When the Congress passed the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, which the NRA helped to shape, it established a mission and purposes of the Refuge System. This "organic" Act established hunting, fishing and four other wildlife-dependent recreational uses as "priority general public uses." The language was inserted in order to shield the Refuge System from any future lawsuits by anti-hunters claiming that hunting should be disallowed on refuges. It also separated these uses from all other uses such as rock climbing, jet skiing and cattle grazing for special attention in the management of the refuges. Refuge managers are expected to accommodate these priority general public uses so long as they are compatible with the purposes of the refuge and the mission of the Refuge System.
On October 18, 2000 the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published final rules that establish the process to be used in determining whether or not a use is compatible. There are several provisions of the final rule of interest to the hunter.
First, FWS will not initiate or permit a new use, including hunting, or expand, renew, or extend an existing use unless the use is determined compatible and not inconsistent with public safety. Compatibility determinations must provide an opportunity for public review and comment.
Second, on lands added to the System after March, 1996, FWS will identify, prior to acquisition, withdrawal, transfer, reclassification, or donation of any such lands, existing compatible wildlife-dependent uses (including hunting) that the Service will continue on an interim basis pending the completion of a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the particular refuge.
Third, compatibility determinations in existence on the date of enactment of the Improvement Act, October 1997, will remain in effect until and unless modified.
Forth, if funding or personnel or other resources are lacking to manage a wildlife- dependent use, refuge managers are expected to make reasonable efforts to obtain additional resources or outside assistance before determining that resources are not available and hence the use is not compatible (until such time as resources become available).
Fifth, in the event that one of the wildlife-dependent uses is in conflict with another and the conflict cannot be resolved, the refuge manager is obligated to evaluate, among other things, which use most directly supports long-term attainment of refuge purposes and the System`s mission. Where there are conflicts between priority and non-priority public uses, priority public uses take precedence.
Sixth, a refuge manager will re-evaluate a compatibility determination for existing wildlife- dependent uses when conditions change significantly, or if there is significant new information regarding the effects of the use, or concurrently with the preparation or revision of a CCP.
Hunters who hunt on wildlife refuges should familiarize themselves with the CCP process that was established by the Refuge Improvement Act. Each refuge is obliged to develop a plan and to revise it periodically. The planning process is open to public review and comment. The individual refuge issues a notice to the public that it plans to conduct a scoping process that will lead it to the development of a draft plan. Therefore, the public has two opportunities to provide comment. It is critical that hunters participate in the planning process to ensure that existing hunting programs are continued, that necessary resources to manage the hunting programs are available, and to ensure that hunting is accorded fair evaluation in a compatibility review as a new use on a refuge. As each year goes by, more refuges are added to the System, which means more opportunities to expand hunting programs.
Please take the time to contact the manager of the refuge where you go to hunt and find out when a CCP for that refuge is expected to be revised or a new one developed. Ask to be placed on a mailing list to receive information about activities on the refuge, especially any that may affect your hunting opportunities. And, if you can spare the time, ask what you and/or your hunting club can do as volunteers on the refuge to enhance hunting opportunities or assist in wildlife conservation projects.
Refuges Undergoing the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP)Process:
* 11/16/00 Proposed Marin Baylands National Wildlife Refuge, California
FWS has announced the beginning of the CCP process for the proposed refuge located on the west side of San Pablo Bay and San Francisco Bay from the Petaluma River to an area south of the city of Mill Valley. For information contact the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex at 510-792-0222 or the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge at 707-562-3000.
* 11/03/00 National Wildlife Refuges, North Carolina
FWS is preparing CCPs for Alligator River, Currituck, Mackay Island, Mattamuskeet, Pocosin Lakes, Roanoke River, and Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuges. For further information call 252-482-2364.
* 10/20/00 Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, Franklin County, Vermont
FWS has gathered public comment on management of the refuge. Nearly half of those responding to the refuge`s questionnaire said they are hunters. The top recommendation for improving the refuge`s vision statement and goals was to focus more on the role of hunting, fishing and trapping. The next step is the development of a CCP expected to be completed for public review in the fall of 2001. Address comments, questions, and requests for more information to the Refuge Manager at 371 North River St., Swanton VT 05488-8148 or phone 802-868-4781.
* 12/6/01 Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, Austin, Texas and Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Sasabe, Arizona
FWS issued draft CCPs for both refuges. Public comment is due March 5 to Mr. Tom Baca, Natural Resource Planner, Division of Refuges, U.S.FWS, P.O. Box 1306, Albuguerque, NM 87103-1306.
* 10/24/2000 Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, Walden, Colorado
FWS announced its intent to prepare a CCP for the refuge. For information pertaining to this process, contact Bernardo Garza, Planning Team Leader, Division of Planning, P.O. Box 25486, DFC, Denver, CO 80225.
* 12/8/01 Proposed Grand Kankakee Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Northwestern Indiana and Northeastern Illinois
FWS announced its intent to prepare a CCP for this proposed refuge. For information pertaining to this process, contact the refuge at 219-935-3411.
