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Defenders of Wildlife: Ten Years Later, Wildlife Refuges Still Face Critical Threats

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 4, 2007
12:58 PM

CONTACT:Defenders of Wildlife
Deborah Bagocius, (202) 772-0239

 
Ten Years Later, Wildlife Refuges Still Face Critical Threats
New report highlights ten refuges still suffering despite landmark 1997 Refuge Improvement Act
 

WASHINGTON - October 4 - Oil and gas development, road construction, border walls, invasive species and water contamination are just a few examples of the problems afflicting the National Wildlife Refuge System, according to a new report released Thursday by Defenders of Wildlife. Ten years after the passage of sweeping legislation intended to address these issues, national wildlife refuges continue to struggle with problems that threaten their ability to meet their wildlife-first mission.

Defenders of Wildlife released the report, “Refuges at Risk,” in advance of National Wildlife Refuge Week, October 7-14, to mark the 10-year anniversary of the passage of the landmark National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act in 1997. Despite the firm mandates set by this visionary legislation, the refuge system now faces a $2.5 billion operations and maintenance backlog and is poised to lose 20 percent of its staff nationwide.

“It is a travesty that 10 years after Congress set new standards for the embattled refuge system, refuges have been eroded further by budget cuts and political maneuvering,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. “The act outlined core values and standards that all national wildlife refuges should meet, but refuge managers are being asked to do their jobs with one hand tied behind their backs.”

To raise awareness and garner support for the refuge system, Defenders of Wildlife is releasing its fourth annual report profiling 10 refuges that face particularly crippling threats. Although these threats vary, they are all examples of the general undermining of the most important mandates set out in the 1997 refuge improvement act, which include the refuge system’s responsibility to ensure biological integrity and diversity; guarantee that all uses on a refuge are compatible with the purpose of protecting all wildlife; and secure adequate water quality and quantity for the needs of wildlife.

“The 10 refuges highlighted in this report are examples of the kind of problems that hundreds of refuges all over the country are facing,” added Schlickeisen. “The Bush administration has neglected this important system of lands, and worse, has politically interfered with the scientific and professional judgments of refuge managers. As funds become tighter and the human footprint expands, the job of protecting our nation’s wildlife is getting harder and the need to enforce the refuge improvement act of 1997 is critical.”

The National Wildlife Refuge System was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 and now includes 548 refuges in all 50 states and several territories, encompassing nearly 100 million acres. It is the largest network of lands in the world dedicated first and foremost to the protection of wildlife and habitat. Refuges support a rich spectrum of lands and provide crucial habitat for more than 285 threatened and endangered plants and animals.

"Our National Wildlife Refuges are the inheritance that we will pass along to future generations of both people and wildlife," said Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ).  "It's a great network of refuges, but Congress has to fund them adequately and try to expand them as best we can.  Every American can drive to a refuge in thier state, and there's a refuge within an hour's drive from every major city.  Refuges are a national treasure where people can go and see wildilfe in their natural state."

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives approved $451 million to be spent on the refuge system, nearly a $56 million increase from last year. Although it is the largest increase in the history of the refuge system, it still only brings the system’s budget to the 2004 inflation adjusted level. However, even this funding is unlikely to reach America’s refuges because President Bush has since threatened to veto this bill.

To read the full report, go to www.defenders.org/refugesatrisk

Top 10 Refuges at Risk (in alphabetical order)
Click links to read a local press release for each refuge.

Cape May NWR, NJ – Each year, thousands of migratory songbirds, including the ruby-crowned kinglet and the Nashville warbler, arrive at this crucial stopping ground for birds traveling on the Atlantic Flyway. But year after year, they arrive to find that their precious habitat is not as they left it. Illegal all-terrain vehicle use, barely hindered by the refuge’s lone refuge enforcement officer, is tearing up the habitat, disturbing nesting birds and jeopardizing their food sources.

Hailstone NWR, MT – This refuge is a vital hub for hundreds of migratory bird species that use the 300-acre lake and the surrounding area as a stopover and breeding ground. However, agricultural runoff has allowed excess salt and selenium from the soil to accumulate in the wetlands, and each year mallards, American white pelicans and hundreds of other species are harmed or even killed by the deteriorating water quality.

Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR, TX – The territories of jaguarundi and ocelot extend into Texas from Mexico, where these rare cats roam among 300 species of butterfly and more than 500 species of birds. But the cats’ territories are not bound by international borders, and their habitat is threatened by a border wall that could destroy the biological integrity of the entire region.

Nisqually NWR, WA – For years, local children living in an increasingly developed region have enjoyed and learned from this rich landscape, where pacific tree frogs chorus in the night and river otters dart after fish. Fewer children will be given this opportunity, however, as refuge staff are forced to cut back or eliminate educational programs that teach America’s future leaders how to appreciate and protect our environment.

Pea Island NWR, NC – This refuge boasts an enormous array of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, including breeding American oystercatchers and loggerhead sea turtles. A planned replacement bridge and highway would carve through the heart of refuge wetlands, requiring constant maintenance as even mild storms regularly inundate the road with sand and ocean water.

Rappahannock River Valley NWR, VA – With one of the largest concentrations of bald eagles on the East Coast, this refuge provides wildlife with an island of wilderness in a region where urban development is steadily encroaching. Without the funds to acquire available neighboring land, the refuge is at risk of bring surrounded by development, making the refuge into a decorative center piece instead of a crucial wildlife oasis.

Rhode Island NWR Complex, RI – Local children have long been taught the importance of the wildlife, habitat and ecology of Rhode Island’s five refuges that provide a haven for thousands of birds traveling the Atlantic Flyway, including hawks, falcons and songbirds. But lack of funds has forced refuge staff to cease their educational programs, despite an increasingly desperate need for environmental education in a quickly developing area.

San Luis NWR, CA – With 95 percent of California’s wetlands drained, filled or destroyed, this critical stopover and wintering grounds for migratory ducks, geese and cranes along the Pacific Flyway is a haven for the weary travelers. But the water they find there is decreasing in quality and quantity, year upon year, due to commercial competition for California’s limited water supply.

Trempealeau NWR, WI - Thousands of wood ducks and black terns share these Wisconsin skies, located at the confluence of the Trempealeau and Mississippi rivers, with monarch butterflies, blue-winged teal, hooded mergansers and tundra swans. But these native beauties are under attack from a marching army of invasive plants and animals that severely undermine the environmental health of the refuge.

Yukon Flats NWR, AK – The retreat of a bitter winter and the arrival of spring brings millions of waterfowl to the refuge, where they transform the landscape from a quiet wilderness to a chaotic courtship and breeding ground. Efforts to drill for oil and natural gas in the refuge are threatening this ancient ritual as an ill-conceived land swap aims to trade away key habitat to industrial developers.

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Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native wild animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 900,000 members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org

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