Conservationists Oppose Destructive Wildlife Refuge Bill at Hearing

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Rep. Young's Proposed Bill Devastating

(03/06/1997) - Washington, D.C. -- Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen testified today that Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) so-called "National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act" (H.R. 511) does not make improvements but instead would damage the very fabric of wildlife protection in refuges.

Schlickeisen told the House Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans of the Committee on Resources that Committee Chairman Young's proposed legislation "contains various provisions which collectively would cause a dramatic and historic shift in the refuge system away from wildlife conservation and toward excessive public uses. The bill would take the refuge system away from the conservation focus that has guided the system since its establishment by Teddy Roosevelt ninety-four years ago."

Schlickeisen said, "If we do not put wildlife first in our wildlife refuges, where will we give them priority?" Testifying on behalf of the nearly 200,000 members and supporters of Defenders of Wildlife, he suggested that legislation introduced yesterday by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) would be the only acceptable "improvement" act introduced this Congress. "The Theodore Roosevelt Wildlife Legacy Act, sponsored by Rep. Miller, has several distinct differences from Rep. Young's proposal- and these differences would mean the difference between strengthening and weakening for our National Refuge System," Schlickeisen warned. Rep. Miller is the ranking minority member and former chairman of the committee.

According to Schlickeisen, the Young bill and Miller bill differ in four major areas: regulatory authority, system purposes, budget priorities, and future vision. Schlickeisen testified that the Young bill severely weakens the Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) current statutory authority to regulate certain recreational uses. The Miller bill would strengthen the ability of the FWS to curtail damaging activities and to promote reasonable use of these precious lands.

The Young bill makes certain recreational uses co-equal with wildlife conservation as purposes of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Miller bill would continue the historic distinction between wildlife conservation as the purpose of the federal refuge system and recreation being an important use of the system.

The Young bill encourages the FWS to devote increased agency resources and staff to recreational uses, which would come ultimately at the expense of wildlife conservation. The Miller bill would retain the long-established statutory protections designed to ensure recreational opportunities are provided to the extent that they do not detract from funding for resource conservation programs.

And finally, Schlickeisen charged that the Young bill refocuses the system on providing recreational activities, whereas the Miller bill would enhance the FWS's ability to conserve biological diversity.

The federal wildlife refuge system occupies 91.7 million acres of federal land nationwide, and includes a number of other affiliated areas in addition to the refuges. There are currently 509 national wildlife refuges in the United States.

"Wildlife conservation has always been the system's principal focus," said Schlickeisen. "Over the years, numerous statutes have reaffirmed the fundamental necessity that recreational uses are important but secondary to wildlife conservation on federal refuges. We believe that the cumulative effect of various provisions in H. R. 511 would fundamentally change this relationship."

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270

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