* 1/9/01 North Platte National Wildlife Refuge, Scottsbluff, Nebraska
FWS has published a draft CCP. Public comments are due by February 8. To submit comments or for further information contact Brad McKinney, Refuge Manager, U.S.FWS, North Platte National Wildlife Refuge, 115 Railway Street, Suite C109, Scottsbluff, NE 69363-1346.
* 1/12/01 Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex
The Complex includes five refuges: Block Island, Ninigret, John H. Chafee, Sachuest Point, and Trustom Pond. FWS has released a draft CCP. For further information contact the Rhode Island Refuges Planning Team at 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, MA 01035-9589.
* 2/7/01 Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and several other refuges in North Carolina.
FWS is conducting public scoping meetings to obtain suggestions and information on issues to include in the preparation of CCPs for Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Daare County, NC: Mattamuskeet and Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuges in Hyde County, NC; and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Tyrrell County, NC. For information on the February meetings or on the scoping process call 252/337-2364. Information can be found on the following website: http://rtncf-rci.ral.r4.fws.gov
* 2/13/01 Ohio Rivers Islands National Wildlife Refuge, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio
FWS released a draft CCP for public review and comment. The deadline is March 31, 2001. Comments should be addressed to Thomas Bonetti, Planning Team Leader; Northeast Regional Office; 300 Westgate Center Drive; Hadley, MA 01035-9589. For further information, call 413-253-8307.
* 2/15/01 Monomoy, Nantucket, and Nomans Land Island National Wildlife Refuges, Massachusetts
FWS is gathering information necessary to prepare a CCP for three of the eight unit Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Comments should be submitted to the Refuge Manager, Great Meadow National Wildlife Refuge, Weir Hill Road, Sudbury, MA 01776. For further information call 978-443-4661.
* 2/16/01 Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, Michigan
A draft CCP has been published for this refuge and written comments are being accepted until April 11, 2001. Comments should be addressed to Doug Spencer, Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, 6975 Mower Road, Saginaw, MI 48601. For further information call 517-777-5930.
* 3/29/01 Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona
FWS has extended the comment period on the draft CCP until April 19. Comments may be sent to Ms. Yvette Truitt, FWS, Division of Refuges and Wildlife, P.O.Box 1306, Albuquerque, NM 87103.
* 4/24/01 Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia
FWS is gathering information necessary to prepare a CCP for each of the refuges. Suggestions and information is being sought on the scope of issues to include in the environmental documents. Comments or requests for more information should be addressed to: Refuge Manager, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Route 2, Box 3330, Folkston, GA 31537, (912) 496-7366, http://okefenokee.fws.gov.
* 4/25/01 Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois
FWS has announced its intent to prepare a CCP and is in the process of gathering information from the public to help guide the agency in the planning process. Call the office of the Planning Coordinator at 618-997-3344 for further information.
* 5/4/01 Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota
FWS has announced its intent to prepare a CCP and is inviting public comment. Comments should be addressed to the Refuge Manager, 17076 293rd Ave., Zimmerman, MN 56346. Call 763-389-3323 for further information.
* 5/7/01 Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges, Florida
A draft CCP has been made available for public review and comment. Comments and requests for copies of the draft plans should be addressed to Mr. Kenneth Litzenberger, Refuge Manager, 16450 NW 13th Place, Chiefland, Florida 32626 or by calling 352-493-0238.
* 5/7/01 Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina
FWS has announced its intent to prepare a CCP and is inviting public comment. Comments and requests for information should be addressed to D.A. Brown, M.S., P.W.S., 1106 West Queen St., P.O. Box 329, Edenton, NC 27932. Call 252-482-2364 for further information.
* 5/25/2001 Mackay Island and Currituck National Wildlife Refuges, North Carolina
FWS is gathering information necessary to prepare a CCP. The public is invited to submit suggestions and other input into the planning process by June 25, 2001. Address your comments to: D.A. Brown, 1106 West Queen St., PO Box 329, Edenton, NC 27932. * 6/11/01 Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge, California
FWS is gathering information necessary to prepare a CCP. The public is invited to submit suggestions and other input into the planning process by July 11, 2001. Address your comments to: Sacramento River NWR, California/Nevada Refuge Planning Office, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2800 Cottage Way, W-1916, Sacramento, CA 95825.
* 6/28/01 Rydell National Wildlife Refuge, Erskine, Minnesota
FWS has published a draft CCP for public review until August 15. Comments should be address to the Rydell National Wildlife Refuge, Route 3, BOx 105, Erskine, MN 56535. For further information, call 218/687-2229.
* 6/26/01 Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge, Concordia Parish, Louisiana
FWS has made available a draft CCP for public comment until August 13. Comments should be sent to the Bayou Cocodrie Naitonal Wildlife Refuge, P.O. Box 1772, Ferriday, LA 71334 or by calling 318-336-7119.
* 6/29/01 Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge, Marion, Montana
FWS is gathering information in preparation of a CCP. Comments may be submitted to the Refuge Planning Team, P.O. Box 25486, DFC, Denver, CO 80225.