The National Wildlife Refuge System
Improvement Act







Your Concerns

photo: Western meadowlark.
John and Karen Hollingsworth

Western meadowlarkThe National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act (Improvement Act) amended the Refuge System Administration Act in 1997 by establishing a unifying mission for the Refuge System, a new process for determining compatibility of uses on refuges, and a requirement that each refuge will be managed under a Comprehensive Conservation Plan, developed in an open public process. This Act states first and foremost that the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System be focused singularly on wildlife conservation. Subsequent to the passage of the Improvement Act, several policies were written to provide more specific interpretation and guidelines for management of refuges.

New Mission Statement
The mission of the System is "to administer a network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans." The National Wildlife System Refuge Improvement Act required that each refuge be managed to fulfill the Refuge System Mission as well as the specific purpose(s) for which the refuge was established.

Emphasis on Conservation and Biological Integrity
The Refuge Administration Act states that the Secretary shall provide for the conservation of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats within the System as well as ensure that the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of the System are maintained. The Refuge Administration Act requires the Service to monitor the status and trends of fish, wildlife, and plants in each refuge.

Purposes and the System Mission Drive Management
Under the Refuge Administration Act, each refuge must be managed to fulfill the Refuge System mission as well as the specific purposes for which it was established.

Priority Public Uses
The Act also declares that compatible wildlife dependent recreational uses are legitimate and appropriate priority general public uses of the Refuge System. There are six uses— hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation—that receive enhanced consideration in planning and management over all other general public uses of the Refuge System. When compatible, these wildlife-dependent recreational uses are to be strongly encouraged.

Compatibility Standard
When preparing a CCP, refuge managers must re-evaluate all general public, recreational, and economic uses (even those occurring to further Refuge habitat management goals) proposed or occurring on a refuge for appropriateness and compatibility. No refuge use may be allowed or continued unless it is determined to be appropriate and compatible. Generally, an appropriate use is one that contributes to fulfilling the refuge purpose(s), the Refuge System mission, or goals or objectives described in a refuge management plan. A compatible use is a use that, in the sound professional judgment of the refuge manager, will not materially interfere with or detract from the fulfillment of the mission of the Refuge System or the purposes of the refuge.

Interagency Coordination and Public Involvement
The Refuge Administration Act also requires that, in addition to formally established guidance, the CCP must be developed with the participation of the public. Issues and concerns articulated by the public play a role in guiding alternatives considered during the development of the CCP, and together with the formal guidance, can play a role in selection of the preferred alternative. It is Service policy that CCPs are developed in an open public process and that the agency is committed to securing public input throughout the process.

Guiding Policies
Several policies developed subsequent to the passage of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act are relevant when undertaking a planning process. See more information on the policies page.



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