It isn’t often that a plan to move a parking lot sparks a major controversy worthy of a Congressional hearing. Surprisingly, this is exactly what transpired in a coastal community over a proposed plan to move the beach parking lot at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia.
Further south, a different controversy has been brewing for more than a decade in North Carolina’s Outer Banks concerning a deteriorating bridge connecting Nags Head to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Herbert C. Bonner Bridge connects popular beachfront barrier islands that are traversed by a road riddled by washouts and mounting maintenance costs.
In both cases, the mix of sea level rise as a result of climate change, desire for vehicular access and the realities of ever-shifting barrier islands have combined to form a toxic cocktail of vitriol in these coastal communities.
At Chincoteague, a parking lot adjacent to a popular beach visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year is frequently washed out by storms. Most recently, Hurricane Irene destroyed the parking lot just before the busy Labor Day weekend and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) predicts that it will cost $40 million over the next 15-years to continue maintaining the parking lot in its current location.
At Pea Island NWR the situation is even worse. Hurricane Irene cut a new inlet, severing NC-12, the main road on the Outer Banks, and cut off transportation to areas further south on the barrier island. A makeshift bridge traversing the newly-created inlet has cost $10 million. Maintaining the 10-mile-road over the 20 years preceding Irene has been upwards of $25 million. And these mounting costs are all at the taxpayer’s expense.
The FWS has proposed long term solutions for both of these problems. A new parking lot on higher ground at Chincoteague would be less prone to washouts and require fewer maintenance costs in the long term. However, this plan, which would include a tram option shuttling beach-goers from town, has pitted the agency in a battle against many in the nearby town of Chincoteague who believe that anything short of a park and walk to the beach arrangement will serve as a death knell to the local economy.
In North Carolina, the FWS proposed a bridge route for NC-12 that would bypass the shifting sands of Pea Island Refuge altogether. This plan was rejected by the state of North Carolina because of the cost of the project, despite lower maintenance costs in the long term. It is projected now that construction costs of the smaller bridge segments required as a result of the Irene-caused inlets will rival the price of the FWS proposed bridge without including on-going road maintenance costs.
National wildlife refuges have been an integral part of coastal communities for more than a century, beginning with the creation of Pelican Island NWR in 1903. As we are witnessing first hand, climate change is accelerating natural processes and causing disruptive weather events that are quickly and permanently changing the face of many ecologically important wildlife havens, while also raising the specter of dramatic changes for coastal communities. In the immediate, there is the question of whether taxpayers should pay exorbitant sums for short-term solutions of dubious practicality, which also undermine wildlife conservation objectives on our national wildlife refuges.
In the long term, with climate change an underlying and pervasive catalyst for change, these questions are only going to become more difficult and widespread, particularly in connection with the hundreds of coastal and tidal national wildlife refuges. As taxpayers, can we continue to afford footing the bill for pricey short-term solutions that will quickly be undone by the disruptive forces of nature, and how do we begin making smart but hard decisions that look forward 25, 50 and 100 years?
Onward and upward!
The House budget proposal, authored by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) would slash the agency’s budget to levels unseen in the past 10 years, severely hampering the National Wildlife Refuge System’s capacity to protect wildlife, ending volunteer programs and closing many refuges to the public. The Budget Resolution for fiscal year 2013 (H. Con. Res. 112) passed the House on March 29th, and would result in a 20% cut to all non-defense government programs, including the Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System, in the next 2 years.
If the proposed budget were enacted, a 20% cut in funding for the Refuge System would reduce the current operations and maintenance levels for refuges by approximately $97 million within the next two years.
We anticipate the proposed House budget would:
- Eliminate public access or major programs at 256 national wildlife refuges;
- Eliminate approximately 400 wildlife management jobs, resulting in severe cutbacks of critical habitat management work such as invasive species control;
- Eliminate all visitor services jobs, putting a significant dent on public access and recreation opportunities such as fishing and hunting, and stopping the volunteer programs that bring in the 42,000 volunteers currently doing 20% of all the work on refuges nationwide;
- Eliminate 80 law enforcement officers, leaving a force of 164 to carry out the work that the International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends should be done by 845 officers.
Cutting Refuge System funding will limit access for public use – like hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, photography, and environmental education. This will have a real impact on the people that live and work near wildlife refuges as refuge visitors generate approximately $4 billion in economic activity in local communities and support 32,500 jobs.
The NWRA will be working with Friends and partners to ensure these cuts are not enacted.
