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Service Invites Comments on Refuge Management Strategy


For release: September 23, 1998       Janet Tennyson 703-358-2363
                                          Ken Burton 202-208-5657
     On October 18-22, 1998, in Keystone, Colorado, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service will, for the first time, host a National Wildlife Refuge System 
Conference to chart the future course for this magnificent network of federal 
wildlife lands.
     The Service also announced today a comprehensive draft strategy to
improve management of the 93-million-acre Refuge System.  The strategy, called 
"Fulfilling the Promise: Serving Wildlife, Habitat, and People through Effective
Leadership," will be distributed throughout the agency and available to all 
partners, state and tribal organizations, Congress, and the public for review 
and comment.  
     "The Keystone Conference will be a pivotal moment for America's National
Wildlife Refuge System," said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie
Rappaport Clark.  "This gathering and the strategy the Fish and Wildlife Service
unveils today are vital investments in the Refuge System's future.  
     "The Service's land base is at a crucial crossroads.  The National Wildlife
Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 and growing support from our partners, 
Congress, and the American public offer tremendous new opportunities to 
strengthen its wildlife conservation legacy," Clark said.
     The Keystone Conference represents the first time in the 95-year history of
the Refuge System that all refuge managers nationwide, other Service experts, 
the agency's top leadership, and key partners will be united in one location.  
     Refining Fulfilling the Promise will be a major focus of the first two days
of the conference.  The strategy discusses improving Refuge System management in
the areas of wildlife and habitat conservation, public use and communications, 
and leadership and employee development.  Issues covered in the strategy include
expanding biological expertise, improving guidelines for land acquisition, 
enhancing community partnerships, ensuring high quality public use facilities 
and programs, and cultivating tomorrow's leaders.  
     Copies of Fulfilling the Promise will be available over the Internet at
"http://refuges.fws.gov/library/index.html" or upon request by calling the Fish 
and Wildlife Service's Division of Refuges at 703-358-1744.  Written comments on
Fulfilling the Promise will be accepted through November 16, 1998, and may be 
provided over the Internet to "NWRS_Conference@fws.gov" or mailed to:  U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Refuges, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, MS 
670, Arlington, Virginia, 22203.  Electronically transmitted comments are 
preferred to aid in the sorting process.  The Service expects the final version 
of Fulfilling the Promise to be completed early next year.
     "We are excited about the recommendations and challenges reflected in the
draft strategy," said Director Clark, "and look forward to 'Fulfilling the 
Promise' of America's National Wildlife Refuge System with the help of our 
     During the second two days of the Keystone Conference, agency
representatives will be joined by conservation partners and Administration 
officials.  Special conference presentations will include panel discussions on 
the Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 by those who helped develop it; discussion on
the Cooperative Alliance For Refuge Enhancement, a group of 18 sportsmen's and 
environmental organizations working to increase funding for refuge operations 
and maintenance; and panel discussions led by refuge managers and other Fish
and Wildlife Service employees.
     Guest conference speakers will include Ted Turner, founder of Cable News
Network; Theodore Roosevelt IV, managing director of Lehman Brothers, Inc. 
and great-grandson of the President who established the first refuge; Rollin
Sparrowe, president of the Wildlife Management Institute; John Turner, president
of The Conservation Fund; Curt Meine, renowned author on Aldo Leopold; and
Phil Pister, executive secretary of the Desert Fishes Council.  Assistant 
Interior Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Donald J. Barry and Service 
Director Clark also will address those gathered in Keystone.  Interior Secretary
Bruce Babbitt and Vice President Al Gore have been invited to attend.
     On the cusp of its centennial anniversary, the Refuge System is undergoing
tremendous challenges as well as promising change.  Over the last few decades, 
the System has faced increasingly complex land management issues, including 
growing demands for a variety of public and commercial uses and funding 
shortfalls for conservation and visitor programs.  Recent milestones, however, 
bode well for strengthening and unifying the Refuge System.
     Comprehensive legislative guidance on how the Refuge System ought to be
managed by the Service and used by the public came for the first time in the 
System's history with the landmark National Wildlife Refuge System 
Improvement Act of 1997.  
     The Refuge Improvement Act established a "wildlife first" conservation
mission for the Refuge System and designated hunting, fishing, wildlife 
observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation as 
priority public uses when compatible with the mission of the System and the 
purpose of individual refuges.  The law also calls for more public and partner 
involvement in management decisions and development of comprehensive 
conservation plans for each refuge.
     "The Refuge Improvement Act laid the groundwork for more effective and
consistent management of America's National Wildlife Refuge System," said 
Director Clark. "We have been given a solid framework, and now the Fish and 
Wildlife Service must use that framework to build a bright future for the Refuge
System.  This is what we will begin to do at the Keystone Conference."
     Another milestone was an historic $41 million increase in funding in 1997
to begin addressing a billion dollars worth of operations and maintenance needs 
on refuges.  The increase was due largely to support from the Cooperative 
Alliance for Refuge Enhancement.  In addition, the Transportation Equity Act for
the 21st Century passed earlier this year provided $20 million each year for the
next five years to address $150 million needed for refuge road and bridge 
repair. The Refuge System also is witnessing a surge of support from more than 
150 community partners and its nearly 30,000-member volunteer workforce. 
     Since 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt established the first refuge
at Pelican Island, Florida, the National Wildlife Refuge System has grown to a 
diverse network of strategically located habitats in all 50 states and several 
U.S. territories.  The System hosts millions of migratory birds, hundreds of 
endangered species, and countless other fish, wildlife, and plants of virtually 
every variety.  The System's 514 refuges and thousands of small waterfowl 
production areas also host more than 30 million visitors each year.
     The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency
responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and 
their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.  The Service 
manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more 
than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other 
special management areas.  It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 
ecological services field stations.  The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, 
administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, 
restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife 
habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation 
efforts.  It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of 
millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state 
wildlife agencies.

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