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Charting the Future of the Refuge System.

On October 19-21, 1998, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will host the first Service-wide National Wildlife Refuge System Conference in Keystone, Colorado. The conference is being convened to chart the future course for the Nation's spectacular network of more than 500 refuges and the fish and wildlife resources they support.

One of the biggest goals of the conference is to develop a comprehensive strategy for improving management of the Refuge System. Called "Fulfilling the Promise: Serving Wildlife, Habitat, and People through Effective Leadership," the strategy will make a series of recommendations in the areas of wildlife and habitat conservation, employee development, and public use and communications. Representatives of all FWS programs are on work groups developing the strategy, hundreds of employees commented on the first draft, and a second draft will be available for further employee comment in mid-September. In addition, representatives of all FWS programs will attend the conference.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is at a crossroads as it approaches its centennial anniversary in 2003. It faces growing demands for public uses, inadequate funding for conservation and visitor programs, and lack of recognition by the public. While all have threatened the sustainability and growth of this tremendous wildlife conservation legacy, the refuge system's future is looking brighter than ever before.

The groundwork for change was laid last year when the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 was signed into law. For the first time, this law gave the FWS clear, comprehensive guidance on how the refuge system should be managed and used by the public. This "organic law" paves the way for effective, consistent management of the refuge system, and the question of how best to implement the act will be a key component of the conference.

The conference attendees will be asked to develop a strategy for addressing key issues raised by the organic law in such areas as leadership, wildlife and habitat conservation, and "people issues" (e.g., public use and communications).

In addition to the organic law, other milestones were reached last year, including an historic funding increase to address millions of dollars worth of maintenance and operations needs. More than 150 community partners now support refuges, serving as advocates in surrounding communities and bolstering vital conservation programs and visitor services. The National Wildlife Refuge System is enjoying more public support than ever before, and deciding how to maximize the new opportunities presented by this growing support will be an important conference issue.

Going back to the Dust Bowl Days, the refuge system has embodied a proud tradition of wildlife conservation. Today, a trend toward ecosystem restoration on refuges is growing stronger than ever before. America's wildlife refuges are intended as places where all wildlife, from trout and turtles to cactus and caribou, are to reign supreme.

Rick Coleman is Chief of the FWS Division of Refuges in Arlington, Virginia. For more information on the conference, contact the Division of Refuges at (703) 358-1744.
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Author:Coleman, Rick
Publication:Endangered Species Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 1998
Words:492
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