Report: National wildlife refuges severely understaffed
The National Wildlife Refuge System is severely understaffed, according to an Associated Press story I just spotted.
That may be hard for us to believe in Ohio since the Ottawa National Refuge on Lake Erie is both well staffed and well patronized – especially during spring and fall bird migrations. But in the West, where wildlife refuges can cover thousands of acres and lie a day’s drive apart, it’s a problem.
It is a safety issue for the 47.5 million people who visit the country’s 565 designated federal wildlife refuges annually to bird watch, hunt, fish, and watch animals in their native habitats.
Refuges protect critical habitat for endangered and threatened species and are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Another 178 areas under USFW watch protect important wetlands and waterfowl habitat.
They are easier to establish than national parks since the President can bypass Congress and use an executive order to designate a refuge.
But the agency’s refuge budget dropped $17 million between 2010 and 2016, while it added millions more acres to the system. Staffing dropped 15 percent in the last 10 years – largely due to employee attrition.
The agency simply could not afford to replace those who left or retired. Half of the 565 refuges now have no managers and a third have no permanent staff at all.
An incident last January at the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon focused attention on the lack of staff. Anti-government protesters took over the refuge’s headquarters and held it for 41 days, inflicting damage on structures and critical habitat in the process.
USFWS spent $6 million to move rangers from other locations around the West to help take back the Oregon refuge. In the end, one protester was killed. Seven are now on trial for the escapade.