Are refuges in Trouble? There are 542 refuges in the U.S. comprising 95 million acres of protected land. Individual refuges serve as a multitude of purposes, including protecting endangered plants and animals and their habitats, preserving wilderness areas, providing outdoor recreational and educational opportunities, and providing lands and waters for traditional uses such as hunting and fishing. One would think that from the overall ownership of land and wonderful activities that the refuges provide, animals that are threatened or endangered would be totally protected. However, it takes a lot more than one would think to keep these refuges up and running. The biggest problems that our government is facing are lack of funds and trained personnel.
These two problems have led to a diverse number of complications among the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) and the Department of the Interior. While money doesn't make one happy, it does, however, make the world go round. Every branch in the government receives a certain portion of money, which supposedly is enough to adequately fund everything to keep the agency operating. The problem is that the overall budget that the NWRS receives is very small. This alone creates many problems within its already fragile system. The government funding necessary to conduct research and management programs is inadequate for many species.
This lack of funding often has life and death consequences on numerous species. However, public support for financing the protection of threatened and endangered species has increased over the last few decades. Much of the habitat restoration funding comes from non-profit organizations and non taxable groups. These individuals do a lot of fundraising and donating of all sorts to keep wildlife refuges going. The NWRS refers to these groups as "Refuge Friends" and they are held in high regard by many refuge employees (Wildlife Society, 2004). The general public also helps out with many donations and other types of needed services.
Much of the manual labor done on refuges can be attributed to contractors or volunteers. Since the NWRS cannot afford to hire new employees community volunteers are always a great help. Many volunteers will actually go to their local wildlife refuge and approach them with a plan of action that they devised themselves to benefit the refuge. These plans can be funded by the refuge and be given grants if backed by an organization. Many refuges also have exotic animals and overpopulation's of unwanted species. These exotic animals have been introduced and can be bad for the already established plants and animals.
Many of these animals can be hunted in normal legal fashion, so a refuge may allow hunters to recreation ally hunt and trap on their land. While the refuge protects much of their wildlife, sometimes there are unwanted or introduced animals that can destroy the natural habitat or out compete the threatened and endangered species. In the past five or six years about 40 refuges opened to migratory bird, upland game, and big game hunting for the first time, or have expanded hunting, all at an accelerating pace. This is very controversial as different groups that support the refuges, are now finding refuges to be a killing field instead of a haven.
This new development can also detour new groups from becoming active in helping the refuges (Williams, ND) The public can be a big decider in a refuge's fate. Many refuges are supported and loved by their local communities, but some are actually catching flack for what they do. One of the biggest problems with a community and a refuge is the question of, what animals are to be protected. When it comes to the reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone National Park or the polar bears in the Artic refuge there is much debate. Many people find more problems with protecting the animals rather than killing them off.
In fact, some wolves have been killed recently in the Artic refuge by sport hunters who use helicopters. This brings us to who is qualified to actually being part of the NWRS? Applying for a government job in general has become increasingly harder due to a budget freeze on hiring new employees in many refuge areas. The existing employees have to work extra hard to keeping their jobs, for the little pay they receive. These complications have led to the founding of a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This group invented a survey called the Peer survey (Final Policy, 1999).
The PEER survey asks questions to NWRS employees and management about what concerns them and what could change. Despite a two-thirds rise in federal funding for the Refuge System since 1997, more than nine in ten refuge managers say that funds 'continue to decline in real terms. ' This shows that the problem for funding has been ignored for far too long. Much of the newly acquired funding has been used to fix long apparent problems in the refuge system. The survey also found that even if money does come it's always too little or to late. The refuges are also plagued by politics.
Many of the employees find that with every new president that is put into power, the Department of the Interior is changed dramatically. When the whole department is affected in such a manner the shockwave travels all the way down to even the NWRS. Many of the employees have troubles with their Regional Directors. A lot of new management personnel have no field experience and are replaced after four years with the advent of yet another new president. Since they are replaced so fast and have no real experience other than desk work, problems go unsolved and many more are actually created. Since these newly appointed managers are naturally political they make, many decisions in favor of and with the support of, other politicians who want something from the refuge system.
The biggest battle in NWRS history would have to be the proposal drilling in the Artic Wildlife Refuge. This proposal presents an argument that pits those who care for the refuge biologically vs. those who want political change. This problem is not new however; the search for oil and alternative fuels has caused many refuges to give way to contractors by opening land to businesses in search of new ways to get energy. The military has also taken Federal land on or near refuges to build bases or test new types of weaponry.
In truth, the NWRS is caught in a game that cannot be won unless major legislation is changed or for enforcements and maintenance to be passed and more funding flows through their hands. Organizations such as the National Audubon Society have called for the Refuge System to be removed from the National Fish and Wildlife Service and become a separate agency. Gene Hocutt, a former 29-year refuge manager said, 'Unless these issues are effectively addressed, the calls to create a separate agency will continue. ' Because the NWRS has its hands tied, it once again opens its arms to the public for help and suggestions.
When the centennial happened last year many problems were brought to light. Even the government itself saw the need for action. The NWRS started to receive an increased budget but it wasn't enough. The NWRS then took this newly acquired money and created a large grant program.
Nonprofit organizations and nontaxable groups have the ability to apply for grant money to restore, create, and do research for their local refuges. In Washington alone there has been over 45 grants already put into action to help the Fishing Wildlife Service, NWRS, Audubon Society and much more. In our area alone the Fishing Wildlife Service gave a $14,100 dollar grant to Surveying American Marten Habitat in the Wenatchee National Forest. To help resolve many biological problems the organization Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) was founded.
In 1995, National Audubon Society joined in a coalition of 17 organizations, ranging from Defenders of Wildlife to the National Rifle Association, to form (CARE). The coalition was drawn together by a common interest in elevating the funding backlog of the National Wildlife Refuge System. CARE has worked to secure sizable increases for the refuge system to enable the system to function at two-thirds capacity by 2003 (Grant, ND). In conclusion, the National Wildlife Refuge System is an extremely complicated entity controlled by many forces and opinions. The purpose of its being is to protect and rehabilitate species that are threatened and endangered by extinction. Though many groups of people try to sway its power for their own means, the NWRS will always try to fulfill its duty.
I have worked for NWRS as a contractor and have seen the problems and complications with my own eyes. The lack of funding causes cuts and problems to arise while employees work in politically heated conditions. When someone says, "I am only one person what can I do?" , my answer is: use what power you can to volunteer your time to a cause that is worthy of needing help like the NWRS. Because knowledge is power and a biologically diverse environment is worth it.
o Williams, V. (n. d. ). retrieved May 02, 2004, from web The Wildlife Society, (n.
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Stop hunting in wildlife refuges. Billings Gazette, pp... o (1999).
Final policy on the national wildlife refuge system and compensatory mitigation under the section 10/404 program. retrieved May 02, 2004, from web National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, (n.
d. ). retrieved May 03, 2004, from Applying for a Grant Web site: web.