Wildlife Refuges Get the Shaft

Wildlife refuges face deep cuts.

Despite a proposed $12 million funding increase by the Bush administration earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is still going to cut way back on services and operations at more than 500 national wildlife refuges across the country due to a mammoth $2.5 billion unfunded maintenance and operations backlog. The first thing to go, according to agency officials, will be about 565 jobs by 2009—a 20 percent workforce reduction—leaving 200 different sites without any staff and vulnerable to vandals, invasive species and other modern ills.

Environmentalists note that the national wildlife refuges, which encompass 96 million acres, were already in jeopardy (see "Seeking Sanctuary," feature, March/April 2003) before these cuts were announced this past March. Two previous rounds of staff reductions have already left federal land managers strapped for manpower to manage wildlife populations, maintain and restore habitat, repair aging facilities and equipment and keep up education efforts.

"Our national wildlife refuges are literally crumbling before our eyes," says Rodger Schlickeisen of Defenders of Wildlife. "Across the country we’re seeing how the culmination of years of negligent funding devastates these special places." According to Defenders, 1.4 billion federal dollars (less than a week of Iraq War expenses)—could turn the situation around.