Congress is currently gridlocked over a transportation bill with serious ramifications for the National Wildlife Refuge System, including Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. House and Senate remain at an impasse over the final reauthorization of the Transportation bill, which was set to expire March 30th, but has been granted an extension until June. The bill includes billions of dollars for transportation projects around the country, and could include important funding for wildlife refuge roads and refuge land acquisition. Versions of the bill also include provisions that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.
The Transportation bill is the latest legislation to be tossed around by Congress in election year football, potentially jeopardizing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and millions of dollars for land acquisition for the Refuge System and other public lands. In a House version of the Transportation bill, passed in February, the provision seeks to open the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to oil exploration and use revenues to fund transportation projects.
The Arctic Refuge provisions are omitted from the vastly different senate version of on the Transportation bill. In fact, the Senate voted against drilling in the Arctic in a similar amendment to their bill in March.
Further, the Senate passed an amendment to provide 80% of fines from the BP oil spill to states surrounding the Gulf of Mexico for economic and habitat restoration. Called the RESTORE Act, this amendment also provides $700 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for the next 2 years, without an additional appropriation. For the Refuge System this could mean upwards of $150 million a year for two years to purchase new wildlife refuge habitat. NWRA staff met with Congressional the Congressional staff of key lawmakers in D.C., organized calls from Friends nationwide, and emailed action alerts to insure that this important measure was passed as part of the Senate’s version of the transportation bill.
NWRA strongly supports the Senate’s Transportation bill and encourages the House to pass a similar version.
NWRA President Evan Hirsche and Vice President of Government Affairs Desiree Sorenson-Groves attended a March 2nd conference on America’s Great Outdoors hosted by the White House. The conference, which drew conservation leaders from across the country, served as a follow up to an initiative launched by the Obama administration in April 2010 to build public consensus for a future vision of conservation in America.
“Over the past two years we have seen increasing momentum for landscape level conservation projects, thanks to the President’s initiative,” said Sorenson-Groves. “A great example of this is the Everglades Headwaters NWR and Conservation Area in Florida, where the Fish and Wildlife Service is working with partners and diverse stakeholders to protect an incredibly diverse region.”
NWRA was joined at the recent conference by members of the Northern Everglades Alliance, a group of ranchers and landowners working to protect both a ranching way of life and habitat for wildlife in the Northern Everglades. Representatives of the Alliance had the opportunity to meet with the President following his remarks.
Two years ago, President Obama signed a memorandum at the event establishing the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The goals of the initiative include getting Americans – especially children – to reconnect with nature, bolstering partnerships between the federal government, state governments, and private stakeholders, and using science-based management practices to restore and protect our natural resources for future generations. In conjunction with the launch of this initiative, NWRA published a set of recommendations titled Conserving America’s Great Outdoors: Fulfilling Theodore Roosevelt’s Crusade to Protect America’s Wildlife.
“Road to Nowhere’ back in spotlight as FWS releases new draft environmental review of proposed road through wilderness refuge
NWRA and the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges called upon the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reject the proposed “Road to Nowhere” through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The Service released a study of a proposed road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, a biologically diverse wildlife refuge protected under the Wilderness Preservation System, the highest level of conservation protection.
The draft environmental impact statement reconfirmed NWRA’s long-held position that the road is a boondoggle that pretends to find a solution to a problem already solved by Congress over a decade ago. The proposed road through Izembek NWR would connect two isolated Alaskan villages at the expense of a biologically sensitive area protected under the Wilderness Act. In 1998 Congress provided $37.5 million to the community of King Cove (pop. 800) to address their transportation and safety issues, which included the purchase of a state-of-the-art hovercraft to connect their community to the village of Cold Bay (pop. 75).
The just finished Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was required in a 2009 public lands bill that authorized an exchange of lands between the State of Alaska and the FWS that would allow the road to be built through Izembek NWR. The draft is subject to a period of public comment, and provides no “preferred” option of action from the FWS. The final environmental impact statement will be used by the Secretary of the Interior to determine whether building the proposed road through Izembek NWR is in the public interest.
NWRA will be sending out an alert to members strongly urging the FWS to adopt a “no action” alternative in their final Environmental Impact Statement.
The past few weeks have been busy for wildlife refuge advocates on Capitol Hill.
On Wednesday, March 21, three wildlife refuge advocates representing the Refuge Friends community took their case to Capitol Hill. Bob Christensen of the Friends of Deer Flat NWR in Idaho, Todd Paddock of the Friends of the Refuge Headwaters in Minnesota, and Joan Patterson, President of the Friends of Potomac River Refuges in Virginia, testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related agencies in support of Refuge System funding. Their message was clear; if the Refuge System’s budget receives massive cuts, as proposed for fiscal years 2013 and 2014, there will be dire consequences to our national wildlife refuges.
