    Response: We believe the use of a reference point is pivotal to 
compliance with the mandate of the Refuge Improvement Act to ensure the 
maintenance of biological diversity, integrity, and environmental 
health. To implement the Refuge Improvement Act mandate, we needed 
definitions for the three terms. We believe a reference period is a 
critical element in these definitions and thus critical to the 
assessment of current habitat and wildlife conditions.
    Comment: A frame of reference from which to manage is a good idea, 
but as defined and proposed it is unworkable. Five commenters suggested 
referencing natural dynamics or processes rather than ``conditions;'' 
and four others suggested using ``historic range of variability'' 
instead of ``natural conditions,'' as the U.S. Forest Service has done 
in its ``National Forest System Land Resources Management Planning'' 
rule. Several who expressed general disfavor with the policy qualified 
their comments by suggesting they might accept a more historical 
reference period rather than a 1,000-year period. Several simply stated 
we needed something more flexible, achievable, and open to 
    Response: In using the term ``natural conditions'' relative to a 
specific period (i.e., 800 to 1800 AD), we chose an approach with 
scientific underpinnings very similar to those of the Forest Service. 
We attempted to go a step further, however, by assigning a specific 
frame of reference from which to work. Our intent in using the period 
was not to suggest a return to some particular community or habitat 
but, in fact, to reference something within the historic range of 
variability as found within that time frame. Section 3.14 of the draft 
policy noted that we are interested in the ``scale and frequency of 
processes,'' and managing or restoring a particular site could include 
any of a range of successional seres or stages that might have occurred 
on that site within the 1,000-year time frame. Notwithstanding, the way 
the draft policy presents this concept clearly created a catalyst for 
controversy among reviewers, and while nine commenters supported the 
concept with some variation, the great majority expressed strong 
concern. Thus, we agree that the term ``natural conditions'' and the 
implications for management in the framework we have described should 
be removed from the policy. Instead, we adopted the more general and 
open-ended term, ``historic conditions,'' which we refer to as the 
condition of the landscape in a particular area before the onset of 
significant, human-caused change. See final policy Section 3.12. On 
that basis, we refined the definitions of biological integrity and 
environmental health to mean composition, structure and functioning of 
ecosystems ``comparable to historic conditions.'' The intent is to 
emphasize not a particular point in time, but the range of ecosystem 
processes and functions that we believe would have occurred 
    As developed in the final policy, this ``historic'' framework 
incorporates those comments that suggested one simply reflect 
conceptually on what used to be on the landscape before it underwent 
major change. In this regard, we have reworded language to clearly 
emphasize the use of the historic perspective as a starting point for 
assessing the condition of the landscape, the potential for restoration 
of habitats where appropriate, and the recognition of irrevocable 
changes that may preclude or greatly limit restoration. We note that 
where restoration is impractical, the historic perspective, coupled 
with the refuge purpose(s) and the System mission, may suggest 
appropriate and useful habitat management alternatives.
    Comment: The time frame to be used as a baseline for natural 
conditions was arbitrarily chosen and speculative. Managing for natural 
conditions as proposed is effectively managing for a ``snapshot'' in 
    Response: We chose the time frame of 800-1800 in keeping with the 
Refuge Improvement Act, and it was the result of professional judgment 
with a scientific basis. We began with two premises: (1) ``Integrity'' 
and ``health'' suggest nondegraded conditions, and loss of integrity 
and health constitutes degradation; and (2) Assessing current 
degradation requires a benchmark or standard from which to measure. 
Some stated that the benchmarks for a refuge should be the conditions 
at time of acquisition, but we viewed that as unacceptable since we 
acquire many refuges in already extremely degraded condition. The point 
is to have a benchmark against which to assess such condition and that 
information will provide some suggestion to a refuge manager regarding 
a management direction as they attempt to repair such degradation. For 
our benchmark in the draft policy, we carefully chose a roughly 1000-
year time frame during which ecological science tells us we could have 
expected the full historic range of variability to have occurred within 
the plant communities which form the basis of habitats for wildlife 
species. We intentionally chose a relatively modern starting point (800 
AD) so as to preclude an argument for Pleistocene flora and fauna, and 
we carefully chose the end point to be somewhere between European 
settlement and the onset of the industrial era because that period 
marked the onset of significant and extensive change in landscapes 
within the continental United States. The period chosen was very recent 
in a geologic sense, yet encompassed a range of temperature extremes. 
This was critical since temperature is one of the most important 
factors determining ecological composition, structure, and functioning. 
Given the temperature extremes and time period, and the fact that 
virtually all modern vegetative communities are thought to have been 
established by then, 800 AD seemed a reasonable and objective choice to 
initiate the frame of reference. The relatively extensive and rapid 
environmental degradation so recognizable today began with the land-
intensive practices of pre-industrial European settlers, and 
accelerated rapidly with the onset of the industrial era. Thus, the 
period between European settlement and the onset of an industrial era 
presented an objective endpoint to the frame of reference we chose. 
However, we recognize the confusion and distraction that this time 
period has caused, and we have abandoned a specific time period in the 
final policy. We are now using a more open-ended reference to historic 
conditions (see Section 3.12 in the final policy).
    Comment: Managing for natural conditions, however defined, 
precludes or preempts managing for specific refuge purpose(s) OR in a 
related vein, because purposes come first and often entail maintenance 
of highly artificial conditions, the policy becomes one of exceptions.
    Response: Despite the many commenters who inferred otherwise, the 
draft policy was not intended to be a mandate for refuges to give up 
current management practices and return to ``natural conditions.'' (See 
Issue 3: Implications for Refuge Purpose(s) and System Mission below.) 
One of the difficulties of developing the proposed policy was 
reconciling the highly artificial and intensively managed nature of 
many refuges with the Refuge Improvement Act's mandate that we ensure 
the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of such 
refuges. Given the historical needs and thus purpose(s) for which 
refuges were established, there are indeed a variety of management 
circumstances directing refuge management. This policy does

[[Page 3812]]

not instruct managers to ignore refuge purpose(s). Rather, it says that 
when they select management actions that fulfill purpose(s), they 
should do so following as closely as possible the guidelines provided 
in this policy while still keeping their obligations to purpose(s) at 
the forefront. The final policy also emphasizes that much land on a 
refuge is not directly manipulated in pursuit of purpose(s) and thus 
managers often have much leeway to protect such tracts from further 
degradation and, where appropriate and feasible, to restore them as 
nearly as possible to communities and habitats that might reasonably be 
thought to have existed historically.
    Ultimately, the final policy resolves much of this concern by using 
``historic conditions'' rather than ``natural conditions,'' and by 
emphasizing the historical perspective as primarily a starting point 
for choosing management directions and strategies. Also, in the final 
policy, we have changed any language which might mistakenly be 
interpreted as directing a return to natural conditions as a management 
    Comment: There is no quantitative ecological data available for the 
1,000-year reference period. Thus managers would often manage from 
speculative, often undocumented accounts, and would have nothing 
quantitative from which to measure progress towards objectives.
    Response: Most ecological information is a mixture of quality and 
quantity, and information on natural conditions is likewise. For 
example, qualitative information includes which types of plant 
communities existed in an area during the frame of reference, while 
quantitative information includes acreage estimates for such plant 
communities. The final policy continues to provide managers with 
suggested sources for historic information. However, managers will make 
the final decisions for determining historic conditions based on sound 
professional judgment.
    Comment: Natural conditions, as defined, are simply not attainable 
in today's highly altered landscapes, particularly on intensively 
managed refuges.
    Response: The intent of the draft policy was not to attain or re-
create natural conditions, but to use natural conditions as a frame of 
reference for maintaining existing levels of biological integrity 
(including natural levels of biological diversity) and environmental 
health. The final policy clearly states our intent to prevent further 
degradation from historic conditions of biological integrity, diversity 
and environmental health. We indicate this in Section 3.7 D. of the 
final policy.
    Comment: The policy discounts or ignores the role of humans, 
especially Native Americans, in shaping landscapes, and implies that 
there is no place for humans in modern landscapes restored to or 
managed for natural conditions.
    Response: We see that the most natural, intact, and functioning 
systems are those that have not been impacted by extensive and 
intensive landscape alterations. Recognition of human impacts on the 
landscape demonstrates the difference between ecosystems functioning 
today versus those found prior to substantial landscape changes. We use 
this information to inform and encourage managers to reflect on the 
natural ecosystem functions and processes that are necessary to 
maintain or restore the most viable ecosystem function or processes, 
and especially those that are necessary to achieve refuge purposes and 
the System mission. Permanent human alterations to the landscape are a 
reality and may not be restored and must be managed to maintain the 
existing levels of biological integrity, diversity and environmental 

