New refuge policies finally make it across the finish line

New refuge policies finally make it across the finish line

Beginning later this month, management of national wildlife refuges will be guided by three new policies that have been developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state fish and wildlife agencies over the past six years, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.

These policies provide direction to assist the Service in carrying out the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 in coordination with state fish and wildlife agencies. Under this law, the mission of the Refuge System 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 Americans."

The first policy defines this official mission and establishes goals and purposes for the Refuge System to ensure consistency in management across its 545 refuges. The goals established by the mission policy include (a) conserving fish, wildlife, plant diversity and unique plant communities and ecosystems; (b) developing and maintaining a network of habitats; (c) providing and enhancing opportunities for compatible wildlife-dependent recreation; and (d) fostering public understanding and appreciation of fish and wildlife and their habitats. The mission policy also provides guidance to determine the purpose(s) of each refuge and to explain the relationship of the overall System mission and goals to these individual refuge purpose(s). Generally, the policy directs the Service to interact, coordinate, cooperate, and collaborate with state fish and wildlife agencies in a timely and effective manner on the acquisition and management of national wildlife refuges.

The second policy calls for refuge managers to work with state fish and wildlife agencies to develop and implement quality wildlife-dependent recreation programs on refuges. Prior to opening a refuge to new wildlife-dependent recreational uses, the refuge manager is directed to develop and follow an approved visitor services plan (VSP) and tailor programs to the refuge and its ability to administer the proposed wildlife-dependent recreational uses. This second policy also establishes that the Service will not close ongoing refuge hunting and fishing programs while new VSPs are being prepared. Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, wildlife-dependent recreation is defined as a use of a refuge involving hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, or environmental education and interpretation. Compatible wildlife-dependent recreational uses are the priority general public uses of the Refuge System. The wildlife-dependent recreation policy encourages refuge managers to work hand-in-hand with state fish and wildlife agencies to provide more opportunities on refuges for these recreation uses.

The third policy establishes a national framework for refuge managers to follow when deciding whether activities that are not wildlife-dependent nevertheless may be appropriate for a particular refuge. The policy describes when refuge managers should deny a proposed use as inappropriate, without determining whether it is compatible with the purposes of the refuge and the Refuge System. By providing guidance on when to screen out proposed uses not appropriate to a refuge, the policy helps refuge managers avoid unnecessary compatibility reviews. Under the policy, if the Service finds that a use is appropriate, it then must determine if the use is compatible before it is allowed on a refuge. The policy does not apply to refuge management activities conducted by the Service, which are designed to meet individual refuge or Refuge System purposes. Importantly, state fish and wildlife agency activities also are considered refuge management activities not subject to the appropriate-use policy when such activities directly contribute to refuge and Refuge System purposes, are addressed in refuge plans or are approved under national policy.

The policies go into effect on July 26, 2006. They are available at

July 14, 2007