Washington, DC — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in discussions to surrender management of a national wildlife refuge and turn it over to a state agency, according to an agency email released today by the Blue Goose Alliance and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The groups are expressing concern about both the legality and wisdom of dismantling the National Wildlife Refuge System in a letter they also released today.
Established 50 years ago, the Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge is a prime bird-watching site, providing spring and fall habitats for an array of migratory species. Covering nearly 11,000 acres, Kirwin NWR is the oldest and one of only four national wildlife refuges located in the State of Kansas.
The National Wildlife Refuge System now encompasses 542 refuges covering more than 96 million acres. An action by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to divest itself of a refuge would be without modern precedent. Nonetheless, according to an FWS email from its Midwest Regional Office —
“[W] e have assessed the management potential of the Refuge for migratory birds and threatened and endangered species (federal ‘trust resources’). The fundamental biology indicates that the management potential for trust resources is limited. Consequently, our Regional Office has determined that it is appropriate to discuss future management options with the Kansas Dept. of Wildlife and Parks and the US Bureau of Reclamation.”
“This stated rationale for dropping Kirwin out of the National Wildlife Refuge System could be applied to scores of refuges across the country,” commented PEER Refuge Keeper Gene Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manger.
Although Kirwin NWR is suffering from years of drought affecting much of Kansas and states further south it remains the only water/uplands habitat in a wide surrounding area committed to refuge purposes. Transferring the refuge to the state could allow commercial and recreational uses incompatible with providing suitable wildlife habitat.
In a joint letter to FWS officials, Bill Reffalt, President of the Blue Goose Alliance, a conservation organization dedicated to strengthening America’s Wildlife Refuge System and to creating a separate National Wildlife Refuge Service, argued that “efforts to remove Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge [violate] Refuge System law, would set an unwise and dangerous precedent, do not give adequate consideration to the contributions Kirwin makes to its establishing purposes and the NWRS mission, and would provide no savings while contributing to a loss of scarce water-related prairie habitats.”