On March 28th, six Refuge Friends met with their members of Congress as part of a Wildlife Funding Fly-In. They included Russell Barber and Jim Burkhart of the Okefenokee Wildlife League in Georgia, Jim Nosler of the Friends of Balcones Canyonlands NWR in Texas, Susan Garretson Friedman of the Friends of Great Swamp NWR in New Jersey, Dan Click representing the Florida’s Merritt Island Wildlife Association and Larry Underwood from the Friends of Potomac River Refuges in Virginia.
On March 29th Stephanie Martin of the Friends of Maine Seabird Islands testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands on a bill (H.R. 2984) on a proposal to enact wilderness designation for parts of Cross Island NWR and Petit Manan NWR in Maine.
The testimony presented by Refuge Friends this month will surely have a lasting impact on the Members of Congress they spoke with. We sincerely appreciate the Friends for all they do and thank them for their strong support of the Refuge System!
In February, NWRA and the FWS sponsored a visit by three ranchers and sportsmen and two Fish and Wildlife Service staff from Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front to the Northern Everglades to share their first-hand experience working with conservation easements and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Over a five-day trip, NWRA and the Montana delegation visited some of the finest ranchlands in central Florida – and also experienced spoonbills, gators, airboats and swamp buggies at J.N. “Ding” Darling and Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee NWRs on each coast and The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve in the middle.
As longtime members of the Rocky Mountain Front Advisory Committee, ranchers Karl Rappold and Dusty Crary, and taxidermist Roy Jacobs were able to speak from experience about “working with the feds” with members of the Northern Everglades Alliance, a group of ranchers and sportsmen who have come together in support of the new and proposed conservation areas in the Northern Everglades region. At the same time, seasoned Fish and Wildlife Service Realty Coordinator Gary Sullivan and Fish and Wildlife Service District Manager for conservation easement projects Jim Lange were able to share the tools of the trade for creating successful partnerships with their southeast Service colleagues Elizabeth Souheaver, Charlie Pelizza, Kevin Godsea, Erin Myers, Sylvia Pelizza and Rolf Olson.
“We’ve been working together for over ten years,” said Gary Sullivan. “These guys have been conservation leaders in their community and it hasn’t always been easy. But conservation easements have allowed some of these guys to conserve their family ranches while also expanding their operations, bringing their kids back to be employed on the ranch. Meanwhile they’ve seen grizzly bear populations get stronger and stronger on the Front. It has been a win-win-win for the Service.”
“I’ve had the privilege of visiting the Rocky Mountain Front, and we’ve got a lot to learn from the great partnerships that have developed out there,” said Rick Dantzler, co-chair of the Northern Everglades Alliance. “There’s no substitute for hearing first-hand experiences about finding the balance between working lands and conserving these places as they are for future generations of ranchers, wildlife and all Floridians.”
And they learn fast – soon after visiting with the Montana ranchers, members of the Northern Everglades Alliance traveled to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast Regional Office and later to the White House Conference on Conservation in Washington, DC, encouraging the Service and the administration to support funding for the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area – as well as the Rocky Mountain Front!
Of course, the best storytelling was found around the campfire at Blue Head Ranch’s Dark Hammock Lodge, in the 4x4s touring Alico Ranch, and over Fort Pierce’s best barbecue with Bud and Dot Adams at the head of the table at Adams Ranch. These are the experiences that NWRA is honored to be a part of, and we’d like to thank all of the ranchers, refuge staff, TNC staff, Friends, volunteers and partners who made this exchange possible.
With help from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director, Dan Ashe, Deputy Director, and Refuge System Chief, Jim Kurth, NWRA presented the Awards for the 2012 Refuge Manager and Refuge Employee of the Year at the 77th annual North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia on March 15, 2012.
Charles A. Pelizza was awarded the Paul Kroegel Award for Refuge Manager of the Year. Manager of the Pelican Island NWR Complex, Charlie’s leadership, professionalism and advocacy of conservation contributed significantly to the creation of the Everglades Headwaters NWR and Conservation Area earlier this year.
Kathleen O’Brien received the Employee of the Year Award. Kate is the wildlife biologist at the Rachel Carson NWR in Maine, where her tireless work with the endangered New England cottontail rabbit and the rare saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow have earned her global recognition.
The Friends Group of the Year Award recognizing the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society will be presented at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge’s new visitor center on May 31st. The presentation honoring Volunteer of the Year David Govatski of Silvio Conte National Fish & WIldlife Refuge will be later this spring.
