H.R. 3979

Keep America's Refuges Operational Act

Statement for the Record
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior
Prepared for the House Committee on Natural Resources
Subcommittee on Federal Lands Hearing On
H.R. 3979, Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act

November 15, 2017

The Administration supports H.R. 3979, Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act, which would reauthorize authority that underpins important volunteer programs in the National Wildlife Refuge System (Refuge System) within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). We appreciate the bipartisan support of Congressman Jeffries, Congressman Wittman, and the bill’s other cosponsors for the Refuge System. The Refuge System’s statutory mission is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and, where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans. National wildlife refuges are found in every U.S. state, where they provide world class and accessible hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities.

Refuge volunteer, partner, and education programs are key to the Service’s administration of the Refuge System. These programs are authorized through the National Wildlife Refuge System Volunteer and Community Partnerships Enhancement Act of 1998 (Enhancement Act; P.L. 105-242), which amended the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 (16 U.S.C. 742f) to promote volunteer programs, community partnerships, and educational activities for the benefit of National Wildlife Refuges. This statutory authority was reauthorized by the National Wildlife Refuge Volunteer Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-327), which authorized appropriations of $2,000,000 for each fiscal year 2004 through 2009 for these activities. In turn, the National Wildlife Refuge Volunteer Improvement Act of 2011 (P.L. 111-357) reauthorized appropriations for fiscal years 2011 through 2014.

H.R. 3979 would amend the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 to reauthorize appropriations for volunteer programs, community partnerships, and education programs for the benefit of national wildlife refuges for fiscal years 2018 through 2022.

The authority provided by the Enhancement Act has enabled the Service to expand its refuge volunteer programs, partner with local communities, and encourage environmental education efforts. The Enhancement Act, as amended, also helps the Service meet the Congressional mandates provided in the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-57) by strengthening public involvement, partnerships, and education that support the six priority wildlife-dependent public uses of refuges: hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, environmental education, and interpretation.

“Working with others” is a primary component of the Service’s conservation mission. We recognize that to be successful in conserving wildlife for future generations we must inspire the American people to connect with nature and participate as stewards of our system of lands. Volunteers play a vital role in helping communities establish this connection to nature. They are individuals inspired to serve their communities and the Nation, parents who want to be good stewards of the land and set examples for their children, retired people willing to share their knowledge and serve as mentors for the next generation, and concerned citizens who want to learn more about conservation and how they can make a difference.

Volunteers enhance the capacity of the Service to administer the Refuge System for the public. They donate millions of hours of their time each year to help implement conservation measures, provide environmental education and recreational opportunities to the American people, organize and carry out special events, and perform many other valuable services for fish and wildlife conservation and for the Refuge System and its visitors. In fiscal year 2016, more than 40,000 volunteers contributed over 1.3 million hours of work to benefit Service programs. The economic value of their work in fiscal year 2016 was $31.8 million, valuable work that would not have been accomplished without them. 

The Enhancement Act also facilitates community-based partnerships with refuge Friends organizations. These locally established, nonprofit citizen organizations share common organizational missions for wildlife and their local refuge. They help refuges build strong connections and partnerships within their local communities and fund on-the-ground conservation work, estimated at $15 million annually.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a statement on H.R. 3979, Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act. We would be happy to provide any additional information requested by the Committee.  

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