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Wildlife Refuges: Factors and Concerns About Future Sustainability

Wildlife Refuges: Factors and Concerns About Future Sustainability

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Between fiscal years 2002 and 2007, the refuge system experienced funding and staffing level fluctuations, the introduction of several new policy initiatives, and the increased influence of external factors such as extreme weather that threaten wildlife habitat and visitor infrastructure. Although core funding - measured as obligations for refuge operations, maintenance, and fire management - increased each year, inflation-adjusted core funding peaked in fiscal year 2003 at about 391 million dollars - 6.8 percent above fiscal year 2002 funding. Inflation-adjusted core funding ended the period 2.3 percent below peak levels, but 4.3 percent above fiscal year 2002 levels by fiscal year 2007. Core refuge staffing levels peaked in fiscal year 2004 at 3,610 full-time equivalents - 10.0 percent above the fiscal year 2002 level - and then declined more slowly than funding levels. By fiscal year 2007, staffing levels fell to 4.0 percent below peak levels, but 5.5 percent above fiscal year 2002 levels. Through fiscal year 2007, the number of permanent employees utilised by the refuge system declined to 7.5 percent below peak levels. During this period, refuge system officials initiated new policies that: reduced staff positions and reallocated funds and staff among refuges to better align staff levels with funding; required refuge staff to focus on a legislative mandate to complete refuge conservation plans by 2012; shifted to constructing a larger number of smaller visitor structures, such as informational kiosks, and fewer large visitor centres to spread visitor service funds across more refuges; increased the number of full-time law enforcement officers and their associated training and experience requirements; and, resulted in additional administrative work. During this period, external factors that complicate refuge staffs' ability to protect and restore habitat quality also increased, including severe storms and development around refuges.