Washington, DC-- National Wildlife Refuges are hamstrung by limited funds and personnel, excessive red tape and an inability to address serious operational and maintenance needs, according to a new survey of refuge managers released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of over 538 wildlife sanctuaries covering more than 93 million acres. The Refuge System is part of the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) within the Department of Interior.
Despite an about two-thirds rise in federal funding for the Refuge System since 1997, (largely due to efforts by the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement and Representative Ralph Regula R-OH and others) more than nine in ten refuge managers say that "funds and personnel reaching the field level Acontinue to decline in real terms." More than four out of five managers believe that their funding and staff are diverted to regional offices or to meet Aother FWS needs. Refuge managers contend bureaucratic barriers within FWS compound resource difficulties:
* More than four out of five managers find agency funding systems so inflexible that refuges cannot deal effectively with emergencies that arise during the fiscal year;
* More than nine out of ten managers report that their refuges are "adversely impacted because budget allocations are transmitted to me four to six months too late"; and
* Less than one in five believe the agency "has significantly improved the delivery of money and staff to meetmy refuge's needs," even though the FWS has reorganized three times during the past four years,
PEER has provided an advance copy of these results to the new Director-designate of the Fish & Wildlife Service, Steven Williams.
"The new Director should take these concerns to heart and invite refuge managers to help fashion the solution," stated PEER RefugeKeeper Gene Hocutt, a former 29-year refuge manager. Noting that organizations such as National Audubon Society have called for the Refuge System to be removed from FWS and become a separate agency, Hocutt added, "Unless these issues are effectively addressed, the calls to create a separate agency will continue."
A continuing grievance of refuge managers is how FWS regional offices oversee refuge affairs:
* Nearly three fourths of responding managers agree that communications with the regional offices needs improvement;
* More than half express concern that regional office involvement "will inject politics into what should be a biological decision" in rulings about what activities are "incompatible" with theagency's mission; and
* More than nine out of ten think regional and DC supervisors of refuges should have direct field experience working on a National Wildlife Refuge.
As one refuge manger commented in the essay portion of the survey, regional office (RO) "folks [need] a little better understanding of what we now face in the field, especially with spending and budget constraints. Let the RO fellas get in the field more."
The PEER survey addressed issues identified by a group of 30 refuge managers and staff. This is the fourth National Wildlife Refuge manager survey conducted by PEER. Nearly half of all refuge managers completed the survey.