A New Vision for the National Wildlife Refuge System

Wildlife comes first.  That, in a nutshell, is the vision the National Wildlife Refuge System gave itself in 1998, nearly 100 years after the first refuge was established.  It seems an obvious (and overdue) vision, but consider that it was only a year earlier that Congress finally passed organic legislation uniting the more than 500 refuges under a mission to conserve wildlife and providing clear guidance for their administration.  For a system whose prior management had been unevenly applied among its various units, this simple statement was a logical place to start.

More than ten years later, it’s time for the Refuge System to move forward.  Many of the challenges remain the same – insufficient funding, a lack of public recognition, and a host of on-the-ground threats like land development and invasive species.  But now we need to address new challenges, such as climate change, and we have a flood of new information to inform our management decisions.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formulating a new vision to guide the Refuge System through the next decade.  Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the release of their draft last week.  As we at Defenders review and comment on this document, we’ll be looking for a clear vision statement that prioritizes biodiversity conservation both within and beyond refuge boundaries, and we’ll be looking for an implementation strategy to achieve it.  You can add your voice to the discussion through April 22.

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Julie Kates is the Refuge Associate, Federal Lands Program for Defenders of Wildlife. Julie focuses on developing and implementing programs to enhance the conservation of biodiversity within the National Wildlife Refuge System, as well as supporting Defenders’ climate change adaptation work on federal lands.

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