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Washington, DC – The National Wildlife Refuge System is suffering from structural problems, poor departmental leadership, and diversion of resources away from needed conservation work, according to results of a survey of refuge managers released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) is made up of more than 500 sanctuaries and is contained organizationally within the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). The refuges provide critical habitat for endangered species, haven for migrating water fowl and irreplaceable laboratories for the study of wildlife.

The PEER survey consists of questions composed by refuge managers themselves and sent to all 380 managers (some units are “complexed” or combined). Three out of five (61%) managers completed the survey.

An overwhelming percentage (greater than 95 %) of survey respondents call for structural changes to give more autonomy to the NWRS. More than half voted for a separate refuge chain- of-command while another third preferred that the NWRS become a separate agency entirely removed from the Fish & Wildlife Service, a proposal advanced last month by the National Audubon Society. Only 1% of responding managers endorsed the proposals of FWS Director Jamie Clark for elevating the NWRS in the hierarchy of the agency’s Washington Office. Strong majorities cited the disadvantages to refuges from the current structure:

* Nearly nine out of ten managers believe the current structure means that refuges cannot “successfully compete for funding and staff positions” within FWS;

* Four out of five feel that FWS leadership regards refuges “as subordinate to agency goals rather than ends in themselves”; and

* More than three out of five do not believe that FWS leadership “listens to the opinions of refuge managers.”

“The survey results suggest that the refuge system is clearly moving in the wrong direction,” stated PEER Refuge Keeper Gene Hocutt, a 29 year agency veteran who has managed refuges across the country, who oversaw the survey. “There is a widespread perception that the parent Fish & Wildlife Service has lost touch with the concerns and needs of refuge field personnel.”

* Nearly two out of three responding managers contend that the NWRS is not “moving in the right direction”;

* More than nine out of ten managers feel their refuge is not “adequately staffed to meet its core conservation mission”;

* Nearly four out of five agree with the statement that “Increasingly, decisions affecting my refuge are made by persons without adequate training or background in refuge management.”

In each of the past two years, FWS has reorganized its Regional Offices to foster something it calls the “Ecosystem Approach.” Survey respondents were not sanguine about these moves:

* Nearly four out of five respondents feel that the recent reorganization has not “improved communication” as promised while more than two out of three say they do not “understand the objectives that [FWS] is trying to achieve with the Ecosystem Approach”;

* More than four out of five think the reorganization has resulted in “too many layers of decision-makers in the Regional Office” while nearly three out of five are convinced that the reorganization has drained resources from the field and caused staff positions to go “unfilled” on their refuges.

The PEER survey also invited refuge managers to submit essays about how the NWRS could best be improved. Today PEER is releasing those essays, redacted for identifying information, along with full survey results to all managers as well as top FWS officials.

See the full survey results.

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