Congress focuses on national wildlife refuges

Congress focuses on national wildlife refuges

Bills intended to improve management on national wildlife refuges have been introduced in Congress, the most promising of which was passed by voice vote in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans in late July, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.

Introduced in January as the banner issue for the Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus, H.R. 767?the Refuge Ecology Protection, Assistance and Immediate Response (REPAIR) Act?would provide grants for state and private efforts to combat invasive species on refuges. Nonnative invasive species, both plant and animal, are wreaking havoc on landscapes across the country and more than 2 million acres of the National Wildlife Refuge System are affected. The estimated cost of controlling and eradicating invasive species in the System now exceeds $300 million.

The REPAIR Act, introduced by Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind would authorize a new grant program to develop and expand innovative programs to address invasive species issues. Grants to states would be available for invasive species control programs that complement efforts on refuges within the respective grant-recipient states. The program is intended to advance state efforts and expand benefits from the tens of thousands of refuge volunteers who help with invasive species control and management every year. The House Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee held a hearing on the bill in late June and moved the bill forward on July 26. The bill now awaits action by the full House Committee on Natural Resources.

The second piece of legislation seeks to provide funding for operations and maintenance on national wildlife refuges through an increase in the price of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps ("Duck Stamps"). That bill was introduced in June, but the funding source has led to questions about the viability of the legislation. H.R. 2735?the National Wildlife Refuge System Operations Enhancement Act of 2007?would increase the cost of a Duck Stamp from $15 to $25 by 2010. The first $15 from the cost of each stamp would still be used for habitat protection as it currently is. The additional $10 generated from each stamp would be dedicated to operations and maintenance efforts on refuges. In addition, the bill would authorize a federal tax "check-off" and the sale of a postage stamp with proceeds of both programs also being dedicated to the refuge system.

Concern that the bill would place the burden of refuge funding on private citizens plus questions about future funding diversion from the habitat-protection focus of Duck Stamp funds have served to keep the bill from moving forward to date.

August 07, 2007