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Refuge Legislation (fwd)



---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 20 May 97 16:01:21 MST
From: RICH_GREENWOOD@mail.fws.gov

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For release:  May 2, 1997             Janet Tennyson 202-219-3861

               INTERIOR SECRETARY BABBITT ENDORSES
                    UNPRECEDENTED LEGISLATION
         DEFINING MISSION AND PRIORITY PUBLIC USES OF THE
                 NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE SYSTEM

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt announced April 29 the Clinton Administration's
support for far-reaching legislation clearly defining for the first time the 
mission and priority public uses of the nearly century-old National Wildlife 
Refuge System, the nation's only federal lands specifically dedicated to 
wildlife conservation.

In an April 29 letter to Congressman Don Young, chairman of the Committee on
Resources and sponsor of the new legislation, Secretary Babbitt hailed the 
bill's "strong and singular conservation mission" for the Refuge System and 
provisions defining compatible wildlife-dependent recreation on refuges as 
"legitimate and appropriate" public uses.

Introduced in the House of Representatives on April 23, the National Wildlife
Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, H.R. 1420, culminates intense
negotiations to develop legislation that would address the varying concerns and
interests on management and public use of the Refuge System.  These negotiations
involved the Congressional sponsors of refuge legislation introduced earlier 
this year as well as representatives of environmental and sportsmen's groups.

"I sincerely hope that this bipartisan approach to problem-solving can be a 
model for resolving other natural resource issues which may otherwise divide 
us," Secretary Babbitt concluded in the letter to Congressman Young.

On April 30, Congressman Young's Resources Committee voted unanimously to
approve the bill for consideration by the full House.

"This legislation represents an historic moment for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service by reinforcing the National Wildlife Refuge System's longstanding
commitment to wildlife conservation," said John Rogers, acting director of the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Interior Department agency responsible for
managing the Refuge System.  "And this conservation mission goes hand-in-hand
with the outdoor pursuits refuge visitors enjoy.  When we do our job well
conserving the wildlife,  plenty of opportunities for wildlife-dependent 
recreation result."

The debate on how refuge lands ought to be managed and used by the public has
intensified and become more visible over the last two decades as the Refuge
System expanded greatly and visitation grew to nearly 30 million people per 
year.  The first national wildlife refuge was established in 1903, when 
President Teddy Roosevelt set aside a tiny Florida island as a protected area 
for birds being indiscriminately harvested for their plumage to meet the fashion
demands of the day.  Today, the 92-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System,
comprising 509 units in all 50 states and U.S. territories, forms a network of 
diverse landscapes wildlife call home, providing habitats where migratory birds 
thrive and endangered species mark their recovery.

An earlier refuge bill, introduced in March as H.R. 511, was opposed by 
Secretary Babbitt.  His main opposition was the elevation of recreational uses 
to "purposes" of the Refuge System, rather than "uses" that first must be 
determined compatible with wildlife conservation, as they are currently 
considered.  Testifying at a House hearing in March, Secretary Babbitt 
emphasized that wildlife conservation must remain the over-arching and sole 
purpose of the Refuge System.  

Negotiations to develop new compromise legislation involved H.R. 1420's
sponsors, including Congressmen Young (R-AK), John Dingell (D-MI), Jim
Saxton (R-NJ), and George Miller (D-CA), and representatives of the National
Audubon Society, Wildlife Management Institute, International Association of
Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and Wildlife Legislative Fund of America.

Some provisions of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act
coincide with those found in Executive Order 12996, Management and General
Public Use of the National Wildlife Refuge System, signed by President Clinton 
in March 1996.  Key legislative provisions mirroring the Executive Order include
the Refuge System mission statement, priority public uses, and a requirement 
that biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of the Refuge 
System be maintained. 

The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System, as spelled out in the new
legislation, is "to administer a national network of lands and waters for the
conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, 
wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the
benefit of present and future generations of Americans."  This is the same 
wording found in Executive Order 12996.  

Citing the Executive Order's provision on priority public uses as the foundation
for the changes made by the bill, the legislation defines compatible wildlife-
dependent recreation as "a legitimate and appropriate general public use of the
[Refuge] System."  It establishes certain wildlife-dependent public uses as 
priority public uses, to receive enhanced consideration over others.  These uses
are defined as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and 
environmental education and interpretation.  The legislation states that these 
uses should be facilitated when compatible but does not mandate these 
activities.  These uses also were defined as priority public uses in Executive 
Order 12996.   

H.R. 1420 retains refuge managers' authority to use their best professional
judgment to determine compatible public uses and whether or not they will be
permitted.  "Compatible use" is defined as one that "will not materially 
interfere with or detract from the fulfillment of the mission of the [Refuge] 
System or the purposes of a refuge."  This language retains the current 
regulatory definition of "compatible use" used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service.

The new legislation includes provisions requiring all new public uses and any
renewal of existing uses comply with a public involvement process spelled out in
the bill.  It also requires public involvement in the development of refuge
management plans.  The plans must identify the purposes of each refuge, data on
wildlife populations, archaeological and cultural values, suitable visitor 
facilities, any problems that affect wildlife and actions to remedy them, and 
opportunities for compatible wildlife-dependent recreation.

The only legislation defining the Refuge System prior to H.R. 1420 came in 1966,
with passage of the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, which
H.R. 1420 amends.  This law provided that all of the individual refuges become
the National Wildlife Refuge System and established a "compatibility standard"
for permitting public uses of individual refuges.

However, the 1966 law lacked a unifying purpose or mission for the Refuge
System and a specific process by which compatibility determinations should be
made.  The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 is
designed to address these issues and, for the first time in its history, 
provides the Refuge System with a so-called "Organic Act" to govern its 
management and use into the next century.

                              -FWS-
 
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