Issue 3: Implications for Refuge Purposes and System Mission

    Comment: We received several comments addressing concerns that this 
policy would have impacts on refuge purposes or affect the System 
mission. There were 17 comments that interpreted this policy as having 
a negative impact on refuge purposes; these ranged from some 
interpretations that this policy would replace refuge purposes to a 
concern that the policy does not clearly emphasize the priority of 
refuge purpose(s) over ecological integrity.
    Response: In response, we changed the final policy Section 3.7 B. 
from ``Maintaining Biological Integrity of the System and Accomplishing 
Refuge Purposes,'' to ``Accomplishing Refuge Purposes and Maintaining 
Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health of the 
System.'' Further, Section 3.7 B. clearly states the priorities for 
refuge purposes, System mission, and maintenance of biological 
integrity, diversity and environmental health.
    Comment: One commenter felt that the Ecological Integrity Policy 
and Refuge Improvement Act should take precedence over, or replace 
refuge purpose(s).
    Response: The fulfillment of refuge purpose(s) is a 
nondiscretionary statutory duty of the Service. However, the law also 
requires that we ensure that the biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health of the System is maintained, and therefore, this 
is an additional duty which we must fulfill as we endeavor to achieve 
refuge purpose(s) and System mission.
    Comment: We received one comment concerning discrepancies between 
System mission and refuge purpose(s) which inquired as to how often we 
evaluate and change refuge purpose(s).
    Response: Typically, the fulfillment of refuge purpose(s) is 
consistent with achieving the System mission, but where there are 
exceptions, refuge purpose(s) take precedence. We evaluate refuge 
purpose(s) prior to any significant actions proposed on a refuge, but 
refuge purpose(s) do not change.
    Comment: There were two comments that perceived a conflict between 
the statement that ``we may compromise the ecological integrity of a 
refuge for the sake of maintaining a higher level of ecological 
integrity at the System scale'' and the statement that ``conflicts will 
be resolved in a manner that first protects the refuge purpose(s).''
    Reponse: This is a comparison of different issues. We have 
statutory obligations to fulfill refuge purpose(s) and to protect the 
biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of the System. 
Basically, the sentences are meant to convey that biological integrity, 
diversity and environmental health on an individual refuge may 
sometimes be compromised when a purpose requires alterations of the 
landscape to accommodate a broader System need (such as intensively 
managed feeding or resting areas for migratory waterfowl). In such a 
case, addressing the flyway needs of waterfowl provide diversity and 
integrity at a larger landscape.
    Comment: Another comment was received expressing concern that 
promoting ecological integrity of the System might have impacts on 
ecological integrity for specific refuges.
    Response: This is, in fact, the case as noted above. It may 
sometimes be necessary to compromise the biological integrity, 
diversity, and/or environmental health of a given refuge in favor of 
the greater resource needs at the System landscape scale. We will not, 
however, compromise the fulfillment of individual refuge purposes.

Issue 4: Impacts on Public Use, Especially Hunting and Fishing

    We received 34 letters that addressed the relationship between the 
draft policy and its relationship to public uses on refuges and public 
use as

[[Page 3813]]

mandated under Refuge Improvement Act.
    Comment: More than half of these letters (17) were concerned that 
the policy, as drafted, would interfere with or eliminate hunting and 
fishing on refuges while another 13 letters were concerned that this 
policy would affect or find all public uses incompatible with 
ecological integrity.
    Response:  We did not write the draft policy with the intent or 
direction to eliminate hunting, fishing, or other priority public uses 
recognized by the Refuge Improvement Act. This draft policy rarely 
mentions public use, but where it does, the purpose is for refuge 
managers to consider impacts on wildlife and habitat (i.e., biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health) when implementing 
public uses. The authority for this draft policy is the Refuge 
Improvement Act, which also clearly identifies hunting and fishing as 
priority public uses. Section 2.(6) of the Refuge Improvement Act 
states, ``When managed in accordance with principles of sound fish and 
wildlife management and administration, fishing, hunting * * * in 
national wildlife refuges have been and are expected to continue to be 
generally compatible uses.'' In order to clearly address concerns over 
priority public uses, we have added Section 3.7 G. ``Principles 
Underlying This Policy, Public Use'', to the final policy. A summary of 
this section is as follows: The Service reiterates the importance of 
the public being able to utilize refuges for those priority public 
uses, including hunting and fishing. The six priority wildlife-
dependent public uses identified in the Refuge Improvement Act are 
generally not in conflict with management for the biological integrity, 
diversity, and environmental health when compatible with refuge 
purpose(s). Restoration of historical landscapes as they appeared prior 
to significant disturbance does not generally mean exclusion of 
visitors. But we direct refuges to use spatial or temporal zoning to 
manage public visitation in a way that it complements efforts to 
protect and, where appropriate, restore historic habitats and wildlife 
populations. In addition, fishing programs on refuges will not be 
terminated in pursuit of biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health because managed fishing programs on refuges do not 
impact fish population viability.
    Comment: A few letters specifically question the relationship 
between ecological integrity and compatibility determinations used for 
permitting hunting and fishing.
    Response: We determine compatibility of a priority public use on a 
refuge by comparing that use to the purpose of the refuge and the 
mission of the System. If we determine a use to be compatible, then we 
facilitate it. However, that does not preclude administration of those 
public uses in such a way as to promote biological integrity, 
diversity, and environmental health, and the Refuge Improvement Act 
directs managers to do so. In such cases, a refuge may carefully plan 
the location, size, and use of structures for an environmental 
education program, for example, perhaps adopt hunting regulations 
(e.g., antlerless deer hunts) more restrictive than those of a 
respective State. Because the use of the words ``conflict with'' 
confused this issue, we have deleted the sentence that contains it.
    Comment: There also were a few letters that felt the policy will 
find public use structures such as boardwalks, roads, observation 
towers, and similar facilities in conflict with ecological integrity. 
The draft policy says that ``Where feasible, we also pursue ecological 
integrity by eliminating unnatural biotic and abiotic features and 
processes not necessary to accomplish refuge purposes.''
    Response: The purpose of this section of the policy is for managers 
to consider ways to minimize impacts on biological integrity, 
diversity, and environmental health when planning structures and 
facilities by placing them in the most suitable location to allow 
quality public use while still ensuring biological integrity, 
diversity, and environmental health.
    Comment: A few letters thought that hunting, fishing and trapping 
should not be permitted on refuges because they interfere with 
ecological integrity, while one letter wanted ``trapping'' added to 
Section 3.14 where hunting and fishing are encouraged in cooperation 
with State fish and wildlife management agencies.
    Response: The six priority wildlife-dependent uses are given 
special status by the Refuge Improvement Act, which specifically 
recognizes hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, 
interpretation, and environmental education. Refuges must facilitate 
these uses when compatible. The Refuge Improvement Act does not 
similarly recognize trapping.

Issue 5: Implications for States and Other Partnerships

    Comment: Various States commented that the policy should place 
emphasis on cooperation and coordination with States in the management 
of wildlife populations on refuges.
    Response: Strong partnerships with the respective States are an 
essential part of all refuge planning and management, including the 
maintenance of biological integrity, diversity, and environmental 
health of refuges. We encourage and expect managers to forge effective 
partnerships with States through cooperation and coordination in the 
management of wildlife habitats and populations found on refuges. We 
have changed the language in the final policy, Section 3.14, to more 
clearly state this expectation.

Issue 6: Implications for Private Property Rights

    Comment: Several commenters were concerned that the policy was not 
mindful of the property rights of others and encouraged managers to 
seek resolutions to problems injuring resources on refuges through 
    Response: We changed Section 3.20 of the final policy to emphasize 
that the preferred course of action for managers in cases of injury to 
refuge resources from outside sources is first to seek cooperative 
resolution to such conflicts through neighborly discussion, 
negotiation, and consultation. This includes working with State or 
local agencies and other third party interests to seek solutions of 
mutual satisfaction. The revised policy offers several steps for a 
manager to take in this regard. Ultimately, however, and with full 
respect of private property rights, we recognize our responsibility to 
protect the property and resources of the American public, and state 
the responsibility to do so.

