National wildlife refuges face more budget cuts 

An appropriations bill intended to stave off a federal government shutdown would cut spending for public lands such as national wildlife refuges. While such cuts are not unusual, Mike Leahy with the National Wildlife Federation said that they can make it harder for management agencies to protect the wildlife resources and provide outdoor recreation opportunities. […]

National wildlife refuges face more budget cuts 

An appropriations bill intended to stave off a federal government shutdown would cut spending for public lands such as national wildlife refuges.

While such cuts are not unusual, Mike Leahy with the National Wildlife Federation said that they can make it harder for management agencies to protect the wildlife resources and provide outdoor recreation opportunities.

National wildlife refuges, he said, are underfunded, like all public lands, and tend to face more significant cuts than other public lands.

“They all took a bit of a haircut as far as their funding in this coming year with the interior appropriations bill that was just agreed to in Congress, along with some other funding bills,” he said.

National wildlife refuges are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The appropriations package cuts the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget to manage wildlife refuges by 2.6 percent, Leahy said. 

This isn’t as great of a cut as the Bureau of Land Management, but it is bigger than the cuts the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service face.

Leahy said the national wildlife refuges are the only national system of lands in the country committed to wildlife conservation and habitat.

“They’re already running a huge deficit,” he said. “The funding that Congress has been providing is not keeping up with the basic needs of managing the wildlife, managing the habitat, providing visitor services and recreational opportunities like bird watching and hunting and fishing and boating.”

Some of the wildlife refuges in New Mexico include Bosque del Apache, Valle de Oro and Bitter Lake. The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is known for its annual Festival of the Cranes, which celebrates the winter migration of the sandhill crane and brings in birders from around the world.

Each refuge is tailored for a specific purpose such as providing waterfowl a safe place to rest during migration. 

The Bosque del Apache is an example of a refuge set up to provide waterfowl with a safe resting place. Located in Socorro County, the more than 50,000-acre refuge hosts tens of thousands of cranes, geese and ducks that rely upon it as a winter home.

Leahy said the climate crisis as well as the biodiversity crisis give refuges a heightened importance as they help address challenges like habitat fragmentation and provide a buffer from population growth.

Having these places set aside for wildlife provides secondary benefits such as improved water quality and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Many refuges, such as Valle de Oro, are set up in urban communities. Valle de Oro is located in Albuquerque’s South Valley adjacent to an industrial zone.

Leahy said urban wildlife refuges are often one of the few areas where nearby residents can access large swaths of nature and learn to hunt, fish or just watch birds.

People visiting Valle de Oro may see animals like the American kestrel, white-throated swift, great blue heron or the yellow-billed cuckoo, which is listed as a threatened species. 

Leahy said his organization is glad that Congress reached an agreement as to how to fund the federal agencies, but said federal lands have increased in popularity and that the agencies tasked with managing them are already facing challenges meeting the needs of both the public and wildlife.

Unlike national parks that charge entrance fees, national wildlife refuges generally provide free recreational opportunities. Those that do charge fees tend to have low rates of $3-$5 that generally helps cover the costs of maintaining roads or facilities. About 30 of the more than 560 national wildlife refuges charge entrance fees.

The national wildlife refuges benefit from outside organizations that provide volunteer services and fundraising.

The Friends of the Bosque del Apache organize the annual Festival of the Cranes and the funds the group raises help support projects to improve efficient use of water.

But, Leahy said, even the assistance and fundraising that these groups provide is not enough and the refuges need to provide support to the volunteers, including training.

Some of the expenses related to managing wildlife refuges include upkeep of visitor centers and offering educational programing. The refuges also have law enforcement in part to prevent poaching. Additionally, staff and volunteers work on projects that improve habitat.

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