Washington, DC — National Wildlife Refuges are supposed to shelter countless migratory waterfowl, native mammals, reptiles and amphibians but many refuges themselves are under siege, according to a new report by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Destructive intrusion onto refuges ranges from industrial activities, such as mining and drilling, to recreational abuse, such as off-road vehicle traffic, but the common thread linking all these threats is political pressure to put the interests of wildlife second.
The National Wildlife Refuge System was commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 when he designated Florida’s Pelican Island as America’s first wildlife refuge. Today the system encompasses more than 540 refuges in all 50 states.
Based upon interviews with refuge staff, PEER identified the Ten Most Imperiled Refuges in the U.S. The threatened refuges span the nation from Alaska’s Yukon to the Florida Keys:
- Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge (AZ) – border wall and border control issues;
- National Key Deer Refuge (FL) – sprawling development and auto traffic;
- National Bison Range (MT) – paralyzing dispute over tribal demands for refuge control;
- Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (NC) – road construction;
- Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge (AK) – land exchange for oil & gas drilling;
- Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge (NY) – limestone quarry;
- Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge (MI) – agricultural pollution;
- Baca National Wildlife Refuge (CO) – oil and gas drilling;
- Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (AZ) – uncontrolled off-road vehicle abuse; and
- San Pablo Bay and Marin Islands National Wildlife Refuges (CA) – water pollution and sprawl.
“Each of these threatened refuges has a different story, but they all share the peril of politics undermining the mission of wildlife protection,” remarked Grady Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manager who directs the PEER refuge program. “We hope that by drawing attention to the plight of these wildlife sanctuaries they stand a better chance of surviving the jeopardy they face.”
While the ten refuges profiled by PEER are facing acute threats, there appears to be widespread and growing concern throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System. A 2007 PEER survey of all Refuge Managers found that nearly two out of three (62%) do not feel the refuge system is meeting its mission and more than two in three (67%) are no longer “optimistic about the future of the refuge system.”
“While adequate funding is crucial, refuges absolutely cannot function without leadership support to turn back threats to their very mission,” Hocutt added. “Refuges are slices of natural habitat vital to wildlife that are especially vulnerable to the major human interferences highlighted in this report.”