Issue 7: Implications for Wildlife and Habitat Management on Refuges

    Comment: We received many comments which expressed concern about 
the role of active management on refuges under the proposed policy. 
These comments noted that active management is often necessary to 
achieve refuge purpose(s). Some felt management for natural conditions 
basically implied an absence of management and would, therefore, 
conflict with achieving refuge purpose(s). Comments also noted that 
numerous refuges are located in highly altered landscapes where active 
management is needed to maintain wildlife values of the refuge. A few 
comments identified that active management actions are required to 
maintain desirable wildlife populations where habitats surrounding the 
refuge have been degraded.

[[Page 3814]]

    Response: We acknowledge that active management is often critically 
important to achieve refuge purpose(s). We also acknowledge that at 
some refuges very intensive management actions are required to maintain 
high densities of some wildlife species. We will continue active 
management where needed. However, we will evaluate management practices 
on all refuges to ensure that we take appropriate management action to 
achieve refuge purpose(s), while at the same time addressing the 
guidelines identified in the final policy.
    Comment: Numerous comments noted that identifying ``natural 
conditions'' during the time period 800 AD to 1800 AD and then managing 
for conditions identified during that period was inappropriate and was 
contrary to Service mandates to achieve refuge purpose(s) which 
necessitate active management.
    Response: As noted throughout the policy and in above responses to 
comments (see Issue 3: Implications for Refuge Purpose(s) and System 
Mission), nothing in this chapter places management for biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health above refuge purpose(s). 
However, we still need a reference period to assess the condition of a 
refuge and to provide a management perspective. In the final chapter, 
we propose to use historic conditions to assess the status of refuges 
in relation to conditions present before man substantially altered the 
landscape. We will use this historic reference to identify appropriate 
ranges of habitats that may occur at a refuge, which species of 
wildlife should occur, and what processes that shaped these habitats 
still exist. We will maintain processes which are still extant. We will 
mimic processes which no longer exist or have been altered in our 
management actions or, where appropriate and feasible, restore them if 
possible. Due to the highly altered landscapes in which many refuges 
exist, we acknowledge that extensive active management actions are 
required to mimic these natural processes to achieve refuge purpose(s). 
We also acknowledge that numerous refuges have been so drastically 
altered that it may be infeasible to restore the historic conditions of 
biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health.
    Comment: Other commenters were concerned that the extent and types 
of active management were left too much to the discretion of the Refuge 
Manager. They felt that such discretion would lead to inconsistencies 
in refuge management practices.
    Response: The Refuge Manager is the first line manager responsible 
for all aspects of management of a refuge. The Refuge Manager is the 
individual most knowledgeable about conditions at each refuge. It is 
the manager's responsibility to identify appropriate management for the 
refuge. However, we acknowledge that inconsistencies do occur. To 
minimize this concern, we have instituted numerous review and approval 
processes for what managers propose. Examples of these review and 
approval processes are refuge management plans, Comprehensive 
Conservation Plans, National Environmental Policy Act guidelines, 
Endangered Species Act, Section 7 regulations and guidance, and 
individual refuge program reviews. All of these require some form of 
Regional Office oversight and/or public input and comment.
    Comment: A few comments were concerned that refuges should not 
manage for natural densities, age structures, and sex ratios of large 
ungulates and other fish and wildlife populations mainly because this 
may not be in keeping with State management objectives and or may not 
be feasible.
    Response: The final policy directs refuges to work cooperatively 
with the States devising appropriate harvest strategies to achieve 
these objectives, recognizing that the refuge management objectives may 
differ from those of the State. In such cases, refuges may implement 
regulations more restrictive than those of their respective States in 
pursuit of more natural sex and age structures. We will not take such 
actions without consulting State fish and wildlife management agencies.
    Comment: A few comments identified concerns for public health, 
related to natural production of insects which are vectors of disease. 
It was proposed that management of vector populations should be 
included in this policy in a manner that is consistent with protection 
of the natural resources that exist within the refuge.
    Response: We also are very much concerned about threats to human 
health. However, our mandate is to manage for ``Wildlife First,'' and 
in numerous situations management to eliminate or reduce insect vectors 
will adversely impact the quality of food chains and wildlife habitats 
at a refuge, so we intend to continue to follow our current policy of 
taking action to reduce vector populations only when needed to address 
a Declared Human Health Emergency. We are working with agencies 
responsible for vector control to identify vector management practices, 
which we can use on refuges while not compromising the purpose(s) of 
the refuge or System mission. In emergency events, such as a Declared 
Human Health Emergency, the Service and responsible agencies will work 
together to address these situations.
    Comment: One comment addressed the need to introduce large 
predators to maintain some wildlife populations.
    Response: We agree that predators are an important component of 
System biological integrity and diversity. To this end, we have 
undertaken programs to reintroduce predators to some refuges where this 
action is feasible. At other refuges, efforts are being made to 
maintain declining populations of some predatory species. Where 
introductions of large predators may be feasible at a refuge, we would 
undertake a thorough public scoping process to identify how this action 
may impact local communities. In cases where key predator species 
cannot be feasibly reintroduced, we may employ management practices, 
including hunting programs, to both provide recreational opportunity 
and improve biological integrity by maintaining natural densities of 
certain wildlife prey species.

Issue 8: Implications of Policy at Different Landscape Scales

    Comment: There were 12 letters that raised issues of scale and the 
definitions and references to landscapes.
    Response: Use of the term ``local landscape'' in the draft policy 
caused some confusion among these commenters. We intended the term to 
describe the refuge and its immediate surroundings. In the final 
policy, we dropped the ``landscape'' part of the term and use ``local 
scale'' or ``refuge scale'' to refer to a refuge and the area around 
    Comment: The majority of other comments on this issue related to 
how integrity will be maintained at various scales.
    Response: It is important to stress that this policy does not 
authorize or suggest that refuge staff will manage lands outside their 
boundaries. However, it does provide clear direction that refuge 
managers must examine the context of their management actions at the 
refuge scale and all scales up to the international scale. Within each 
refuge there is a certain amount of biological diversity, integrity, 
and environmental health that contribute to these conditions at a local 
scale. However, as part of larger systems, each refuge must examine its 
contributions to objectives that have been developed at larger scales 
through initiatives such as the

[[Page 3815]]

North American Waterfowl Management Plan or Partners in Flight. Refuges 
must continually reassess their contributions in light of new 
information and new initiatives, such as the North American Bird 
Conservation Initiative. As noted throughout the policy, refuges must 
seek to identify their most important contributions to these higher 
levels. Sometimes this will mean sacrificing biological diversity and 
integrity at the local scale in order to contribute to diversity at a 
larger scale, while at all times managing for refuge purpose(s).
    Comment: Two reviewers asked for definitions of landscapes within 
which refuges will operate.
    Response: There is no single answer to this question. Refuges 
operate at many different scales, and landscapes are not always defined 
the same way. For example, we develop our ecosystem teams within major 
watersheds, while Bird Conservation Regions of the North American Bird 
Conservation Initiative are defined using ecoregions developed by the 
Commission for Environmental Cooperation. The continual challenge for 
refuge managers is to achieve refuge purpose(s) while evaluating the 
refuge's most significant contributions to regional, national, and 
international goals and objectives.
    Comment: One reviewer observed that the System is not an ecological 
    Response: This is true. It is a System of lands that is 
administratively bound together and for which the Refuge Improvement 
Act has set certain standards for management. While not all refuges are 
connected ecologically, many refuges are, particularly those located 
along migratory bird pathways. This policy directs those refuges that 
are connected ecologically to examine their roles in the context of 
purpose(s), but also in the context of maintaining, and when 
appropriate, restoring biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health at all levels. In doing so, all refuges contribute 
to the maintenance of biological integrity and diversity, and 
environmental health, of the System.

