US Fish and Wildlife Service Releases Flawed New Wilderness Policy for Wildlife Refuge System

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Maribeth Oakes, 202-429-2674, Maribeth_Oakes@tws.org
Kathy Westra, 202-429-2642, Kathy_Westra@tws.org 

The Wilderness Society

US Fish and Wildlife Service Releases Flawed New Wilderness Policy for Wildlife Refuge System

Policy Ignores Global Warming, Exempts Alaska Refuges from Wilderness Review Process

WASHINGTON - The Wilderness Society (TWS)
today criticized the Bush Administration for its hasty release of a flawed new U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service wilderness stewardship policy for the National
Wildlife Refuge System. Major deficiencies of the new policy, issued yesterday,
are that it fails to take into account the issue of climate change in managing
the 21 million acres of designated Wilderness within the nation's 540 wildlife
refuges, and that it exempts all refuge lands in Alaska from requirements for
wilderness reviews. In addition, the policy was released without any
opportunity for public comment-a serious problem given the
document's other shortcomings.

"National wildlifer refuges all
over the country, but especially those in Alaska, are critically important as we look
at the impacts of climate change on our public lands," said Maribeth Oakes, Refuge Program Manager at TWS.
"It is outrageous that there is nothing in the new policy about managing
refuge Wilderness to protect habitat, species, and migration corridors in a
time of climate change. This is a serious omission when Refuge System lands
will be among the first to be impacted by the temperature changes associated
with global warming.

TWS also expressed strong concern that Alaska's refuges,
which make up the bulk of the National Wildlife Refuge System's overall
acreage and contain the most designated Wilderness, are not subject to
wilderness review under the new plan. "More than 80 percent of America's refuge lands are in Alaska, and if you take
them off the table, then you've turned your back on a significant portion
of the refuge system," Oakes noted. "Wilderness reviews are a
necessary step for future Wilderness designation, and protecting wilderness is
critical in managing our public lands in a changing climate. By shutting down
future wilderness reviews on all refuge lands in Alaska, where global warming already is
having a major impact, the Bush Administration has effectively closed the door
on a vitally important management tool."

The new policy-the first revision
of this major policy document since it was originally issued in 1986-will
provide guidance for refuge staff on how to manage Wilderness lands within
the Refuge System. A Clinton Administration draft of a revised wilderness
stewardship policy was published in 2001, and received more than 4,000 public
comments, but the USFWS was unable to finalize the policy before President Bush
was elected.

"This is the policy that will
govern Wilderness management decisions for many years-decisions that are
critical to visitor experience, wildlife habitat, and the protection of these
lands as an enduring resource," said Maribeth
Oakes, Refuge Program Manager for TWS. "It is ironic
that, just as more people are engaging in the political process and demanding
more openness from their government, the Bush Administration has once again
resorted to making policy behind closed doors. The release of this document
without an opportunity for public comment is a disservice not only to the
Wilderness lands already protected within the National Wildlife Refuge system,
but also to potential future designated Wilderness."

Wilderness areas are a source of clean
water, wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities. Sound wilderness management
practices not only protect resources, but also ensure that visitors to refuge
wilderness see the landscape and wildlife in a natural condition. With open
space declining, public use and recreation within these  areas is likely
to increase. The implementation of a strong refuge wilderness policy that
adheres to the tenets of the Wilderness Act of 1964 is a top priority for the
public, for refuge managers, and for all the resources the wilderness areas of
the Refuge System are meant to protect," Oakes stresssed.
"It's a shame that the Bush Administration didn't take its
responsibility-and the public's role-more seriously."

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The mission of The Wilderness Society is to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places.

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