|Office of the Secretary|
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||Hugh Vickery|
|Feb. 4, 2003||202-501-4633|
Secretary Norton Underscores Commitment
To National Wildlife Refuge System
During Tour Of Nisqually NWR in Washington State
(OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON) Interior Secretary Gale Norton today highlighted
President's Bush strong commitment to the health and conservation of the National
Wildlife Refuge System during a tour of Nisqually NWR outside of Olympia, Washington.
"President Bush is proposing a $25.5 million budget increase for the refuge system for 2004 on top of the historic $56.5 million increase he proposed last year," Norton said. "If Congress enacts this budget, the refuge system's budget will have more than doubled since 1997, allowing refuge managers to address long-standing maintenance needs on refuges as well as improve the management of wildlife and habitat."
At Nisqually, the additional funding proposed by the President will provide refuge staff with an additional $260,000 to tackle pressing projects such as working with the Nisqually Tribe to replace dilapidated fences needed to keep cattle out of fragile estuaries vital to juvenile chinook salmon. They also will be able to repair visitor and education facilities for the 130,000 visitors each year to the refuge.
"One hundred years ago, on March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt founded the National Wildlife Refuge System when he signed an executive order setting aside Pelican Island off the coast of Florida as a bird sanctuary," Norton said. "With these proposed budget increases, President Bush is helping to ensure the refuge system will remain strong for the next 100 years."
Currently there are 540 national wildlife refuges in all 50 states covering 95 million square acres, an area roughly the size of Montana. Refuges are home to 700 species of birds, 200 species of fish, 220 species of mammals, and 250 reptile and amphibian species. These species include more than 250 threatened or endangered plants and animals.
The system also provides 34 million visitors a years with countless opportunities for wildlife-related recreation including fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching.
Highlights of the President''s proposal for the refuge system include:
$5 million for recently established or expanded refuges to address operating needs at recently established and expanded refuges, including Vieques NWR, and Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Complex in California.
$8 million for other priority staffing and project needs.
$3 million for challenge cost share, as part of Cooperative Conservation Initiative.
$2.1 million for invasive species eradication.
$2 million for comprehensive conservation plans.
$1.6 million to strengthen law enforcement.
$500,000 for chronic wasting disease.
The budget also includes an increase of $2 million for a new maintenance management system. This brings the total for refuge maintenance to $109.1 million to continue progress in addressing deferred maintenance. Secretary Norton also noted that the President is proposing to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million to support federal, state and local conservation and recreation programs.
In addition, she cited other proposals in the President's budget that benefit conservation and wildlife-associated recreation in Washington State. These include funds for 12 major maintenance projects at Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park, including rehabilitation of trails and campsites.
The President also is proposing an $8 million increase for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's national fish hatchery system and hatchery program.. In Washington, for example, this will allow biologists to track 150,000 chinook salmon produced at two federal hatcheries, an important step in recovery efforts for this threatened species.