Law & Policy

Various laws and regulations define the authority and responsibility for the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to preserve and enhance air quality and other air quality related values in Class I Wilderness Areas. The Branch of Air Quality (BAQ) staff provides information and expertise to refuges, governmental agencies and others in carrying out these responsibilities.

Clean Air Act:

Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Federal Land Manager and the Federal official with direct responsibility for management of Federal Class I parks and wilderness areas (i.e. Refuge manager) have an affirmative responsibility to protect the air quality related values of such lands. Congress gave the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the responsibility to protect air quality and the natural resources, including visibility, of the area from man made air pollution. Two major CAA regulatory programs that FWS has active responsibilities for include:

  • Regional Haze: In 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Regional Haze Rule. The rule calls for state, tribal and federal agencies to work together to improve visibility in 156 national parks and wilderness areas, including the 21 Class I Wilderness areas managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The States need to develop and implement air quality protection plans to reduce the pollution that causes visibility impairment. These plans may require electric generating units and other industrial operations to install pollution control devices. Additionally, the plans may examine trends in area source emissions, such as motor vehicles. The first State plans for regional haze are due by late 2008. Ultimately by 2064, the visibility in the Class I areas will be returned to natural conditions.
  • New Source Review/Prevention of Significant Deterioration permits system: FWS BAQ has decision making regarding whether there is an adverse impact possibility for considerations in its determination regarding an air or construction permit. The FWS BAQ considers a wide range of factors, including the potential impact of a new source or major modification on the AQRV's of Class I Areas. The FWS-BAQ job is to protect the Class I areas and its associated air quality related values.


Refuge Improvement Act:

In 1997, President Clinton signed the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997. The Act amends the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966. It was passed to ensure that the Refuge System is managed as a national system of related lands, waters, and interests for the protection and conservation of our Nation's wildlife resources.

The major components include:

  • a strong and singular wildlife conservation Mission for the Refuge System
  • a requirement that the Secretary of the Interior maintain the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of the Refuge System.
  • a new process for determining compatible uses on refuges
  • a recognition that wildlife-dependent recreational uses involving hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation, when determined to be compatible, are legitimate and appropriate public uses of the Refuge System
  • that these compatible wildlife-dependent recreational uses are the priority general public uses of the Refuge System
  • a requirement for preparing a comprehensive conservation plan for each refuge.

Wilderness Act:

Approved in 1964, directed the Secretary of the Interior to review every roadless area of 5,000 or more acres and every roadless island within National Wildlife Refuge and National Park Systems and recommend to the President the suitability of each are for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. Under this Act 6 million acres in 65 units were established as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. In addition to the establishment of new wilderness areas, the act protected air quality related values within Wilderness areas. The protection is meant to be the benefit of the American people as Wilderness areas are meant to be unimpaired for future use and enjoyment by the people. The Fish and Wildlife Service responsibility is to ensure that those wilderness areas can be enjoyed by future generations.




The Federal Land Manager's Air Quality Related Values Work Group (FLAG) formed to develop a more consistent approach for the Federal Land Managers (FLM) to evaluate air pollution effects on resources. The primary -but not sole- focus of FLAG is the New Source Review (NSR) program, especially in the review of Prevention of Significatn Deterioration (PSD) of air quality permit applications. The goals of FLAG have been to provide consistent polices and processes both for identifying air quality related values (AQRVs) and for evaluaing the effects of air pollution on AQRVs, primarily in Federal Class I air quality areas, but also in some instances, in other national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and national monuments. Federal Class I areas are defined in the Clean Air Act as national parks over 6,000 acres and wilderness area and memorial parks over 5,000 acres, established as of 1977. All other FLM areas are designated Class II. To find out more about the FLAG report. more>>