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Feds Slash Staff at National Wildlife Refuges in Southeast
"Nation’s First Refuge Loses Employees."(11/02/2006) - Washington, D.C. -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is making drastic reductions and redeployments of staff in the National Wildlife Refuge System throughout the southeast region. Reductions in services will be felt in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina. The consequence of these reductions will be reduced hours at visitor centers, closed tour routes, and reduced habitat management and law enforcement. These cuts come on the heels of a crippling $2.7 billion budget backlog.
“Years of neglect have finally forced radical changes to the refuge system,” stated Rodger Schlickeisen, president of the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife. “The only solution is to provide adequate funding for the refuge system, funding commensurate with the nationally significant benefits the system provides to the American people.”
FWS released its “Southeast Region Workforce Management Plan” to cope with what it calls a “nationwide budget decline in the National Wildlife Refuge System, and the ever rising cost to conduct business.” Instead of allowing budget-forced attrition of staff and resources to occur haphazardly across the region, FWS has proposed a management restructuring so that appropriate resources can be targeted to the highest priority needs.
“The Bush administration and
Congress need to provide adequate funds for the National Wildlife Refuge
System,” stated Schlickeisen. “Wildlife refuges provide unique educational
opportunities for tens of thousands of school children annually, many of whom
will now be turned away. Wildlife refuges provide some of the last vestiges of
open space for people to enjoy, whether for hunting, birding, photography, or
just taking a peaceful walk in nature.”
The southeast region is home to 128 national wildlife refuges enjoyed by more than 11 million people a year. More than one-third of the southeast region's national wildlife refuges have no full-time personnel assigned to them. One half of this region's refuges have three or fewer full-time staff.
“Wildlife refuges are national treasures, home to some of our nation’s most imperiled wildlife and critical to ensuring our nation’s waterfowl remains healthy and abundant,” said Schlickeisen. “Just three years ago we celebrated the centennial of the refuge system, which brought badly needed funding to these important lands. Yet today the refuge system is suffering the steepest cuts in its history. We must invest today to ensure that these special places are here for our children to enjoy tomorrow.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service plan eliminates 88 regional and field staff, on top of 64 positions that have been slashed over the last two years. Combined, these reductions represent 20 percent of the region’s workforce. The plan notes that if there are further declines in the budget or if budgets do not keep pace with increased fixed costs, FWS will be forced to close refuges to the public.
Examples of the impacts of staffing reductions include:
Alabama’s Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) will be forced to eliminate its entire biological program, which supports three national wildlife refuges and affects more than 15 threatened and endangered species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, the gray bat, and the white fringeless orchid.
Florida’s Pelican Island NWR, the country’s first national wildlife refuge, is losing its only public-use staff. Without administrative support, the offices and visitor center will be closed at least 50 percent of the time.
Florida’s Ding Darling NWR is losing two park rangers and will be closing its visitor center for two days a week, significantly reducing environmental education for 55,000 area school children.
Georgia’s Okefenokee NWR will lose two park rangers, and will subsequently close its main (east) entrance two days a week. These closures will likely result in a decline of 50,000 visits annually.
Louisiana’s D’Arbonne NWR will eliminate all forest management staff, who are responsible for thinning the trees to ensure that sunlight reaches the forage plants that provide sustenance for many species. More than 15,000 acres of forested wetlands will be neglected.
North Carolina’s Mattamuskeet NWR is quickly succumbing to invasive species now that so few biological staff members remain. The invasion of foreign species has resulted in a 25 percent reduction in forage available for indigenous ducks, Canada geese, snow geese and tundra swans.
South Carolina’s Cape Romain NWR will be forced to eliminate the red wolf breeding program, which has been integral in the recovery of the species. The refuge will also face reduced capability for monitoring the largest population of sea turtles on the northern Atlantic coast, making them more vulnerable to predators.
South Carolina’s Savannah Coastal Refuge Complex is losing three additional maintenance staff. This employee shortage will cause accelerated degradation of expensive, essential marine equipment, closure of a wildlife drive which receives 50,000 visitors a year, and suspension of wintering waterfowl impoundment management.
Tennessee’s Cross Creek NWR will lose its only public-use staff, causing a 90 percent reduction in environmental education programs affecting more than 2,000 local school children. The refuge can no longer host the Stewart County Earth Camp, and will be eliminating the lottery hunts offered each year.
Defenders of Wildlife is recognized as one of the nation's most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat. With more than 500,000 members and supporters, Defenders of Wildlife works with federal, tribal, state, and local agencies, private organizations, and landowners to protect America’s national wildlife refuges.
Contact(s):Deborah Bagocius, (202) 772-0239