The Division of Planning is responsible for guiding the development of both land protection plans and comprehensive conservation plans in the Southeast Region. Land protection plans guide the establishment of new refuges or the expansion of existing refuges. Comprehensive conservation plans provide direction for managing refuges over a 15-year time period. These plans are prepared to fulfill the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System and the purpose(s) of each refuge.
Plans are developed by field planners in collaboration with refuge staff and other Service personnel. Field planners are strategically located to serve a number of refuges in the Southeast. Once draft plans have been completed, the Division has responsibility to assure that they are consistent with Service planning policy and adhere to environmental laws and regulations. Subsequently, the plans are forwarded for approval by Service management.
Guiding the development of a comprehensive conservation plan is Part 602 of the Fish and Wildlife Service Manual, and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997. This Act requires a comprehensive conservation plan be developed for each refuge in the Refuge System by 2012.
Comprehensive conservation plans address conservation of fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their related habitats, while providing opportunities for compatible wildlife-dependent recreation uses. An overriding consideration reflected in these plans is that fish and wildlife conservation has first priority in refuge management, and that public use be allowed and encouraged as long as it is compatible with, or does not detract from, the Refuge System mission and refuge purpose(s).
The National Environmental Policy Act requires, in the development of a comprehensive conservation plan, the identification of resource issues, the development of alternative management plans, the evaluation of effects of the alternative plans on the environment, and the solicitation of public comments on the alternative plans. Because these plans are strategic in nature, they do not constitute a commitment by the Service for staffing increases, operational and maintenance increases, or funding for future land acquisition. Thus, the Service envisions partnerships with other agencies and private organizations as a key to implementing the goals, objectives, and strategies of each plan.