Issue 9: Other Issues

    Sixty-two commenters raised numerous ``other'' issues and concerns 
in addition to those major categories addressed above. Typically, any 
given concern was addressed by perhaps 10 or fewer commenters. We group 
these as ``other'' issues and address them below:
    Comment: Seven commenters raised the concern that the policy will 
have a profound effect on local tax bases, local economies, and 
property rights through land protection and acquisition. They expressed 
fears about land acquisition and managers pursuing civil action against 
neighbors whose actions damage refuge resources. Three felt the policy 
constitutes a significant Federal action under NEPA and requires an 
environmental impact statement.
    Response: We feel these fears are ungrounded. The policy will not 
accelerate the rate of land acquisition within the System. The policy 
creates no new authorities for refuge managers, nor do we expect it to 
create significant new conflicts among managers and private landowners. 
On the contrary, it emphasizes partnerships and similar cooperative 
avenues to resolve conflicts (See Issue 6: Implications for Private 
Property Rights). Section 3.20 of the final policy emphasizes that we 
will take any resolution of conflicts with full respect of private 
property rights. We will follow NEPA guidelines when refuge managers 
implement this policy in refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plans, 
compatibility determinations, and other interim management plans.
    Comment: The definition of ``sound professional judgment'' is 
unnecessary or goes beyond the Refuge Improvement Act. Seven commenters 
made these remarks, including one who believed the concept of allowing 
individual managers to interpret management needs was unsafe because of 
their different backgrounds and biases. Another believes the policy 
should incorporate more oversight of refuge managers to address this 
concern and let comprehensive conservation planning (CCP) teams make 
judgments. Another wanted to know who a refuge manager might consult 
with outside the Service in making management decisions.
    Response: We deleted the term ``sound professional judgment'' from 
the definitions of the final policy because we already defined it in 
the Compatibility chapter (see 603 FW 2). We maintained the term as 
integral to the final policy, which we believe is in keeping with the 
Refuge Improvement Act. We concur that refuge managers will make 
different interpretations of management needs in different situations, 
and there is value to group processes. However, we must still empower 
refuge managers to make the decisions inherent to administering a 
refuge. The refuge manager is the individual with the most holistic, 
on-the-ground knowledge of the circumstances surrounding management 
operations. It is typical for refuge managers to maintain close working 
relationships with State agencies, neighboring landowners, academics, 
conservation organizations, and/or local government, many of whose 
concerns are addressed in choosing management direction.
    Comment: The policy is not properly presented in the context of the 
Refuge Improvement Act and other policies. Six commenters stated the 
policy inappropriately elevates the Refuge Improvement Act's mandate to 
``ensure * * * biological integrity, diversity and health'' above 
thirteen other directives found in Section 5 of the Refuge Improvement 
Act. Some also felt we should explain how the policy will be 
interpreted in the context of other Service policies.
    Response: The policy on biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health is a new policy which has not previously existed 
in other forms. We already address virtually all other directives of 
the Refuge Improvement Act in some form in existing policies, which we 
are updating as necessary to incorporate these directives. The policy 
is not intended to elevate biological integrity, diversity and 
environmental health above the other directives, though we do believe 
and state in Section 3.7 A. of the final policy that biological 
integrity, diversity and environmental health are ``intrinsic and high 
priority components of wildlife conservation'' and thus important to 
the ``Wildlife first!'' principle.
    Comment: Two comments voiced the concern that we provide no 
direction for measuring and evaluating results.
    Response: We provide ample guidance on management through goals and 
objectives and adaptive management in 602 FW 1-4 (policies related to 
comprehensive conservation planning) and the related Writing Refuge 
Management Goals and Objectives: A Handbook. Section 3.19 B. of the 
final policy specifies that we will develop goals and objectives for 
maintaining biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health 
into Comprehensive Conservation Plans.
    Comment: Eight commenters expressed some variation of ``The policy 
is unfocused, ambiguous, not achievable, and a catalyst for 
    Response: We feel the various changes to the policy incorporating 
such comments (e.g., use of ``historic conditions'' rather than 
``natural conditions,'' modification of the frame of reference, etc.) 
have addressed this concern by simplifying and focusing the language.
    Comment: One commenter held the view that this policy is 
    Response: We disagree based on the Refuge Improvement Act mandate.
    Comment: One commenter commented on the use of prescribed fires and 
wildfires * * * that the policy might result in greater use of 
prescribed fire as a management tool, and noted

[[Page 3816]]

that use of fire must include consideration of air quality impacts.
    Response: Fire is already a much-used and significant management 
tool on refuges, and we do not anticipate a marked increase in its use 
as a result of this policy. Coordination of controlled burns with State 
air quality agencies is standard procedure for refuges, and that will 
not change under this policy.
    Comment: One commenter stated we should avail ourselves of new 
technology, regardless of whether it mimics nature.
    Response: We disagree that all new land management technology is 
appropriate for refuges. We encourage refuges to utilize the tools that 
are available and most efficient for accomplishing refuge objectives 
while remaining in compliance with existing policy.
    Comment: One commenter held the view that the policy ``second 
guesses'' nature by promoting the creation of natural disasters like 
floods and fires.
    Response: The policy promotes mimicking the results of such 
disasters through the application of prescribed fires and moist soil 
management. It does not advocate creating them on historic scales.
    Comment: How do we deal with native but nonindigenous species that 
utilize the ``artificial'' habitats created by much of traditional 
refuge management? Two commenters noted that such species now utilize 
niches created in habitats that did not exist historically.
    Response: We often create such habitats on refuges in order to 
accomplish a refuge-specific purpose (e.g., creation of marsh habitat 
where none previously existed). As noted in various places throughout 
the draft and final policies, actions taken in pursuit of purpose(s)--
and by implication the results of those actions--(e.g., the population 
of new habitats by species which do not previously occur in an area) 
take precedence over any conflicting elements of this policy.
    Comment: We received one comment that the Endangered Species Act is 
minimized in the policy and not elevated above other refuge priorities.
    Response: We recognize several statutes, including the Endangered 
Species Act, that provide direction for management of national wildlife 
refuges. We expect refuge managers to follow all relevant environmental 
compliance statutes in the execution of this policy.
    Comment: One commenter voiced the concern that Section 3.10 
unnecessarily references ``evolution'' as part of the natural processes 
on refuges.
    Response: We disagree because it does not detract from the policy, 
and we feel that it is relevant.
    Comment: Relationship to the ``Wildlife First!'' principle: Four 
commenters addressed the relationship between biological integrity, 
diversity and environmental health and the ``wildlife first'' mandate 
of the Refuge Improvement Act. One wanted the ``wildlife first'' idea 
removed in favor of public uses. Others agreed with the ``wildlife 
first'' principle, but not to the diminution of public use.
    Response: This would be in conflict with the purpose and mission of 
refuges and the Refuge Improvement Act that clearly place wildlife and 
habitat as the first priority on refuges. These concerns were addressed 
in the above section on public use (Section 6: Impacts on public use, 
especially hunting and fishing).
    Comment: One commenter voiced the concern that the policy attempts 
to nullify important elements of the Alaska National Interest Lands 
Conservation Act (ANILCA), referencing two elements of the draft policy 
that seemed to imply this. First was the draft policy's heavy emphasis 
on ``natural conditions,'' which the commenter interpreted as a ``back 
to nature policy.''
    Response: While we believe the commenter misinterpreted the draft 
policy, we nevertheless abandoned the concept of ``natural conditions'' 
in favor of the more appropriate and open-ended ``historic conditions'' 
and clarified the way this frame of reference would be utilized in 
management. Second, the commenter felt the draft policy was anti-public 
use, and thus in opposition to ANILCA. We have clarified this by adding 
``recognizing public use as an underlying principle of biological 
integrity, diversity and environmental health'' in Section 3.7 G. of 
the final policy. That section emphasizes the appropriateness of public 
use on refuges and clarifies the relationship between public use and 
biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health. In any case, 
Section 9 of the Refuge Improvement Act explicitly reiterates support 
for ANILCA by noting that any conflicts between the two Acts will be 
resolved in favor of ANILCA. The present policy cannot override the 
statutory language.
    Comment: One commenter felt the biological integrity discussion is 
inadequate. Section 3.10A. of the draft policy should be expanded to 
include the ``natural functioning of ecosystems'' and the ``spatial 
distribution of species within a landscape'' and should also 
``incorporate ecosystem service provided by fully functioning natural 
    Response: We feel our discussion in the final policy implicitly and 
adequately includes these concepts as written. The same commenter felt 
we should recognize the value of recolonization by native species over 
physical reintroductions of such species. We concur with the commenter 
and favor recolonization where source populations are available; 
however, where no such source is available, we advocate reintroduction.
    Comment: The policy needs to be simplified.
    Response: We concur and incorporated significant changes into the 
final policy to accomplish this. Most notably, we modified the 
definition of ``natural conditions'' to ``historic conditions'' and 
deleted extensive sections of text in support of natural conditions. We 
simplified related definitions, and we added language to clarify the 
relationships among refuge purpose(s), public use, and ``biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health.''
    Comment: What are the ramifications regarding State water rights, 
as well as State and local flood control projects? One commenter 
inquired as to how the policy might direct a manager to address water 
development upstream of a refuge that diverted water from a refuge. On 
a similar but opposite note, another commenter was concerned the policy 
would not allow diversion of flood waters onto refuges should the need 
arise as part of a local flood control effort.
    Response: Nothing in either the draft or final policies is meant to 
suggest we will attempt to override or change the legitimate existing 
water rights of any party. However, if the actions of any party impinge 
on our legal water rights, we will take action to defend those rights 
as necessary. We expect refuge managers to review all controlling legal 
authorities, including appropriate statutes, establishing purposes, 
relevant Service policy, binding contracts and other legal 
considerations before entering into agreements regarding flood control 
and related issues. The present policy will not alone determine a 
course of action here, but rather the sum of all such considerations. 
Managers will undoubtedly take such action only in close consultation 
with their Regional solicitor.
    Comment: In a comment concerning draft policy's emphasis of on-
refuge research over off-refuge research, one letter believed Section 
3.7G. (``Adaptive Management'') of the draft policy inappropriately 
emphasized on-refuge research, and noted research off-refuge has value 
as well.

