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Perpetrators, Not Taxpayers, Should Pay – the Resource Protection Act

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 9.43.04 AMWildlife refuge signs spray painted with obscene graffiti greeted Bill McCoy, last June when he arrived for work at Indiana’s Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge. He often finds dumped construction debris, tires, empty six-packs and other discards on refuge lands.

At another wildlife refuge, someone illegally bulldozed almost a mile of road and nearly two acres of hardwood bottomland habitat, leveling over 400 deciduous trees. The perpetrator also burned several hundred yards on refuge land and dammed a creek, damages exceeding $175,000.

Burned picnic tables, a pipe-bombed toilet, vegetation ripped out of the ground, signs punctured by bullets, bashed kiosks, chemical spills – these are all real examples of vandalism inflicted on national wildlife refuges.

Current law leaves the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “holding the bag,” an empty bag in fact because the Service cannot recover the costs of repairing damage and destruction to its wildlife refuges. If responsible parties are convicted, civil fines go into the general U.S. treasury, not to the Service. The only way it can be reimbursed is by additional appropriations from Congress.

To solve this problem, Congress is considering a bill, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Resource Protection Act (S. 2560). Under the bill, the Service could seek compensation and recover some costs to restore, replace or acquire equivalent resources when refuge property is damaged.

The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee held a hearing on the bill in July, a step toward passage, and advocates are pushing for Congressional approval in the “lame duck” session, starting November 12. The provision was also included in the Senate’s version of the FY 2016 Interior appropriations bill, which will also be considered in the lame duck.

The Taxpayer Pays

Wooden signs, two feet by three feet, cost around $300 each to replace says McCoy, a refuge manager who has worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service for 45 years. Large wildlife refuge entry signs, shot through with bullet holes, can cost $600-$700 per sign. He had to hire a truck and winch to pull 45 tires out of the river. He pays the local landfill $35 per truckload for the debris he has to haul there. “Everyday roadside dumping never seems to stop,” he commented recently.

These costs add up over the nearly half a billion acres of public land and waters for which the Refuge System is responsible. In 2010, the Refuge System had 39 reported arson offenses resulting in losses of almost $850,000. In 2011, the Refuge System saw 2,400 vandalism offenses totaling $404,000 in loss, a 33-percent jump over 2010. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for these crimes? Perpetrators should pay for the damage they cause.

Eating into Services 

It’s not just an issue of cost. Repairing the damage takes resources away from the Service’s core responsibilities and programs. Without this bill, the agency has to swallow the costs out of its operations and maintenance budget, which already faces a shortfall of over $400 million each year. It is unfair to expect refuge managers to use funds designated for wildlife habitat protection to pay for irresponsible behavior and damages that refuge staff do not cause. Refuge managers should not have to curb or sacrifice programs because of vandals’ reckless pranks and shenanigans.

Empowering an agency to recover this kind of injury has precedent. The U.S. National Park Service has had authority since 1996 to seek compensation when park resources are harmed through vandalism, encroachment or chemical spills. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has similar authority for its marine sanctuaries.

Congress should extend the same authority to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to save taxpayer dollars and to save our natural resources. At a time when the Refuge System has already experienced a 20-percent cut in funding in just four years, every dollar counts.

 

Please take action today. Join our Refuge Action Network, and send your elected lawmakers in Congress a letter urging them to pass the Resources Protection Act.

 

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2014/10/perpetrators-not-taxpayers-should-pay-the-resource-protection-act/

3 comments

  1. RCS Optics says:

    Please take the time to contact your legislators letting them know how important it is that destruction to Refuge property and grounds should not go unanswered and that perpetrators should be held accountable.

    It is very easy to do. Join the Refuge Action Network today.

  2. Dale E Enlow says:

    I sent e-mails to Senators McCain and Flake and Representative Paul Gosar today in support of this legislation. I needed to personalize my letters to reflect my personal knowledge of the need for this legislation as a retired (26+ years) law enforcement officer of the NWRS. The last 7 years as a Zone Officer working closely with the Assistant US Attorney’s Office prosecuting violations of the NWR Administration Act. I saw firsthand the inequity with our sister agency (NPS) in the ability to receive direct restitution.
    PS I would appreciate the ability to “customize” our responses thru the Refuge Action Network as I feel these would get more favorable attention from our legislators than the standard form letter.

    1. National Wildlife Refuge Association says:

      Mr. Enlow,

      Thank you for sending those letters in! Your personal experience tells a unique story that will mean a lot to your Senators and Representative. We have updated our Action Center to allow for editing the messages sent.

      We appreciate your support.

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