Major cuts to Midwest wildlife refuges

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to eliminate 20 percent of staff in national wildlife refuges

By | January 30, 2007

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to cut jobs by 20 percent in the Midwest region's 54 national wildlife refuges, which together contain more than one million acres (more than 400,000 hectares) of public land and water across eight states. The budget of the National Wildlife Refuge System grew from $300 million in 2001 to $391 million in 2004, but has hovered around $380 million ever since. The FWS estimates it would need $16 million in additional funding each year just to cover increases in salaries, fuel, and other inflationary costs. "We just don't have enough money to make ends meet," Midwest refuge system chief Nita Fuller told The Scientist. The decision follows similar announcements from the Refuge System's Northeast and Southeast regions, where managers also expect to cut staff levels by roughly 20 percent over the next three years. The remaining five regions in the Refuge System have yet to announce workforce plans, but all are sorting out ways to deal with shortfalls, said Tony Leger, refuge system chief of the Northeast region. The refuge system manages 96 million acres nationwide (which protect 280 of the nation's 1,311 endangered or threatened species), with a staff that Fuller said is already "relatively lean and mean." In the Midwest, 35 positions have been snuffed out after becoming vacant in the last year. Most of the additional downsizing -- an estimated 36 jobs -- will also be eliminated through attrition and retirement, she said. According to FWS spokesperson David Eisenhauer, the refuge system isn't being singled out; rather, FWS is doing the best they can with a federal budget stretched thin by military spending and other costs. "The president gives the budget," Eisenhauer said. "We have to manage the best we can with the budget that we have." "We're all working on shoestrings to begin with," said Doug Brewer, the project leader at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Oak Harbor, Ohio. Staff cuts there, Brewer said, will impact his ability to maintain dykes and ditches required to manage wetland habitat. Without sufficient staff, "we lose the ability to keep those habitats in prime condition." Joe Robb heads the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge in Madison, Indiana. Since the refuge was established in 2000, it has always been understaffed, according to Robb. He and his colleagues have done a variety of "interesting, publishable work" on species such as the cerulean warbler and the crayfish frog, but don't have time to analyze the backlog of data they've collected, much less write up and publish his results, Robb noted. "We have to clean the toilets, spray the herbicides, we have to do it all." At the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Minneapolis, five vacant positions will remain empty, said project leader Tom Kerr. One, a biological technician position, would have been in charge of managing the refuge's 7,000 acres of wetland habitat. According to Kerr, the fight against invasive species such as purple loosestrife and buckthorn has been scaled back, along with plans to restore two tracts of rare Oak Savannah habitat. "[Many projects] are on the back burner waiting for when we have the staff," Kerr said. To cope, many refuges are relying more on volunteers and teaming up with one another to share equipment and manpower. Patti Meyers, who heads the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Mayville, Wisconsin, said she'll soon be down to one maintenance manager -- shared with three other refuges. "For years we've done more with less, but I think we're all getting really tired," Meyers said. "We're stretched too thin, and something has to fall by the wayside." Kirsten Weir mail@the-scientist.com Links within this article: National Wildlife Refuge System http://www.fws.gov/refuges/ Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge http://www.fws.gov/Midwest/Ottawa Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge http://www.fws.gov/midwest/BigOaks/ Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge http://www.fws.gov/midwest/MinnesotaValley E Russo, "Cooperation urged on invasives," The Scientist, March 22, 2004. http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/22062 P. Woodworth, "What price ecological restoration?" The Scientist, April 1, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/23277/ Horicon National Wildlife Refuge: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/horicon/
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Comments

Avatar of: stevie strachan

stevie strachan

Posts: 1

January 30, 2007

its a shame the government would rather spend tax payers money invading foreign countries than preserving our proud wilderness heritage
Avatar of: DRP

DRP

Posts: 1

January 30, 2007

Bush again has more cuts for NWRS, which is already beat down. The NWRS is in a state of peril.
Avatar of: Phillip Manning

Phillip Manning

Posts: 1

January 30, 2007

We are spending over $200,000,000 per day waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I suggest we stop the wars for two or three days and give our wildlife refuge managers the money they need to do thier jobs. Then we should consider whether we make the temporary halt permanent.
Avatar of: Fred Schaffner

Fred Schaffner

Posts: 1

February 1, 2007

Here in the Caribbean, over the past 17 years, I've watched closely as the Refuge budget, staff, and equipment have continued to increase dramatically, while the agency has done consistently less and less with it. The Caribbean Refuges accomplished more in 1990 with with just one biologist and one maintenance worker than it does today, with its full staff and fleet of new vehicles. This change simply means that the agency will be more efficient at doing nothing.

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