Price No Object for Federal Refuge Land Purchases

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Price No Object for Federal Refuge Land Purchases

Consideration of Land Costs “Optimizes” Both Economic and Ecological Benefits

Washington, DC — The principal system for selecting lands to add to federal refuges does not factor realty costs into its equation, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  As a result, the Fish & Wildlife Service is not getting the biggest bang for its shrinking land acquisition buck.

The Land Acquisition Priority Systems (LAPS) used by the Fish & Wildlife Service to decide which lands best enhance its National Wildlife Refuge System rates the conservation benefits of various parcels but does include the price-per-acre in its calculations.  According to documents obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act, the agency has wrestled over the past decade with staff recommendations to include considerations of cost in order to “optimize” land acquisition benefits.

Briefing papers indicate that factoring in land costs would –

  • Increase the total area of lands that could be devoted to wildlife conservation;
  • Maximize the overall conservation values achieved through land acquisition; and
  • Stretch declining acquisition budgets.  Federal Land & Water Conservation Fund revenue to purchase these lands has fallen by more than a third in the last five years.

“Ecological value cannot be completely divorced from economics,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who today released a letter to Director Dan Ashe to start including costs in LAPS. “Including land costs in the acquisition calculus is a long overdue commonsense and practical step.”

Other federal agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Reclamation (which like the Fish & Wildlife Service is part of the Interior Department), as well as land conservancy organizations, already use cost as an explicit component of their land acquisition systems.

The National Wildlife Refuge System now includes more than 150 million acres within more than 550 refuges.  The agency has spent more than a billion dollars over the past decade in land purchases to supplement the refuge system.  Severe cutbacks in discretionary domestic spending slated for 2013 are expected to seriously reduce refuge land acquisition capacity.

“Like other federal agencies, the Service needs to figure out how to do more with fewer resources,” Ruch added. “The Fish & Wildlife Service can no longer afford a Cadillac approach on a Yugo budget.”


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