Archive | National Wildlife Refuges

Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Strategically Growing the Refuge System

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued a draft “Strategic Growth Policy” for the National Wildlife Refuge System.  The draft policy is intended to guide how the Fish and Wildlife Service will add lands and new wildlife refuges to the refuge system.  This policy is sorely needed and long overdue. As the Service points out in the release of the draft policy, the complexities of modern conservation and its limited budgetary resources require the Service to be strategic in all facets of conservation, particularly when making long-term investments like land protection.

As I point out in my comments on the draft policy, climate change in particular requires the Service to reevaluate its approach to land protection policies.  The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, co-developed by the Service, states this new challenge well:

“Increasing the number, quality, and size of conservation areas can increase the opportunities for individual species to adapt to climate change, and also make it more likely that native biodiversity will be conserved. Some species’ habitat under climate change may be well outside their current or historic range. Healthy and biologically diverse ecosystems are likely to better withstand or adjust to the impacts of climate change. Increasing the number (redundancy) and distribution of protected fish, wildlife, and plant populations is important for the same reason. Establishing larger and more hospitable conservation areas for species to transition to will also increase opportunities for species to create new assemblages of species that are better able to persist in a dynamic climate.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Image courtesy USFWS

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Image courtesy USFWS

Another challenge will be providing corridors between conservation areas so that species can freely move to new locations with suitable habitat. Protecting and restoring large blocks of habitat and using linkages and corridors to develop networks for movement will facilitate connectivity. Riparian corridors, such as floodplains, are useful as a conduit for migratory species and for providing access to water. In addition, appropriate transitory or “stopover” habitat for migratory species can promote biological connectivity between non-physically connected areas.”

The first goal of the Wildlife Adaptation Strategy emphasizes the need for identifying and conserving areas for an “ecologically-connected network” of public and private terrestrial, freshwater, coastal, and marine “conservation areas that are likely to be resilient to climate change and to support a broad range of species under changed conditions.”  In addition, the Wildlife Adaptation Strategy calls for the conservation and restoration of “ecological connections among conservation areas to facilitate fish, wildlife, and plant migration, range shifts, and other transitions caused by climate change.”  This goal was recently adopted by all the Landscape Conservation Cooperative Coordinators: “LCCs support the creation of an ecologically connected network of landscapes, as defined in the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy.”  This should be the overarching goal of the Service’s Strategic Growth Policy, identifying the refuge system’s specific role in achieving this goal across the nation with partners.

The FWS derives its authority for developing this new policy from the 1997 National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act which directs the Secretary of the Interior (acting through the Fish and Wildlife Service Director) to “plan and direct the continued growth of the System in a manner that is best designed to accomplish the mission of the System, to contribute to the conservation of the ecosystems of the United States, to complement efforts of States and other Federal agencies to conserve fish and wildlife and their habitats, and to increase support for the System and participation from conservation partners and the public.”

The draft policy excluded the highlighted portions of this provision.  These mandates provide critical direction directly relevant to this policy, and should be incorporated and implemented in the final policy statement.  Importantly, this provision, in its entirety, provides the legislative authorization for the refuge system to support the ecologically-connected network of conservation areas identified in the Wildlife Adaptation Strategy.  In our view, this important provision of law guides the Service to assess the entire “conservation estate” (the existing mix of federal, state, tribal, local, and private conservation lands and waters) and build upon it, focusing on those ecosystems that are not sufficiently protected by our existing conservation network.

Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Image Courtesy of USFWS

Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Image Courtesy of USFWS

The draft policy incorporates many important modern landscape-level conservation planning elements into planning for new and expanded refuges.  The policy requires land acquisition planners to explicitly identify conservation targets, look to “national, Regional, State, Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC), or species-specific conservation, management, or recovery plans” for science-based management objectives and to help identify priority conservation areas.  The policy also requires projects to identify vulnerability and resiliency to climate change and other stressors and “describe how the Refuge System will mitigate stressors to ensure the project’s resiliency.”  Our comments focused on improving and strengthening the provisions pertaining to these important concepts to provide clarity to refuge land protection planners and ensure they are actually implemented and operationalized to make strategic conservation investments in the refuge system.

