Southwest Refuge Region Faces Funding Crisis
Across-the-Board Cuts Cripple National Wildlife Refuge System(03/08/2007) - 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 Southwest region. Reductions in services will be felt in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. The consequences of these reductions will be the elimination of environmental education programs for school children, cuts in endangered species recovery programs, reduced habitat management and diminished law enforcement. These cuts come on the heels of a crippling budget backlog of over $2.5 billion.
"Our national wildlife refuges are literally crumbling before our eyes. Across the country we're seeing how the culmination of years of negligent funding devastates these special places," stated Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "The only solution to bolster and reinvigorate the country's irreplaceable wildlife refuge system is to provide adequate funding that is commensurate with the nationally significant benefits these lands provide to the American people. At the same time President Bush is championing funds for our national parks, he should also push for adequate funding of another national treasure, the national wildlife refuges."
FWS released its "Southwest Region Workforce Plan" today 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 target the highest priority needs.
According to the workforce plan, the Southwest region will lose a minimum of 42 positions over the next three years on top of the 22 positions left vacant since 2004. The plan further states that "each subsequent year beyond Fiscal Year 2009 may require annual reductions of five to seven positions just to cover cost of living increases." The eliminated positions include:
- Refuge managers that affect "a refuge's ability to coordinate with partners, state and local governments, and non-profit organizations" and generally supervise and oversee refuge operations.
Biologists and biological science technicians that affect the refuge system's "ability to make decisions using the best biological information available" and "implement recovery actions for threatened and endangered species dependent on refuge habitats."
Visitor services professionals that affect "a refuge's ability to provide compatible wildlife dependent recreation including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, and environmental education and interpretation that the American public now expects."
Maintenance professionals that affect "a refuge's ability to provide the on-the-ground work that directly benefits all aspects of a national wildlife refuge."
Administrative professionals that affect "a refuge's ability to accomplish its mission. Administrative staff is often the key communication link with the visiting public and provide support for everything from payroll administration, purchasing, accounting of funds, property management, and supporting responses for critical data calls."
The Southwest region is home to 45 national wildlife refuges and covers more than 2.86 million acres of land throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Staff that is already stretched thin at refuges along the U.S-Mexico border in Arizona and Texas will not have the necessary resources to mitigate the damage being caused by illegal border crossings, drug trafficking, and enforcement activities.
"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. "Neglecting these refuges and cutting back on staff, services and programs puts the mission of the refuge system at risk. Congress needs to fund the refuge system and continue to invest in this country's wildlife heritage."
Examples of the impacts of staffing reductions include:
Arizona will lose 16 percent of the workforce on its nine national wildlife refuges, which host over one million annual visitors. The biological program at Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, home to many endangered species, including the southwestern Willow flycatcher, will continue to suffer without a biologist on staff. Leslie Canyon Refuge, established to protect endangered fish, is left with no onsite staff at all.
New Mexico will lose 20 percent of the workforce on its seven national wildlife refuges, which host over 225,000 annual visitors. Under the new plan, only one refuge will provide adequate biological services for wildlife and educational programs for visitors, while six refuges will suffer the effects of reduced or no staff.
Oklahoma will lose 18 percent of the workforce on its nine national wildlife refuges, which host over two million annual visitors. Eliminating the refuge manager at Little River Refuge will make it extremely difficult to properly manage some of Oklahoma's last remaining bottomland hardwoods. On the 16,000 acre Tishomingo Refuge, which receives more than 200,000 annual visitors, there will only be one law enforcement officer who will split his or her time with Hagerman Refuge in Texas, severely impacting resource protection and visitor safety.
Texas will lose 11 percent of the workforce on its 21 national wildlife refuges, which host approximately one million annual visitors. Under the new plan, wildlife and visitors at seven Texas refuges will suffer from the effects of reduced or no staff and minimal services.
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