[[Page 3817]]

    Response: We concur; however, in the final policy, we abbreviated 
the discussion of ``Adaptive Management'' and removed the references to 
research and other specific elements in the interest of brevity, so the 
question is moot.
    Comment: Refuges should manage for as many species as possible once 
purposes are met. One commenter felt Section 3.11 of the draft policy 
should permit the introduction of as wide an array of species as 
possible on refuge, specifically any species that is in decline, 
whether or not it is listed.
    Response: We disagree. Such an approach would produce diffuse and 
unfocused management, as well as defeat the intent of the present 
policy. Threatened and endangered species provide a clear, statutory 
responsibility not present with nonlisted species.
    Comment: Several commenters felt that the draft policy ignored the 
role of humans in the ecosystems.
    Response: Neither the draft nor final policy ignores the role of 
humans, but both imply that prior to European settlement and subsequent 
industrialization of the United States, humans existed in a somewhat 
steady state with the environment. While they indeed had a effect, 
smaller and more dispersed populations and lack of mechanized 
technology produced more of a harmony than we see today. The policy 
addresses the significant changes to landscapes that have occurred 
since European settlement.
    Comment: One commenter felt the policy ignored ongoing significant 
ecological phenomena like glaciers.
    Response: Section 3.14 of the draft policy states that we do not 
attempt to ``correct'' natural phenomena like volcanic eruptions and 
naturally impounded water. Both the draft and final policies recognize 
natural processes throughout without regard to scale.
    Comment: One commenter felt that biological integrity, as the draft 
policy defines it, is not a major component of wildlife conservation.
    Response: We disagree based on best available science.
    Comment: Two commenters felt the policy should include a planning 
element to assure refuges address the practical considerations of 
meeting their purposes in the face of changing future conditions or to 
examine ways to balance the various management alternatives open to 
refuges under this policy.
    Response: Other Service policies on comprehensive conservation 
planning (see 602 FW 1-4) provide a process for incorporating and 
reconciling refuge purposes with the requirements of this policy.
    Comment: Several commenters expressed concern that refuges do not 
have adequate staff or funds to meet the requirements of this new 
policy. One felt the policy will distance staff from their basic, more 
important administrative functions.
    Response: We believe such concerns reflect a misinterpretation of 
the policy. In some regards, managing pursuant to this policy may 
require more staff, funds, or planning time; however, other changes in 
management philosophy, direction, or strategies will reduce staff and 
funds being expended on existing efforts. We also believe 
implementation of this policy is integral to the basic administration 
of a refuge.
    Comment: The System's contribution to conservation should be that 
of a laboratory and teaching facility rather than conservation area. 
One commenter suggested wildlife can only be ``saved'' on private 
lands, so refuges should be dedicated to research, teaching, and 
    Response: We believe this view to be counter to statutory mandate 
for the System found in the Refuge Improvement Act, as well as contrary 
to the long history and institutional culture of individual refuges and 
the System overall. Virtually all refuges are facilities for research, 
teaching, and outreach; but they also fulfill a vital conservation role 
among the broad mosaic of wildlife and habitat conservation efforts 
throughout the United States.
    Comment: Thirteen commenters suggested we either withdraw the 
policy altogether or else withdraw it unless we incorporate significant 
    Response: The final policy incorporates significant revisions that 
were meant to address the extensive concerns voiced about natural 
conditions, public uses, and partnerships with States and private 
landowners. Given this, we feel the policy merits publication.
    Comment: Issues not relevant to the policy: Many reviewers, while 
addressing various aspects of the policy, expressed concerns such as 
tribal rights, taking of endangered species, refuge funding and 
administration, etc.
    Response: We do not believe these concerns were applicable to the 

Issue 10: General Support

    Nineteen commenters expressed general support of the draft policy 
as written, although 12 individuals qualified their support in various 
ways, suggesting different treatment of ``natural conditions,'' more 
specifics on public use, more clarity or language, etc. These 
supportive respondents were from a cross section of categories: four 
Federal agencies, five State agencies, four environmentally-oriented, 
non-governmental organizations, one sportsman's group, two academics, 
and three private individuals. One additional State natural resource 
agency specifically supported Section 3.7F. ``Wildlife and Habitat 
Management.'' Additionally, several commenters specifically supported 
our proposal to manage ungulate populations for natural sex and age 
    Supportive comments included the following: ``* * * the draft 
policy was well written and understandable;'' ``* * * it establishes 
new and overdue philosophy;'' ``* * * it promotes wildlife first and 
active management when necessary;'' ``* * * it ensures consistency;'' 
``* * * it is flexible;'' ``* * * it is scientifically credible and 
balanced;'' ``* * * it promotes landscape-scale conservation by 
allowing refuges to manage for habitats lost in other parts of the 
landscape, it allows for maintenance of a variety of habitat stages;'' 
and ``* * * it promotes cooperation with States, and it will help 
refuge managers implement the Refuge Improvement Act.''
    One supportive reviewer suggested that we expand the summary and 
clarify it to ensure that we emphasize the most important aspects of 
the policy. We revised the summary to incorporate this and other 
comments. Two reviewers suggested that the draft policy deals 
effectively with deer management issues. Two reviewers mentioned 
concerns about implementation but otherwise expressed general support.

Issue 11: Extension of Comment Period

    Comments: Fourteen letters were received requesting an extension of 
the comment period, from 45 to 120 days. Four made open-ended extension 
requests, i.e., with no extension period specified.
    Response: We extended the period by 15 days, for a total comment 
period of 60 from the date of first publication.
    The text of the final policy follows:

Fish and Wildlife Service

National Wildlife Refuge System

Refuge Management--Part 601 National Wildlife Refuge System

Chapter 3--Biological Integrity, Diversity, Environmental Health 601 FW 

3.1  What Is the Purpose of This Chapter?

    This chapter provides policy for maintaining, and restoring where

[[Page 3818]]

appropriate, the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental 
health of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

3.2  What Is the Scope of This Policy?

    This policy applies to all units of the System.

3.3  What Is the Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental 
Health Policy?

    The policy is an additional directive for refuge managers to follow 
while achieving refuge purpose(s) and System mission. It provides for 
the consideration and protection of the broad spectrum of fish, 
wildlife, and habitat resources found on refuges and associated 
ecosystems. Further, it provides refuge managers with an evaluation 
process to analyze their refuge and recommend the best management 
direction to prevent further degradation of environmental conditions; 
and where appropriate and in concert with refuge purposes and System 
mission, restore lost or severely degraded components.

3.4  What Are the Objectives of This Policy?

    A. Describe the relationships among refuge purposes, System 
mission, and maintaining biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health.
    B. Provide guidelines for determining what conditions constitute 
biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health.
    C. Provide guidelines for maintaining existing levels of biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health.
    D. Provide guidelines for determining how and when it is 
appropriate to restore lost elements of biological integrity, 
diversity, and environmental health.
    E. Provide guidelines to follow in dealing with external threats to 
biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health.

3.5  What Are Our Authorities for This Policy?

A. National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 as 
amended by the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, 
16 U.S.C. 668dd-668ee (Refuge Administration Act)
    The authority for this policy is the National Wildlife Refuge 
System Administration Act of 1966, as amended by the National Wildlife 
Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, 16 U.S.C. 668dd-668ee (Refuge 
Administration Act). Section 4(a)(4)(B) of this law states that ``In 
administering the System, the Secretary shall * * * ensure that the 
biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of the System 
are maintained for the benefit of present and future generations of 
Americans * * *.'' This is one of 14 directives to the Secretary 
contained within the Refuge Administration Act.