As the only federal land system that can administratively create new units, the refuge system has a unique role to play in conserving the nation’s wildlife and ecosystems in the face of climate change, rapid development, and other landscape stressors.  The final Strategic Growth Policy for the refuge system needs to ensure that refuges play this unique role in the most effective way possible.

Posted in Federal Policy, National Wildlife Refuges, Public Lands0 Comments

Climate Change and NEPA: Getting it Right

Climate Change and NEPA: Getting it Right

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law in 1969 and has gone on to be one of our country’s most important environmental laws. The law creates a framework and process by which federal agencies must consider the impacts of their actions on the environment – including natural resources, human health, infrastructure, and land use. Since climate change is one of the most important environmental issues to emerge in the past few decades, and promises to remain so for the foreseeable future, it is clear that NEPA has an important role to play in how agencies consider the effects of climate change both on their investments, and also on the resources that their projects affect. It is increasingly critical for agencies to thoughtfully and thoroughly consider climate change, from both an emissions and adaptation standpoint, as part of NEPA analysis, particularly in the most detailed and through decision documents, Environmental Impact Statements.

In order to facilitate agencies’ consideration of climate change, the administration released Draft NEPA Guidance on Consideration of the Effects of Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2010. The Draft Guidance clearly indicated that relevant climate information includes both greenhouse gas emissions information, and also climate change impacts and adaptation. To date, however, most of the attention paid to the guidance has been from the point of view of emissions analysis.

To get a better understanding of whether and how well agencies were incorporating the adaptation recommendations, we analyzed 154 Final Environmental Impact Statements released between July 2011 and April 2012. To our dismay, we found that very few incorporated the climate adaptation elements of the 2010 draft guidance. Even the best-performing EISs tended to incorporate climate change into a limited number of the elements of the affected environment, failed to make a full comparison between the various alternatives, or used short and qualitative statements rather than full analysis based on the best available science. We explore the possible reasons for this and present recommendations for overcoming these obstacles in our new report Reasonably Foreseeable Futures

The Chiracahua Mountains in the Coronado National Forest support the sky island ecosystems of the southwest, some of the most unique and biodiverse areas on our public lands.  Portions of the sky islands would be put at risk by this bill.

The Chiracahua Mountains in the Coronado National Forest support the sky island ecosystems of the southwest, some of the most unique and biodiverse areas on our public lands. These ecosystems are severely threatened by climate change, and climate-smart management will be key to their survival.

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Posted in Climate Change, Federal Policy, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, NEPA, Public Lands, Smart from the Start, Uncategorized0 Comments

Blackwater Map

Wildlife Refuges on Deck for Land Aquisition Funding Vulnerable to Sea Level Rise

There are over 150 national wildlife refuges located in coastal areas, yet the Refuge System has not adequately incorporated projections of sea level rise or other climate impacts into land acquisition planning.  Thus, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may not be maximizing the effectiveness of its conservation investments if it is making fee-title acquisitions or purchasing long-term easements on lands that are going to be underwater within a few decades.

To get a better picture of the situation, we used the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM) to assess the threat to the lands within both the acquired and approved boundaries of eight coastal refuges that have been assigned a high funding priority for land acquisitions in the coming year.

We found that sea-level rise impact will not be felt equally among coastal refuges. Great White Heron NWR, in the Florida Keys, is the highest ranked refuge for land protection funding for FY 2013 by the Fish and Wildlife Service, yet it is extremely vulnerable to sea level rise. Two of the refuges we assessed, Great White Heron and Blackwater, face potential net loss of over 40% of refuge lands by 2075, if sea level rises by one meter over the course of the century. On the other hand, four of the refuges have less than 5% of their land area vulnerable. Some refuges, like Blackwater, will face inundation but have newly created wetlands nearby, where the refuge could potentially expand to. Others, like Laguna Atascosa NWR, will face wetlands loss that will not be readily replaced with new areas of marsh. And refuges whose land area consists mainly of low-lying islands, like in the Florida Keys, may run out of land entirely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fish and Wildlife Service urgently needs to better understand and incorporate climate change and sea level rise implications into its land acquisition planning to avoid investments that will ultimately be literally under water.

