Major cuts to Midwest wildlife refuges
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to eliminate 20 percent of staff in national wildlife refuges
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."
Links within this article:
National Wildlife Refuge System
Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
E Russo, "Cooperation urged on invasives," The Scientist
, March 22, 2004.
P. Woodworth, "What price ecological restoration?" The Scientist
, April 1, 2006.
Horicon National Wildlife Refuge: