FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 31, 2000
Tom MacKenzie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (404) 679-7291
Eric Eckl 202/208-5634
After considering and responding to more than 500 public comments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its final Compatibility Policy and Regulations on October 27, 2000, giving uniform direction and procedures for making decisions regarding wildlife conservation and public use to managers of units of the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System. The policy provides a strong framework to continue to manage refuge lands sensibly in keeping with the general goal of putting wildlife first, while providing recreational and educational opportunities for a growing number of visitors.
"Although national wildlife refuges are places where the needs of
The 1997 National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act required the Service to update the compatibility policy, first issued in 1966. Under the new policy, a refuge manager must determine whether any proposed or existing public use will "materially interfere with or detract from" the refuge's conservation mandates; and, all compatibility determinations must be made in writing after following uniform procedures. This includes providing notice to the public and inviting comment on pending determinations.
"During these reviews, refuge managers will take steps to notify and involve the public such as posting notices at the refuge visitor centers and in local newspapers," Clark said. "Using a more coordinated approach with our neighbors and partners will strengthen our ability to conserve wildlife on a much broader scale."
The 1997 act also established "priority public uses"-- compatible uses involving hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, environmental education and interpretation -- that are especially welcome on refuges and receive preference over other uses. Priority public uses are reviewed for compatibility less frequently than other uses, and refuge managers are encouraged to seek resources to facilitate these activities if they are determined to be otherwise compatible.
The compatibility policy does not apply to private property within refuge boundaries, and does not affect the terms of conservation easements and other agreements between the Service and private landowners. In Alaska, however, the compatibility policy does apply to the village lands in national wildlife refuges in Alaska withdrawn under Section 22(g) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. These lands were deeded to Alaska Native Village Corporations with specific restrictions, called covenants, on their sale and use.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management offices, and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.
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