Our summary report with policy recommendations is available here.

The complete report is available here.

Posted in Climate Change, National Wildlife Refuges1 Comment

New Studies Highlight the Value of National Wildlife Refuges to Visitors and Communities

With visitation steadily rising each year – up to 45 million people in 2011 – national wildlife refuges are clearly popular destinations, but their value to visitors and the economy has remained largely unquantified.  Two new studies are helping to remedy that problem.

Last month, the U.S. Geological Survey released the results of a study that surveyed more than 10,000 visitors to 53 national wildlife refuges around the nation.  Approximately 90 percent of respondents expressed satisfaction with the recreational opportunities, services, and information provided at the wildlife refuges.  In addition, the survey measured visitor spending in nearby communities.  At Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, for example, average spending in the area by nonlocal visitors was $82 per day, while local visitors averaged $45 per day in spending.  These expenditures can add up.  According to the 2006 Banking on Nature report, visitors to the nation’s wildlife refuges that year contributed approximately $1.7 billion in sales to local economies.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to release an updated version of that report later this year.

A separate study released last week adds to a growing body of evidence that being located in close proximity to protected open spaces boosts home values.  Researchers from North Carolina State University focused on urban national wildlife refuges in three regions of the country and found that homes within one-half mile of those refuges were valued three to nine percent higher than those located further from a refuge.  Wildlife refuges included in the study were found to boost local property values by $122 million in the Southeast, $95 million in the Northeast, and $83 million in the California/Nevada region.  An upcoming report on ecosystem services will offer an additional measure of the economic value of America’s wildlife refuges.

Though these benefits are undeniably significant, the National Wildlife Refuge System has consistently lacked the congressional investment needed to reach its full potential.  Even at its highest funding level in FY 2010, the Refuge System received only $503 million – little more than half the $900 million that the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement estimates is needed for the agency to fulfill its conservation mission.  Unfortunately, as Congress looks to make good on the debt deal reached last summer, the Refuge System could see its appropriations slashed by 10 percent or more.  These cuts could force many refuges to eliminate recreation programs or close their doors entirely, and many of the demonstrated benefits that they provide to visitors and to local economies will be lost.

Posted in National Wildlife Refuges, Public Lands0 Comments

arctic refuge

Arctic Refuge Vulnerability Report

Few places on earth are set as squarely in the sights of climate change at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Much of Alaska has warmed over 4oF over the past 50 years, and the northern part of the state where the refuge is located is projected to warm faster than any part of the continent – up to 7oF by mid-century. As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepares its conservation plan to guide the Arctic Refuge though the next 15 years, Defenders wanted to know what these changes will mean for 38 species of mammals that call the refuge home.

To get a clearer understanding of how climate change will affect the wildlife of the Arctic Refuge, we conducted a vulnerability assessment, which measures each species’ exposure to climate change, its sensitivity to the changes it will be exposed to, and its potential adaptive capacity in the face of such changes. Exposure is a result of regional climate changes, but may be modified by local microhabitat conditions. A species’ sensitivity is determined by factors including its ecological, genetic and physiological traits such as dependence on sensitive habitats, dietary flexibility, population growth rates and interactions with other species. Assessing adaptive capacity includes considerations such as the species’ dispersal ability, whether there are barriers to its movement, and the likelihood that the species could modify its physiology or behavior, or even has the potential to evolve to match changes in its environment.

We researched the known scientific information on each of the 38 refuge mammals, analyzed projected future climate change for the refuge using ClimateWizard, and input the information into the Climate Change Vulnerability Index, a tool developed by NatureServe to assess the relative vulnerability of species.

We found a wide variation in the vulnerability of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge mammals to climate change. The species most vulnerable are the ones specially adapted to the cold, snow and ice. Six species ranked as “extremely vulnerable”: the polar bear, arctic fox, muskox, collared lemming, brown lemming and tundra vole. A further ten species ranked as “highly vulnerable”; that list included lynx, wolverine, caribou, Dall sheep and Alaska marmot. For the most part, species that live in the boreal forest in the southern portion of the refuge, have flexible habitat needs, or a distribution that extends well into warmer areas—like black bear, beaver, muskrat, gray wolf, and red fox—tended to be less vulnerable.