The establishment of the new Headwaters Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in the Florida Everglades this January was a huge conservation victory. The new refuge will protect an important migration corridor for the critically-endangered Florida panther as well as habitat that sustains amazing birds like the crested caracara and Everglades snail kite, along with thousands of other species of plants and animals. The conservation area will also benefit people – by helping to protect freshwater sources for millions of south Floridians, sustaining traditional land use for farmers and ranchers, and providing lands for outdoor recreational opportunities like photography, hunting, fishing and birding.
The Refuge and Conservation area is planned to encompass 150,000 acres of diverse Everglades habitat. However, only 10 acres have been protected as part of the new wildlife refuge thus far. We need your support to protect the next 149,990 acres. NWRA has been challenged to match a $30,000 private donation for a total of $60,000 in 60 days to protect the new refuge. 20 days into the Challenge we have raised $4,500. Please help us raise the other $25,500 for the Everglades. Every dollar counts.
Join the Everglades Challenge today!
Please note that we have a new phone number for NWRA’s office. We can now be reached at 202-417-3803. Click here for updated NWRA staff extensions. Be sure to update your contacts!
Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is situated along Southern Maine’s picturesque coastline, an area famous for its rugged beaches and beautiful scenery. It is home to a diverse array of wildlife that includes waterfowl, eagles, migratory shorebirds, and rich lobster fisheries. With so many appealing features, property along Maine’s coast is highly sought out for summer homes, and is a region encroached on by development and threatened by habitat loss.
The 5,300-acre Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge protects important habitat along Maine’s shoreline. Established in 1966, the refuge was later named for Rachel Carson, the world-renowned environmentalist author of Silent Spring, now in its 50th year in print, and former employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge is home to many species threatened by habitat loss throughout coastal Maine and New England, including the piping plover, New England cottontail, and two species of sharp-tailed sparrows.
The Friends of Rachel Carson NWR have been dedicated to conserving this special landscape for the past 25 years. Formed in 1987, the Friends work in tandem with the refuge and other partners to protect estuarine, coastal and other habitats of Southern Maine. Partnerships are particularly important for this Friends group, since Rachel Carson has more neighbors along its boundaries than any other refuge in the System. The protection of Timber Point, one of the last undeveloped parcels of land along a 50-mile stretch of shoreline between Kittery and Cape Elizabeth, ME, was the result of extensive cooperation and coordination.
“The Rachel Carson Refuge is unique in that it lies at the confluence of the vibrant residential communities of southern Maine and some of the most significant natural habitat in the state,” said Bill Durkin, president of the Friends of Rachel Carson NWR. “Acquiring the Timber Point tract was crucial to the growth of the refuge.”
How Timber Point came to be protected as part of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is a textbook example for how a Friends organization can successfully work with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, local land trusts, and national non-profit partners to protect important wildlife habitat. The Friends and other local groups such as the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust partnered with regional and national organizations like the Trust for Public Land and the Audubon Society to raise the $5 million needed to acquire the property as part of the Rachel Carson NWR.
In 2009, the Friends took their case to Congress. Friends President Bill Durkin testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies in support of acquiring new land for Rachel Carson NWR through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This advocacy helped secure $3 million appropriation from LWCF, which is funded through oil and gas revenue on public lands.
The LWCF appropriation spurred a fundraising campaign to raise an additional $2 million from private donations and foundations. This resulted in more than 700 individual donations and a $200,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. In 2011 this hard work paid off, and the Timber Point property was conveyed to the FWS as part of the Rachel Carson NWR.
“In my 23 years with the Friends, the Timber Point acquisition has been the most exciting one for the Refuge. It is a spectacular point of land, where the fresh water meets the sea,” said Durkin. “This is a classic story for conservation, utilizing LWCF monies and private donor contributions. We need to keep the pressure on Congress to support full funding at $900 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, an integral part of the Timber Point Purchase equation.”
Looking forward there are still many challenges for the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and the 200-member Friends of Rachel Carson NWR organization. By serving as the “eyes and ears” of the refuge, the Friends help refuge staff achieve the conservation mission of protecting wildlife like the New England cottontail and endangered piping plover.
- Earth Day!
- Written testimony for FY 2013 is due to Senate Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. Click here for more information (.doc).
- Land and Water Conservation Fund Fly In – for more information, contact Joan Patterson at email@example.com
- Deadline for submitting proposals for Friends grants, www.nfwf.org/refugefriends.
Director James Cameron recently went on an expedition to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean, which is protected as part of the Mariana Trench National Wildlife Refuge.
Read our letter to the New York Times