Statement on the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge Boundary

~ Matthew Hillman, Refuge Manager, July 2018

Wind, storms and tides move sand and continually change the environment of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Its boundary, however, was set when the refuge was established in 1944. The boundary  has been the subject of recent public discourse, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to provide the public that we serve with accurate information.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed a comprehensive planning process in 2016 to guide management of the refuge’s biological program and visitor services for a period of 15 years. The plan - referred to as the CCP - did not propose changing the existing refuge boundary. However, the management of submerged lands and waters within the refuge’s western boundary became a heated topic during the public review process. Officials from the State of Massachusetts and the Town of Chatham, where the refuge is located, continue to express concerns that federal jurisdiction over this area will lead to future restrictions on fishing and commercial activities.

As they have since the refuge was established, people today enjoy many wildlife-dependent outdoor activities on the refuge, including fin fishing and shellfishing. The submerged areas within the western boundary remain open to fishing and clam harvest.

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1944 through what is known as a “declaration of taking”. In that document, the federal government established the eastern boundary along the Atlantic Ocean at mean low water, which is constantly shifting. This same document set latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates establishing the fixed western boundary. The submerged lands and waters that have come into question fall within the existing fixed refuge boundary.

The declaration of taking and additional supporting materials from the planning process leading up to the refuge’s establishment support the decision to protect the submerged lands and waters within the fixed boundary. They describe the extensive seagrass beds and other environmental attributes that are so important to the waterfowl species that the refuge was established to protect.

Subject matter and legal experts have carefully considered the historical records, and have determined that the federal government has never relinquished jurisdiction to manage uses in those areas.

I take the Chatham officials’ concerns very seriously, and very much value the long-standing relationship that the Service has with the Town government and with the community. The Service has offered to enter into an agreement with the Town of Chatham and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to cooperatively manage the submerged lands and waters within the western boundary that would continue our partnership. We remain very interested  to work in partnership to conserve fish and wildlife for the continuing benefit of residents and visitors alike.

Click here for additional information pertaining to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s jurisdiction of the submerged lands in question.