We hope the results of this assessment will help the refuge managers secure a future for the most vulnerable species, by protecting the sensitive tundra region from disturbance, investing in research and monitoring, and maintaining linkages to habitat areas outside of the refuge.

The full report is available here.

A 6-page summary is available here.  

A detailed description of the methods is available here.

Posted in Climate Change, Imperiled Wildlife, National Wildlife Refuges0 Comments

An End to Feeding on the Elk Refuge

The National Elk Refuge in Wyoming is an incredible resource for wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Unfortunately, a supplemental feeding program, in place since the refuge was created in 1912, has become a severe hazard to the species it was intended to help.

Though it began as a way to sustain the elk population through difficult winters, persistent feeding year after year now draws high concentrations of elk and bison to the area, resulting in crowding and overgrazing, and ultimately damaging the health of the ecosystem and the herds. Of particular concern is the potential for disease to spread through the high-density gathering area.  Both brucellosis and chronic wasting disease are risks increased by the refuge feeding lines.

Defenders was part of a coalition of conservation organizations challenging a 2007 management plan for the elk and bison, which failed to provide a timeline for ending the feeding regime.  The plan also appeared to give illegal veto power to the state of Wyoming such that the Game and Fish Department could block a decision to end supplemental feeding if it was believed to harm local interests.

This week, a federal appeals court confirmed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) obligation to end the practice. While the ruling did not order a deadline for terminating the program, it was an important affirmation of FWS’s obligation to expedite the end of feeding. The ruling unequivocally states that “there is no doubt that unmitigated continuation of supplemental feeding would undermine the conservation purpose of the National Wildlife Refuge System.” In addition, the court rejected the possibility of Wyoming being able to veto FWS action.

Posted in In the Field, National Wildlife Refuges, Northern Rockies, Public Lands0 Comments

Funding the Refuge System – Is the Battle Just Beginning?

Although the FY 2012 Interior appropriations bill (H.R. 2584), which would have slashed funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System and other important conservation programs, was abruptly pulled from the House schedule following word of an agreement on the national debt limit, the battle over deep cuts is just beginning.  As the new fiscal year quickly approaches, debate over Interior Department funding will have to resume after the August recess, potentially in the context of an omnibus measure that would combine this and other agency spending bills.

What does this mean for national wildlife refuges?  While it’s unclear how much the Refuge System will ultimately receive for its operations and maintenance in FY 12, H.R. 2584 would see it funded at only $455 million.  When factoring in rising costs of fuel, rent, and other fixed expenses, this represents a $45 million cut from FY 11.  At this level, the Refuge System would be forced to:

  • Close, or eliminate major programs at, 128 refuges.
  • Eliminate an estimated 200 wildlife and habitat management positions, reducing capacity for inventory and monitoring work, treatment of invasive species, and other habitat management activities.
  • Eliminate about 35 visitor service positions, leaving fewer staff available to coordinate a critical force of refuge volunteers and reducing the quantity and quality of recreational opportunities.  This could be devastating to many communities whose economic well being depends on high visitation at nearby refuges.
  • Eliminate approximately 40 law enforcement positions, leaving only 173 officers to do the work of what an International Association of Chiefs of Police study recommends should be done by 845 officers.

For an agency already stretched too thin, such cuts can be debilitating.  Complicating matters, the debt deal signed into law on Tuesday requires Congress to find $1.5 trillion in federal budget savings by the end of the year, and a further $917 billion in discretionary spending cuts over the next decade.  It remains to be seen where these savings will come from, but growing political hostility over environmental protection does not bode well for national wildlife refuges.

Posted in National Wildlife Refuges, Public Lands0 Comments

Climate Change and National Wildlife Refuge Planning

The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 directed every refuge to create a comprehensive conservation plan (CCP), a 15-year management plan to ensure the long-term conservation of fish, wildlife and habitats in accordance with the purpose of the refuge and the mission of the System. Secretarial orders issued in 2001 and 2009 made clear that climate change impacts should be include in refuge planning. Defenders of Wildlife analyzed the most recent CCPs as of June 2011 from each of the FWS regions to assess how comprehensively each is taking climate change into consideration.