3.6  What Do These Terms Mean?

    A. Biological diversity. The variety of life and its processes, 
including the variety of living organisms, the genetic differences 
among them, and communities and ecosystems in which they occur.
    B. Biological integrity. Biotic composition, structure, and 
functioning at genetic, organism, and community levels comparable with 
historic conditions, including the natural biological processes that 
shape genomes, organisms, and communities.
    C. Environmental health. Composition, structure, and functioning of 
soil, water, air, and other abiotic features comparable with historic 
conditions, including the natural abiotic processes that shape the 
    D. Historic conditions. Composition, structure, and functioning of 
ecosystems resulting from natural processes that we believe, based on 
sound professional judgment, were present prior to substantial human 
related changes to the landscape.
    E. Native. With respect to a particular ecosystem, a species that, 
other than as a result of an introduction, historically occurred or 
currently occurs in that ecosystem.

3.7  What Are the Principles Underlying This Policy?

A. Wildlife First
    The Refuge Administration Act, as amended, clearly establishes that 
wildlife conservation is the singular National Wildlife Refuge System 
mission. House Report 105-106 accompanying the National Wildlife Refuge 
System Improvement Act of 1997 states ``* * * the fundamental mission 
of our System is wildlife conservation: wildlife and wildlife 
conservation must come first.'' Biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health are critical components of wildlife conservation.
B. Accomplishing Refuge Purposes and Maintaining Biological Integrity, 
Diversity, Environmental Health of the System
    The Refuge Administration Act states that each refuge will be 
managed to fulfill refuge purpose(s) as well as to help fulfill the 
System mission, and we will accomplish these purpose(s) and our mission 
by ensuring that the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental 
health of each refuge is maintained, and where appropriate, restored. 
We base our decisions on sound professional judgment.
C. Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health in a 
Landscape Context
    Biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health can be 
described at various landscape scales from refuge to ecosystem, 
national, and international. Each landscape scale has a measure of 
biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health dependent on 
how the existing habitats, ecosystem processes, and wildlife 
populations have been altered in comparison to historic conditions. 
Levels of biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health 
vary among refuges, and often within refuges over time. Individual 
refuges contribute to biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health at larger landscape scales, especially when they 
support populations and habitats that have been lost at an ecosystem, 
national, or even international scale. In pursuit of refuge purposes, 
individual refuges may at times compromise elements of biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health at the refuge scale in 
support of those components at larger landscape scales. When evaluating 
the appropriate management direction for refuges, refuge managers will 
consider their refuges' contribution to biological integrity, 
diversity, and environmental health at multiple landscape scales.
D. Maintenance and Restoration of Biological Integrity, Diversity, 
Environmental Health
    We will, first and foremost, maintain existing levels of biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health at the refuge scale. 
Secondarily, we will restore lost or severely degraded elements of 
integrity, diversity, environmental health at the refuge scale and 
other appropriate landscape scales where it is feasible and supports 
achievement of refuge purpose(s) and System mission.
E. Wildlife and Habitat Management
    Management, ranging from preservation to active manipulation of 
habitats and populations, is necessary to maintain biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health. We favor management 
that restores or mimics natural ecosystem processes or function to 
achieve refuge purpose(s). Some refuges may differ from the frequency 
and timing of natural processes in order

[[Page 3819]]

to meet refuge purpose(s) or address biological integrity, diversity, 
and environmental health at larger landscape scales.
F. Sound Professional Judgment
    Refuge managers will use sound professional judgment when 
implementing this policy primarily during the comprehensive 
conservation planning process to determine: The relationship between 
refuge purpose(s) and biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health; what conditions constitute biological integrity, 
diversity, and environmental health; how to maintain existing levels of 
all three; and, how and when to appropriately restore lost elements of 
all three. These determinations are inherently complex. Sound 
professional judgment incorporates field experience, knowledge of 
refuge resources, refuge role within an ecosystem, applicable laws, and 
best available science including consultation with others both inside 
and outside the Service.
G. Public Use
    The priority wildlife-dependent public uses, established by the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, are not in 
conflict with this policy when determined to be compatible. The 
directives of this policy do not generally entail exclusion of visitors 
or elimination of public use structures, e.g., boardwalks and 
observation towers. However, maintenance and/or restoration of 
biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health may require 
spatial or temporal zoning of public use programs and associated 
infrastructures. General success in maintaining or restoring biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health will produce higher 
quality opportunities for wildlife-dependent public use.

3.8  What Are Our Responsibilities?

A. Director
    (1) Provides national policy, goals and objectives for maintaining 
and restoring the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental 
health of the System.
    (2) Ensures that national plans and partnerships support 
maintaining and restoring the biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health of the System.
    (3) Ensures that the national land acquisition strategy for the 
System is designed to enhance the biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health of the System at all landscape scales.
B. Regional Director
    (1) Provides regional policy, goals and objectives for maintaining 
and restoring the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental 
health of the System, including guidance to resolve any conflicts with 
biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health at an 
individual refuge versus at the larger landscape scales.
    (2) Ensures that regional and ecosystem plans, and regional 
partnerships support maintaining and restoring the biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health of the System.
    (3) Resolves conflicts that arise between maintaining biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health at the refuge level 
landscape scale versus at larger landscape scales.
C. Regional Chief
    (1) Ensures that individual refuge comprehensive conservation plans 
support maintaining and restoring the biological integrity, diversity, 
and environmental health of the System.
    (2) Reviews and ensures those refuge management programs that occur 
on many refuges (e.g., fire management) are consistent with this 
D. Refuge Manager
    (1) Follows the procedure outlined in Section 3.9 of this chapter.
    (2) Incorporate the principles of this policy into all refuge 
management plans and actions.

3.9  How Do We Implement This Policy?

    The Director, Regional Directors, Regional Chiefs, and Refuge 
Managers will carry out their responsibilities specified in Section 3.8 
of this chapter. In addition, refuge managers will carry out the 
following tasks.
    A. Identify the refuge purpose(s), legislative responsibilities, 
refuge role within the ecosystem and System mission.
    B. Assess the current status of biological integrity, diversity, 
and environmental health through baseline vegetation, population 
surveys and studies, and any other necessary environmental studies.
    C. Assess historic conditions and compare them to current 
conditions. This will provide a benchmark of comparison for the 
relative intactness of ecosystems' functions and processes. This 
assessment should include the opportunities and limitations to 
maintaining and restoring biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health.
    D. Consider the refuge's importance to refuge, ecosystem, national, 
and international landscape scales of biological integrity, diversity, 
and environmental health. Also, identify the refuge's roles and 
responsibilities within the Regional and System administrative levels.
    E. Consider the relationships among refuge purpose(s) and 
biological integrity, diversity and environmental health, and resolve 
conflicts among them.
    G. Through the comprehensive conservation planning process, interim 
management planning, or compatibility reviews, determine the 
appropriate management direction to maintain and, where appropriate, 
restore, biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health, 
while achieving refuge purpose(s).
    H. Evaluate the effectiveness of our management by comparing 
results to desired outcomes. If the results of our management 
strategies are unsatisfactory, assess the causes of failure and adapt 
our strategies accordingly.

3.10  What Factors Do We Consider When Maintaining and Restoring 
Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health?

