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Refuge Policy Development in the Home Stretch, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Says


January 17, 2001

Eric Eckl 202/208-5634, or
Christine Eustis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 404/679-7287

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released several draft policies for public comment yesterday, providing guidance on public recreation and educational activities and conserving wilderness on the 93-million -acre National Wildlife Refuge System. With this announcement, the Service has largely completed development of an extensive body of policy necessary to implement the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, the system's first organic legislation which President Clinton signed into law in late 1997.

"A lot has changed since the first refuge manager patrolled for poachers in a sailboat almost a century ago," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "Once these policies are final, they will form a solid foundation to guide the most important aspects of modern refuge management."

Policies released yesterday are:

  • The proposed General Recreation Policy, which provides general guidance for managing recreational and educational uses on units of the refuge system.
  • Six draft policies, Hunting, Fishing, Wildlife Watching, Wildlife Photography, Environmental Education, and Interpretation, which update and replace the Service's existing policy on recreation, providing specific guidance on the "priority public uses" given preference over all other uses in the Improvement Act.
  • The draft Appropriate Refuge Uses Policy, which spells out a process for evaluating uses other than those six priority uses on refuge lands.
  • The draft Wilderness Stewardship Policy updates existing wilderness management guidance and reconfirms the Service's commitment to managing wilderness to accomplish the purposes of the refuge. This draft policy spells out how wilderness will be handled during the preparation of Comprehensive Conservation Plans, and the proper management of the priority public uses in wilderness areas, among other items.
  • The draft Mission, Goals, and Purposes policy clarifies the interaction between the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the goals of the refuge system, and the purposes for which each refuge was established.

President Clinton signed the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act into law in October 1997, establishing wildlife conservation as the single mission of the system for the first time and creating new decision making processes to strengthen refuges' relationship with the public. In keeping with the spirit of the Act's call for expanded public involvement in refuge management, the Service has released all draft refuge policies for public comment since the law was signed. Taken together, the policies will help ensure that individual refuges are managed consistently across the country as a true National Wildlife Refuge System.

In a related move, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also published its final Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health policy today. The final policy has been substantially revised in response to congressional, state and public comments received following the release of the draft policy, Ecological Integrity, released on October 17, 2000. The final policy provides guidance and basic principles for wildlife and habitat management practices.

The full text of all these polices can be found at http://www.fws.gov/r9pdm/home/newfrnotice.html. The Service will accept written comments on the proposed policies for 60 days.

"Preparing these policies over the past three years has been a tremendous effort, and we are looking forward to shifting gears and working to ensure that these are carried out consistently at refuges across the country," Clark said. "I want to thank the Service staff and our partners at state agencies and conservation organizations who have devoted so much of their time and energy to strengthening the refuge system for the benefit of future generations of Americans."

Since Theodore Roosevelt founded the first refuge in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System has grown into a 93-million-acre network of lands and waters that provide "stepping stones" of habitat for many species of migratory birds and other wildlife, sanctuary for hundreds of the nation's endangered species, and secure spawning areas for the nation's last healthy wild salmon fisheries. More than 35 million people annually visit refuges to enjoy activities such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 530 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource 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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Reporters: An "online almanac" of refuge information, including the history of the System, a timeline of recent events, and a wide variety of background information, is available at http://refuges.fws.gov.

NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at http:/southeast.fws.gov. Our national home page is at: http://news.fws.gov/newsreleases/.

Atlanta, GA 30345

Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286

2001 News Releases

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