All eight refuges are at some stage of incorporating climate change into their planning – completing an average of 60% of the criteria — but the level of comprehensiveness varied considerably.

The results, and description of the criteria, are summarized here.

The results of our analysis show that the FWS needs to provide refuge planners with guidance on how to include climate change into refuge CCPs to better prepare refuges, and the wildlife and habitat they protect, for the impacts of climate change.

Posted in Climate Change, National Wildlife Refuges0 Comments

Restored Marsh

Why We Need a Broad-scale Approach to Adaptation

 

Restored Marsh

Restored Marsh: Area inside stakes used to be open water. Photo: Noah Matson

Two years ago I had the opportunity to visit Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with a few other Defenders colleagues.  The refuge, at over 27,000 acres, is one of the largest protected areas in the state, and is famous among birders and local residents for its large concentrations of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, bald eagles, and is also home to the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel.  Since the 1930’s, however, Blackwater has lost over 8,000 acres of marsh from a combination of sea level rise, subsidence, and the impact of invasive nutria that eat marsh grass and contribute to erosion.

We met with refuge staff who took us out on the refuge in airboats to see first-hand the marsh, the marsh loss, and the marsh restoration the refuge had implemented.  The refuge had experimented with using a dredger to spray mud onto former marsh to raise the marsh bed, followed by planting marsh grasses to stabilize the soil.   Through these projects the refuge has restored 20 acres of marsh, and that marsh has remains today, over a decade after the restoration was completed.  A success story.

But the refuge continues to lose 300 acres/year.

So with that restoration success story in mind, the refuge staff have an audacious proposal: barge or pipe mud and soil from the dredging of the Baltimore harbor approach channel in the Chesapeake Bay to the refuge to repeat the marsh restoration on thousands of acres, a cost of over a billion dollars.

Two hundred miles south from Blackwater lies the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, also a low-lying coastal refuge facing the impacts of sea level rise.  Alligator River is mostly made up of “pocosin”, a type of forested wetland found in the coastal plain of eastern North Carolina.  The refuge, along with surrounding refuges, is home to the only wild population of endangered red wolves in the world.  There, refuge staff, the Nature Conservancy and other partners are implementing adaptation measures to slow coastal erosion and salt water intrusion to protect the refuge’s forests and marshes.  Most projections of sea level rise put a large portion of the refuge under water in the next 50 years.

If I was the refuge manager for Blackwater, Alligator River, or any of the over 160 coastal national wildlife refuges in the country, I would probably be thinking about similar adaptation strategies to stem the impacts of sea level rise on the place I was sworn to protect.  But the impacts of climate change force a different focus, and a different scale of thinking.  As stewards of protected areas and wildlife populations, we have to ask – why does it matter if Blackwater or Alligator River goes under water?  What are our conservation goals and how are they affected by the impacts of climate change and where, given those impacts, should we target scare conservation dollars?

For Blackwater, which was established primarily for migratory birds, the real question is how will sea level rise impact migratory bird habitat throughout the Chesapeake Bay, not only at Blackwater.  It may be cheaper to restore or create new habitat elsewhere in the Bay, for instance closer to the available dredge material from the Baltimore Harbor approach channel.  These are questions an individual refuge manager cannot answer alone.

For Alligator River, while important for migratory birds, its critical importance to biodiversity conservation is providing habitat for endangered red wolves.  The loss of over half the refuge in the coming decades will have a significant impact on the red wolf population.  So the question for managers is will we have a viable population of red wolves with this loss of habitat?  Regardless of the answer to that question, the recovery plan for the red wolf calls for the establishment of three populations, and with the impending impacts of sea level rise on the only existing population, there should be renewed emphasis on establishing the two additional populations.  Again, these are decisions an individual refuge manager cannot make alone.

Wildlife and natural resources climate change adaptation forces us to take a broad-scale view.  Before zeroing in on the impacts of climate change on a particular place, we need new mechanisms and institutions to help policy makers, managers, and scientists work together to understand how wildlife and habitats will respond to the impacts of climate change regionally and across jurisdictional boundaries.

