|Short History of the Refuge System
New Directions, New Opportunities (l956 - l996)
The Fish and Wildlife Act of l956 established a comprehensive national fish and wildlife policy and broadened the authority for acquisition and development of refuges. The funds necessary to implement this authority, however, were not immediately forthcoming. Without increased funding, land acquisition during the l950's could not keep pace with the high rate of drainage (primarily due to intensive agricultural development) of waterfowl breeding habitat in the prairie pothole country.
To remedy this situation, Congress passed an amendment to the Duck Stamp Act in 1958 which authorized the Waterfowl Production Area (WPA) program. To fund the WPA program and accelerate the wetland preservation effort, Congress also passed the Wetlands Loan Act of 1961. As later amended, this Act authorized a loan of $200 million to be spent over a period of 23 years and to be repaid from duck stamp revenues.
Recognizing new public demands for recreational activities after World War II, Congress passed the Refuge Recreation Act of l962. This Act authorized the recreational use of refuges when such uses did not interfere with the area's primary purposes and when sufficient funds were available to conduct recreational activities. The Act also clarified the appropriateness of public use on refuges, encouraged efforts to provide wildlife-oriented recreation, interpretation and environmental education activities, and required that such uses be compatible with the purposes for which the lands were acquired.
Perhaps the law of greatest significance to wildlife refuges since the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 has been the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of l966. The Act provided guidelines and directives for administration and management of all areas in the system including "wildlife refuges, areas for the protection and conservation of fish and wildlife that are threatened with extinction, wildlife ranges, game ranges, wildlife management areas, and waterfowl production areas."
In addition, the 1966 law established the standard of "compatibility," requiring that uses of refuge lands must be determined to be compatible with the purposes for which individual refuges were established. This standard was later strengthened and clarified in the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997.
The Endangered Species Act of l973 also redirected management emphasis on some refuges. It is considered the world's foremost law protecting species faced with extinction. This Act has provided extensive means of protection for endangered species (including penalties for harming endangered animals, review and compliance obligations for various Federal agency programs, and the listing of species eligible for protection). Over 25 new refuges have been added to the NWRS under this authority including Attwater Prairie Chicken, Texas, Mississippi Sandhill Crane, Mississippi, Columbian White-tailed Deer, Washington, and Crocodile Lake, Florida.
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of l97l (ANCSA), an outgrowth of the Alaska Statehood Act, is a law of enormous importance to the National Wildlife Refuge System. Among numerous other provisions, it authorized the addition of immense acreages of highly productive, internationally significant wildlife lands to the NWRS. Further far-reaching resource protection measures for Alaska were mandated by Congress in the passage on December 2, l980, of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). The Act added nine new refuges, expanded seven existing refuges and added 53.7 million acres to the NWRS. This Act alone nearly tripled the acreage of lands encompassed in the Refuge System.