Statement by Rodger Schlickeisen, November 15, 2001 Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (C.A.R.E.) Press Conference

(11/15/2001) - Wendell Berry once wrote, "When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds."

For the 35 million Americans who visit each year, the national wildlife refuge system is a place to find solace with the wood duck and the heron, and many other species. And in these times, Americans need places of refuge.

The national wildlife refuge system is important to people. But more fundamentally, refuges provide some of the last and most important strongholds of wildlife habitat in this country. Almost 100 years ago, president Teddy Roosevelt established the first refuge to protect birds against market hunting, the number one threat to wildlife at the time. Today, the biggest threat facing wildlife is habitat loss, and the Refuge System has grown to encompass arctic tundra and tropical islands, to house the 1000-pound polar bear and the 1-ounce shrew, and to provide stepping stones for millions of migratory birds. Refuges provide habitat to wildlife, when they are most vulnerable - including 58 refuges established for the protection of endangered species.

But all things are not well with the Refuge System. Its mission has been jeopardized by a chronic and debilitating conservation deficit that totals nearly $2 billion in operations and maintenance backlog. During the last 5 years, Congress has begun to recognize the importance of our wildlife refuges, by increasing funding to address this crushing operations and maintenance backlog, and we thank them. But this is only a first step to securing the Refuge System’s future. In a little over a year, the Refuge System will celebrate its centennial. This is the best opportunity to provide the System with the funds it needs, so it can embark on its next 100 years with the financial support it requires to achieve its mission. For a meager $4 more per acre, the price of a sandwich, we can restore the promise of the National Wildlife Refuge System.


Defenders of Wildlife is proud to be a member of the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE), a diverse coalition of environmental, outdoor recreation, and scientific organizations working together since 1995 to increase funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge System and educate Americans about the importance of this unique resource. The Refuge System is the nation’s only system of lands dedicated primarily to the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat. This national treasure will celebrate its 100th anniversary on March 14, 2003, but it is in danger of failing in its mission due to a chronic and severe funding shortfall. CARE is calling on the president and Congress to recognize and celebrate the Refuge System’s centennial by more than doubling the funding for Refuge Operations and Maintenance to $700 million per year beginning in Fiscal Year 2003.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has identified all of the Refuge System’s needs through two comprehensive data bases: the Refuge Operating Needs System (RONS) and Maintenance Management System (MMS). Every needed project can be identified and tracked for completion. CARE has carefully evaluated the needs of the Refuge System and recommended increases to the Fiscal Year 2002 level of $316 million include:

  • $138 million for projects to address minimal operating needs;
  • $177 million to bring Refuge System staff levels to minimal needs –total current staff is 38% below the identified minimal need; and
  • $65 million to bring maintenance of the Refuge System’s real property up to minimal industry standards.

CARE’s analysis and recommendations are outlined in two reports being released today:

  • Shortchanging America’s Wildlife, which describes the predicament of the entire Refuge System and highlights 12 troubled refuges across the U.S.; and
  • Restoring America’s Wildlife Legacy, which provides a more detailed policy analysis of Refuge System needs.
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    Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270