March Advocacy Report

by Caroline Brower, Vice President for Advocacy

Fish and Wildlife Service Funding Passed

Fish and Wildlife Service Funding Passed  and  Proposed Rule:  National Wildlife Refuge System; Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health. Two big things regarding refuges have hit this week- news regarding federal funding for all refuges across the country, and our advocacy for a proposed rule change strengthening protections for biological integrity and diversity in the refuge system.  

Five months into the fiscal year, Congress finally passed a budget for the Department of the Interior last Friday night, and it was signed into law by the President on Saturday. This bill was not, however, great news for refuges. Friends  has lobbied for a significant budget increase for the Refuge System, for a near tripling of the current, ridiculously low budget that barely allows refuges to keep staff on the ground, never mind do the ground-breaking biological and scientific wildlife work the Refuge System is known for.

While funding for Alaska’s 16 refuges is still to be determined, we know that the National Wildlife Refuge System as a whole took a 14.5 million dollar cut, down about 2% from the previous year budget. This cut, combined with a 5.5% employee pay increase, stresses an already underfunded system of public lands. This dramatically underfunded system is at risk of being unable to accomplish its critical conservation mission.  

Sitting at just above $500 million in annual funding, Congress expects these monies to cover 570 units of the Refuge System across 95 million acres of land and 750 million acres of ocean. 80 million of the land acres are in Alaska, yet staffing and project shortages mean there are so few biologists and pilots that on-refuge research and wildlife surveys frequently do not happen.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently directed its staff to do a study of all refuge acres and come up with a realistic number for how much is actually needed to operate the Refuge System in a way that would maintain healthy lands and waters, robust wildlife populations, and recreational access for people. That number was $1.5 billion, triple the current funding. 

Senator Lisa Murkowski is the Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior lands. She has the ability to assert her desire to see Alaska’s refuge lands funded. Her Anchorage office is (907) 271-3735. Friends are sure that if enough people call her office and ask for increased funding for Alaska’s refuges, she will follow through. 

Proposed Rule:  National Wildlife Refuge System; Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health

Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges submitted comments in collaboration with other Alaska-based conservation groups in support of this proposed rule. We expressed our support for (1) policy updates to better protect wildlife species threatened by climate change, (2) a prohibition on predator control on refuges in Alaska and nationwide, and (3) a requirement for refuges to cooperate with and coordinate with tribal entities and local communities. You can read the entirety of our comments in the attached letter.