    We plan for the maintenance and restoration of biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health while considering all 
three in an integrated and holistic manner. The highest measure of 
biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health is viewed as 
those intact and self-sustaining habitats and wildlife populations that 
existed during historic conditions.
A. Biological Integrity
    (1) We evaluate biological integrity by examining the extent to 
which biological composition, structure, and function has been altered 
from historic conditions. Biological composition refers to biological 
components such as genes, populations, species, and communities. 
Biological structure refers to the organization of biological 
components, such as gene frequencies, social structures of populations, 
food webs of species, and niche partitioning within communities. 
Biological function refers to the processes undergone by biological 
components, such as genetic recombination, population migration, the 
evolution of species, and community succession [see 602 FW 3.4 C 
(1)(e), Planning Area and Data Needs].
    (2) Biological integrity lies along a continuum from a biological 
system extensively altered by significant human

[[Page 3820]]

impacts to the landscape to a completely natural system. No landscape 
retains absolute biological integrity, diversity, and environmental 
health. However, we strive to prevent the further loss of natural 
biological features and processes, i.e., biological integrity.
    (3) Maintaining or restoring biological integrity is not the same 
as maximizing biological diversity. Maintaining biological integrity 
may entail managing for a single species or community at some refuges 
and combinations of species or communities at other refuges. For 
example, a refuge may contain critical habitats for an endangered 
species. Maintaining that habitat (and, therefore, that species), even 
though it may reduce biological diversity at the refuge scale, helps 
maintain biological integrity and diversity at the ecosystem or 
national landscape scale.
    (4) In deciding which management activities to conduct to 
accomplish refuge purpose(s) while maintaining biological integrity, we 
start by considering how the ecosystem functioned under historic 
conditions. For example, we consider the natural frequency and timing 
of processes such as flooding, fires, and grazing. Where it is not 
appropriate to restore ecosystem function, our refuge management will 
mimic these natural processes including natural frequencies and timing 
to the extent this can be accomplished.
    (5) We may find it necessary to modify the frequency and timing of 
natural processes at the refuge scale to fulfill refuge purpose(s) or 
to contribute to biological integrity at larger landscape scales. For 
example, under historic conditions, an area may have flooded only a few 
times per decade. Migratory birds dependent upon wetlands may have used 
the area in some years, and used other areas that flooded in other 
years. However, many wetlands have been converted to agriculture or 
other land uses, the remaining wetlands must produce more habitat, more 
consistently, to support wetland-dependent migratory birds. Therefore, 
to conserve these migratory bird populations at larger landscape 
scales, we may flood areas more frequently and for longer periods of 
time than they were flooded historically.
B. Biological Diversity
    (1) We evaluate biological diversity at various taxonomic levels, 
including class, order, family, genus, species, subspecies, and--for 
purposes of Endangered Species Act implementation--distinct population 
segment. These evaluations of biological diversity begin with 
population surveys and studies of flora and fauna. The System's focus 
is on native species and natural communities such as those found under 
historic conditions [see 602 FW 3.4 C (1)(e)]. The Natural Heritage 
Network databases for respective States should prove a valuable tool 
for this initial evaluation.
    (2) We also evaluate biological diversity at various landscape 
scales, including refuge, ecosystem, national, and international. On 
refuges, we typically focus our evaluations of biological diversity at 
the refuge scale; however, these refuge evaluations can contribute to 
assessments at larger landscape scales.
    (3) We strive to maintain populations of breeding individuals that 
are genetically viable and functional. We provide for the breeding, 
migrating, and wintering needs of migratory species. We also strive to 
maximize the size of habitat blocks and maintain connectivity between 
blocks of habitats, unless such connectivity causes adverse effects on 
wildlife or habitat (e.g., by facilitating the spread of invasive 
    (4) At the community level, the most reliable indicator of 
biological diversity is plant community composition. We use the 
National Vegetation Classification System to identify biological 
diversity at this level.
C. Environmental Health
    (1) We evaluate environmental health by examining the extent to 
which environmental composition, structure, and function have been 
altered from historic conditions. Environmental composition refers to 
abiotic components such as air, water, and soils, all of which are 
generally interwoven with biotic components (e.g., decomposers live in 
soils). Environmental structure refers to the organization of abiotic 
components, such as atmospheric layering, aquifer structure, and 
topography. Environmental function refers to the processes undergone by 
abiotic components, such as wind, tidal regimes, evaporation, and 
erosion. A diversity of abiotic composition, structure, and function 
tends to support a diversity of biological composition, structure, and 
function [see 602 FW 3.4 C (1)(e), Planning Area and Data Needs].
    (2) We are especially concerned with environmental features as they 
affect all living organisms. For example, at the genetic level, we 
manage for environmental health by preventing chemical contamination of 
air, water, and soils that may interfere with reproductive physiology 
or stimulate high rates of mutation. Such contamination includes 
carcinogens and other toxic substances that are released within or 
outside of refuges.
    (3) At the population and community levels, we consider the habitat 
components of food, water, cover, and space. Food and water may become 
contaminated with chemicals that are not naturally present. Activities 
such as logging and mining or structures such as buildings and fences 
may modify security or thermal cover. Unnatural noise and light 
pollution may also compromise migration and reproduction patterns. 
Unnatural physical structures, including buildings, communication 
towers, reservoirs, and other infrastructure, may displace space or may 
be obstacles to wildlife migration. Refuge facility construction and 
maintenance projects necessary to accomplish refuge purpose(s) should 
be designed to minimize their impacts on the environmental health of 
the refuge.

3.11  How Do We Apply Our Management Strategies To Maintain and Restore 
Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health?

    A. We strive to manage in a holistic manner the combination of 
biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health. We balance 
all three by considering refuge purpose(s), System mission, and 
landscape scales. Considered independently, management strategies to 
maintain and restore biological integrity, diversity, and environmental 
health may conflict.
    B. For example, physical structures and chemical applications are 
often necessary to maintain biological integrity and to fulfill refuge 
purpose(s). We may use dikes and water control structures to maintain 
and restore natural hydrological cycles, or use rotenone to eliminate 
invasive carp from a pond. These unnatural physical alterations and 
chemical applications would compromise environmental health if 
considered in isolation, but they may be appropriate management actions 
for maintaining biological integrity and accomplishing refuge 
    C. We may remove physical structures to promote endangered species 
recovery in some areas, or we may remove plants or animals to protect 
structures, depending upon refuge purpose(s). Unless we determine that 
a species was present in the area of a refuge under historic 
conditions, we will not introduce or maintain the presence of that 
species for the purpose of biological diversity. We may make exceptions 
where areas are essential for the conservation of a threatened or 
endangered species and suitable

[[Page 3821]]

habitats are not available elsewhere. In such cases, we strive to 
minimize unnatural effects and to restore or maintain natural processes 
and ecosystem components to the extent practicable without jeopardizing 
refuge purpose(s).

3.12  How Do We Incorporate Information From Historic Conditions Into 
Our Management Decisions?

    A. Maintaining biological integrity, diversity, and environmental 
health require an ecological frame of reference. A frame of reference 
allows us to contrast current conditions of our resources with historic 
conditions. The reference guides us in two ways. It provides 
information on how the landscape looked prior to changes in land use 
that destroyed and fragmented habitats and resulted in diminished 
wildlife populations and the extirpation or extinction of species. It 
also allows us to examine how natural ecosystems function and maintain 
themselves. We use these conditions as a frame of reference in which to 
develop goals and objectives.
    B. We use historical conditions as the frame of reference to 
identify composition, structure, and functional processes that 
naturally shaped ecosystems. We especially seek to identify keystone 
species, indicator species, and types of communities that occurred 
during the frame of reference. We also seek to ascertain basic 
information on natural ecosystem structure such as predator/prey 
relationships and distribution of plant communities. Finally, we seek 
to identify the scale and frequency of processes that accompanied these 
components and structures, such as fire regimes, flooding events, and 
plant community succession. Where appropriate and feasible, we also 
pursue biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health by 
eliminating unnatural biotic and abiotic features and processes not 
necessary to accomplish refuge purpose(s).
    C. We do not expect, however, to reconstruct a complete inventory 
of components, structures, and functions for any successional stage 
occurring during the frame of reference. Rather, we use sound 
professional judgment to fit the pieces to create a conceptual picture 
of our resources under historic conditions.
    D. We ensure that our management activities result in the 
establishment of a community that fits within what we reasonably 
believe to have been the natural successional series, unless doing so 
conflicts with accomplishing refuge purpose(s). We may choose to 
maintain nonclimax communities pursuant to refuge purpose(s) or for 
maintaining biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health 
at the regional, national, or international landscape scale. We favor 
techniques such as fire or flooding that mimic or result in natural 
processes to maintain these nonclimax communities. However, where it 
will support fulfillment of refuge purpose(s), we allow or, if 
necessary, encourage natural succession to proceed.

3.13  Where Do We Get Information on Historic Conditions?

    A. Information on historic conditions may be historical, 
archeological, or other. Historical information includes the written 
and, in some cases, the pictographic accounts of Native Americans, 
explorers, surveyors, traders, and early settlers. Archeological 
information comes from collections of cultural artifacts maintained by 
scientific institutions. We may obtain other data from a range of 
sources, including research, soil sediments, and tree rings.
    B. We obtain information on historic conditions from our 
investigations and from partners in academia, conservation 
organizations, and other Federal, State, Tribal, and local government 
agencies. In many cases, we use historical vegetation maps to provide 
data. Such historical maps are usually drawn at relatively coarse 
scales, perhaps to the level of vegetation alliance. Generally a 
comprehensive historical list of plant and animal species is not 
available or necessary. We will base the determination of natural 
species and ecosystem composition on sound professional judgment. We 
periodically update our information on historic conditions with results 
from ongoing historical, archeological, and other studies.

