Monday, November 17, 2008

FWS Notices New Wilderness Wildlife Refuge Stewardship Policy

Nov 17: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a notice in the Federal Register [73 FR 67876-67882] announcing an updated and revised Wilderness Stewardship Policy which they say will improve the National Wildlife Refuge System's stewardship of lands designated as wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964. The policy is the Service's first revision since the original Wilderness Stewardship Policy was issued in 1986.

FWS said the new Wilderness Stewardship Policy clarifies that refuge visitors may use only non-motorized and non-mechanized equipment in designated wilderness areas while hunting, fishing or enjoying other appropriate wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities. In addition, it provides Service managers with the first-ever guidance on wilderness review of Refuge System lands to help them determine whether those lands should be recommended for wilderness designation. Such reviews are primarily conducted during the Comprehensive Conservation Planning process, which establishes long-term management objectives for each refuge.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall said, "Our Wilderness Stewardship Policy reconfirms the Service's commitment to protecting and preserving the wilderness resource while accomplishing the mission of the Refuge System. This policy will preserve the wild and natural character of wilderness within the Refuge System while providing opportunities for the public to enjoy the solitude of these special areas." Among its many other provisions, the Wilderness Stewardship Policy also provides guidance on development of wilderness stewardship plans and clarifies when prohibited uses may be necessary for wilderness preservation.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 established the National Wilderness Preservation System and a process for Federal land management agencies -- including the Service -- to recommend wilderness areas to Congress. Only Congress has the authority to designate lands and water as wilderness. Congress has designated more than 20 million acres on 63 national wildlife refuges as wilderness. Nearly 20 percent of the 107-million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System is on Refuge System lands.

FWS said the updated Wilderness Stewardship Policy will ensure consistency with several new management policies established in recent years -- including those governing the Mission, Goals and Refuge Purposes, Appropriate Refuge Uses, and Wildlife-Dependent Recreation -- as well as the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, as amended by the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act. It also reflects other developments in the policy and science of managing the Refuge System and wilderness.

According to a release from FWS, some provisions of the policy are: (1) The policy affirms that the Refuge System generally will not modify ecosystems, such as creating new impoundments, species population levels or natural processes in refuge wilderness unless doing so maintains or restores biological integrity, diversity or environmental health that has been degraded or is necessary to protect or recover threatened or endangered species. (2) The policy guides the determination of whether a proposed refuge management activity, such as protecting habitat for a threatened or endangered species, constitutes the minimum requirement for managing a refuge as wilderness.

(3) The policy permits appropriate recreational uses in wilderness areas in accordance with the Refuge Improvement Act, if such wildlife-dependent recreation (hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, environmental education and interpretation) is non-motorized, non-mechanized and compatible with the refuge purpose and mission. (4) The policy describes the process that the Refuge System follows in conducting wilderness reviews in accordance with the refuge planning process as outlined in the planning policy. (5) The policy addresses special provisions of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act for wilderness stewardship in Alaska.

Congress has designated 75 wilderness areas on 63 units of the National Wildlife Refuge System in 26 states. About 90 per cent -- or 18.6 million acres -- of Refuge System wilderness is in Alaska. The remaining 2.5 million wilderness acres are in the lower 48 states. This represents approximately 22% of the National Wilderness Preservation System (over 106 million acres), that the Refuge System administers in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Forest Service. The largest wilderness area in the Refuge System is 8 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Access a release from FWS (click here). Access the FR announcement (click here). Access the new Wilderness Stewardship Policy (click here). Access the National Wildlife Refuge System website for links to additional information (click here). Access the Wilderness Information Network for more information (click here). [*Land]