FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 2, 2001
The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge comprises 3,100 acres on the western end of the island and contains several ecologically distinct habitats including beaches, coastal lagoons, mangrove wetlands, and upland forested areas. The marine environment surrounding the refuge contains coral reefs and sea grass beds. The refuge and its surrounding waters are home to at least four plants and 10 animals on the Federal endangered species list including the West Indian manatee, the brown pelican, and four species of sea turtles. In addition to its ecological value, the new refuge includes historical and archeological sites that will be protected under Service management.
"The western part of Vieques contains some of the best examples of sub-tropical forest in the Caribbean," said Sam Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "The area contains unique resources that deserve to be protected for the enjoyment of the people of Vieques and all Americans. We are looking forward to working with the citizens of Vieques to protect these important environmental resources."
Since the first refuge was established in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System has grown to include more than 535 refuges and thousands of waterfowl production areas. At least one refuge is located in each of the 50 states, U.S. territories and insular areas. National wildlife refuges provide stopovers and destinations for millions of migratory birds, provide sanctuary for hundreds of endangered species, and support important recreational and commercial fisheries.
Every year, approximately 30 million people visit national wildlife refuges to participate in one or more of the six priority public uses encouraged on these lands; hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, interpretation, photography and environmental education. An economic study conducted in 1997 concluded that visitors' spending at national wildlife refuges generate economic activity throughout the local economy.
The Service must consider wildlife first but will work with the citizens of Vieques to determine what priority public uses should be considered for the land. The Service will soon begin the planning process to determine what public uses are compatible with the management of the refuge. The participation of the public will be encouraged during the planning process to help guide the management programs of the refuge.
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 comprised of more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance 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 wildlife agencies.
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