3.14  How Do We Manage Populations To Maintain and Restore Biological 
Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health?

    A. We encourage cooperation and coordination with State fish and 
wildlife management agencies in setting refuge population goals and 
objectives. To the extent practicable, our regulations pertaining to 
fishing or hunting of resident wildlife within the System are 
consistent with State fish and wildlife laws, regulations, and 
management plans.
    B. We maintain, or contribute to the maintenance of, populations of 
native species. We design our wildlife population management strategies 
to support accomplishing refuge purpose(s) while maintaining or 
restoring biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health. We 
formulate refuge goals and objectives for population management by 
considering natural densities, social structures, and population 
dynamics at the refuge level, and population objectives set by national 
plans and programs--such as the North American Waterfowl Management 
Plan--in which the System is a partner.
    C. Natural densities are relatively stable for some species and 
variable for others. We manage populations for natural densities and 
levels of variation, while assuring that densities of endangered or 
otherwise rare species are sufficient for maintaining viable 
populations. We consider population parameters such as sex ratios and 
age class distributions when managing populations to maintain and 
restore where appropriate biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health.
    D. On some refuges, including many of those having the purpose of 
migratory bird conservation, we establish goals and objectives to 
maintain densities higher than those that would naturally occur at the 
refuge level because of the loss of surrounding habitats. We more 
closely approximate natural levels at larger landscape scales, such as 
flyways, by maintaining higher densities at the refuge level.
    E. We do not, however, allow densities to reach excessive levels 
that result in adverse effects on wildlife and habitat. The effects of 
producing densities that are too high may include disease, excessive 
nutrient accumulation, and the competitive exclusion of other species. 
We use planning and sound professional judgment to determine prudent 
limits to densities.
    F. Where practical, we support the reintroduction of extirpated 
native species. We consider such reintroduction in the context of 
surrounding landscapes. We do not introduce species on refuges outside 
their historic range or introduce species if we determine that they 
were naturally extirpated, unless such introduction is essential for 
the survival of a species and prescribed in an endangered species 
recovery plan, or is essential for the control of an invasive species 
and prescribed in an integrated pest management plan.

3.15  How Do We Manage Habitats To Maintain and Restore Biological 
Integrity, Diversity, Environmental Health?

    A. We will, first and foremost, maintain existing levels of 

[[Page 3822]]

integrity, diversity, and environmental health at the refuge scale. 
Following that, we will restore lost or degraded elements of biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health at all landscape scales 
where it is feasible and supports fulfillment of refuge purposes.
    B. Our habitat management plans call for the appropriate management 
strategies that mimic historic conditions while still accomplishing 
refuge objectives. For example, prescribed burning can simulate natural 
fire regimes or water level management can mimic natural hydrological 
cycles. Farming, haying, logging, livestock grazing, and other 
extractive activities are permissible habitat management practices only 
when prescribed in plans to meet wildlife or habitat management 
objectives, and only when more natural methods, such as fire or grazing 
by native herbivores, cannot meet refuge goals and objectives.
    C. We do not allow refuge uses or management practices that result 
in the maintenance of non-native plant communities unless we determine 
there is no feasible alternative for accomplishing refuge purpose(s). 
For example, where we do not require farming to accomplish refuge 
purpose(s), we cease farming and strive to restore natural habitats. 
Where feasible and consistent with refuge purpose(s), we restore 
degraded or modified habitats in the pursuit of biological integrity, 
diversity, and environmental health. We use native seed sources in 
ecological restoration. We do not use genetically modified organisms in 
refuge management unless we determine their use is essential to 
accomplishing refuge purpose(s) and the Director approves the use.

3.16  How Do We Manage Non-Native Species To Maintain and Restore 
Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health?

    A. We prevent the introduction of invasive species, detect and 
control populations of invasive species, and provide for restoration of 
native species and habitat conditions in invaded ecosystems. We develop 
integrated pest management strategies that incorporate the most 
effective combination of mechanical, chemical, biological, and cultural 
controls while considering the effects on environmental health.
    B. We require no action to reduce or eradicate self-sustaining 
populations of non-native, noninvasive species (e.g., pheasants) unless 
those species interfere with accomplishing refuge purpose(s). We do 
not, however, manage habitats to increase populations of these species 
unless such habitat management supports accomplishing refuge 

3.17  How Does This Policy Affect the Acquisition of Lands for the 

    A. We consider the mission, goals, and objectives of the System in 
planning for its strategic growth. We will take a proactive approach to 
identifying lands that are critical for maintaining or restoring the 
biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of the System 
at all landscape scales. We will integrate this approach into all 
Service strategies and initiatives related to the strategic growth of 
the System. We incorporate the directives of this policy when 
evaluating an area's potential contribution to the conservation of the 
ecosystems of the United States.
    B. We use the Land Acquisition Priority System to rank potential 
acquisitions once the Director approves significant expansions or new 
refuges. Our Land Acquisition Priority System includes components that 
gauge the contributions of refuges to maintaining and restoring 
biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health.

3.18  What Is the Relationship Between Biological Integrity, Diversity, 
and Environmental Health and Compatibility?

    When completing compatibility determinations, refuge managers use 
sound professional judgment to determine if a refuge use will 
materially interfere with or detract from the fulfillment of the System 
mission or the refuge purpose(s). Inherent in fulfilling the System 
mission is protection of the biological integrity, diversity, and 
environmental health of the System. Specific policy for compatibility 
is found in 603 FW 2.

3.19  What Is the Relationship Between Biological Integrity, Diversity, 
and Environmental Health and Comprehensive Conservation Planning?

    A. We integrate the principles of this policy into all aspects of 
comprehensive conservation planning, including pre-planning guidance 
[see 602 FW 3.4 C (1)(e)] as we complete plans to direct long-range 
refuge management and identify desired future conditions for proposed 
refuges (see 602 FW 1.7 D).
    B. Refuge purpose(s) and the System mission serve as the basis for 
goals and objectives at all levels of the System (e.g., System, 
Regional, ecosystem, and refuge level). When we develop refuge goals 
and objectives during the Comprehensive Conservation Plan process we 
include goals and objectives for maintaining and restoring the 
biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of the 
    C. While developing Comprehensive Conservation Plans, we make 
management decisions based on sound professional judgment. We 
subsequently evaluate the effectiveness of these decisions by comparing 
results to desired outcomes. If the results are unsatisfactory, we 
assess the causes of failure and adapt our management decisions 
accordingly. In part, we base management decisions on natural resource-
related research that has been conducted on refuges. This type of 
research adds to the general body of information related to natural 
resource management and aids us in continually adapting our management 
decisions. We generally encourage natural resource-related research on 

3.20  How Do We Protect Biological Integrity, Diversity, and 
Environmental Health From Actions Outside of Refuges?

    Events occurring off refuge lands or waters may injure or destroy 
the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of a 
refuge. Given their responsibility to the public resources with which 
they have been entrusted, refuge managers should address these 
problems. It is critical that they pursue resolution fully cognizant 
and respectful of legitimate private property rights, seeking a balance 
between such rights and the refuge manager's own responsibility to the 
public trust. While each situation will be different, the following is 
a suggested procedure which emphasizes our desire for cooperative 
resolutions. The time and effort expended, and the rate at which a 
refuge manager escalates the process, will depend on the severity of 
threat and the resources at risk.
    A. We first seek resolution by directly contacting the 
landowner(s), corporation, agency or other entity from which the 
problem originates.
    B. Where direct discussions fail, managers might seek resolution 
through collaborative discussions with State or local authorities or 
other organizations that can help in cooperative resolution of the 
    C. An appropriate next step might be to pursue resolution at the 
local level through planning and zoning boards or other regulatory 
agencies at the city and county level. Failing that, the manager may 
seek avenues through State administrative and regulatory agencies. 
Regulatory solutions are a serious step, and a manager should take this 
route only after careful consideration and in

[[Page 3823]]

close consultation with the Regional Offices.
    D. If the above efforts fail, we may take action within the legal 
authorities available to the Service and with full respect to private 
property rights. In such cases, refuge managers will consult with the 
Office of the Solicitor for assistance in identifying appropriate 
remedies and obtain concurrence from the Regional Director.

    Dated: January 8, 2001.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 01-950 Filed 1-12-01; 8:45 am]