The Obama administration has launched a number of initiatives that hold some promise for achieving this goal.  The Interior Department is establishing Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, or LCCs, to bring partners together to better understand landscape-scale resources and challenges like climate change.  LCCs have been hampered, however, by competing agency missions and confusion over the LCCs’ unique role compared to other programs.  The administration is also crafting a National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy.  The National Strategy is an opportunity to call for broad-scale assessments and planning for adaptation to assist local managers in making strategic adaptation decisions.

Protecting Blackwater, Alligator River, and all of our refuges from the impacts of climate change is important.  But we should do so in the context of addressing the much bigger task before us, figuring out how to make entire systems of wildlife and habitat resilient to climate change.

Posted in Climate Change, Imperiled Wildlife, National Wildlife Refuges0 Comments

At Midway Atoll, Birds Take a Hard Hit from the Tsunami

The stories pouring out of Japan paint a heartbreaking picture of the enormous toll last week’s earthquake and tsunami have taken on the country and its people, and of the long road to recovery ahead.  That same violent earthquake also generated another tsunami that swept across the Pacific Ocean and eventually washed over a set of coral islands in the Hawaiian archipelago.  Now, as the process of rescue and recovery continues in Japan, a different sort of disaster response has begun about 2,000 miles away.

Midway Atoll, established as a national wildlife refuge in 1988, is usually a thriving home to endangered Hawaiian monk seals, threatened green sea turtles, 21 species of seabirds, and a diverse array of other wildlife.  Today, refuge staff are sifting through the damage, counting carcasses and rescuing those animals that made it through.  It is estimated that tens of thousands of Laysan albatross chicks nesting on the islands were killed when they were carried off with the water, and 1,000 of the adult and subadult birds are dead.  Others survived, but they are injured or stuck under toppled vegetation and debris.  Thousands of Bonin petrels, which nest in burrows, were likely buried under the sand.

While the losses are great, Midway Atoll has certainly rebounded from tsunamis and other natural disasters in the past.  Many plants and animals have adapted to such disturbances.  So, why should we worry now?  Because this time, a tsunami isn’t the only problem.  Ocean acidification, invasive species, and marine debris are ongoing threats.  And sea-level rise could put much of the habitat under water.  Together, these stresses could push the ecosystem beyond its ability to recover.

Posted in National Wildlife Refuges, Public Lands0 Comments

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.

Posted in National Wildlife Refuges, Public Lands0 Comments

Stopping the Privatization of a Federal Island

Stopping the Privatization of a Federal Island

Photo of a piping plover

Credit: Katherine Wittemore/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

New York’s 840 acre Plum Island has been in federal ownership since 1901, but under a law passed during the Bush Administration, the government is considering selling the land to the highest bidder.  Parts of the island currently serve as a Department of Homeland Security animal disease research facility while 90 percent of the island exists as a de facto nature reserve for wildlife including seals, osprey and threatened piping plover sand roseate terns.  The island is part of a National Audubon Society Important Bird Area and we hope to see all or most of the island made into a National Wildlife Refuge.

There are two outcomes that will maintain the wildlife value of the island for the public: keeping the search facility in place, or if is moved, transferring the land to the Department of Interior as opposed to a private buyer.

New York Congressman Tim Bishop has been trying to stop the move which would close the island’s research facility and replace it with a new $900 million facility in Kansas.  It’s not clear that an island in the middle of Long Island Sound is the best place to research animal diseases, but it’s certainly a better place that putting the research in the heart of ‘cow country.’  The National Academy of Sciences estimates that if the new facility is constructed in Kansas, there is a 70 percent chance that foot-and-mouth disease would be accidentally released outside the facility during its 50 years of operation, causing a $9-$50 billion impact on the U.S. beef industry.

If the animal disease research facility is moved, a strong coalition of groups – including Defenders of Wildlife – is working to convince the government to keep the land instead of selling it to a private buyer.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated its interest in making the island into a National Wildlife Refuge.

Sign a petition here if you want to add your name to the growing list of people asking Congress to stop the sale of these precious federal acres of wildlife habitat.

Posted in National Wildlife Refuges, Public Lands0 Comments