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Friends Call: What You Can Do Now To Help The Refuge System!

What You Can Do Now To Help The Refuge System

The National Wildlife Refuge Association and Coalition for Refuge Friends and Advocates held a conference call on June 6th to discuss what Friends can do to help the Refuge System during the Summer Recess.

Topics included an update on appropriations, legislation and administrative actions; what you can do in your community; how you can help the Arctic Refuge as the administration moves forward with plans to drill for oil and gas; and local issues.

 

You can listen to the call in its entirety via our Refuge Radio podcast.  But if you’re a reader more than a listener, below is a summary of topics discussed with links to additional information requested by participants on the call.  

Legislative Update:

  • Congress is currently working on their proposals for Fiscal Year 2019
    • Many refuges suffer from lack staff and resources  – this almost always comes down to a lack of funding
    • House Appropriations Committee held a full committee markup today (June 6); many amendments aimed at making the bill better, failed. The bill now goes to the House floor for a final vote. Include in the mark:
    • Senate has not had a full committee mark up yet so we do not have details about their recommendations
  • FY18 decided a few months ago
    • Provision to give USFWS an additional $50 million to address the backlog
      • View the list of projects
      • One project was $4 million at the Arctic Refuge for preparation for oil and gas exploration. Our understanding is that some of this is ok, but we are concerned that the infrastructure is being used to facilitate faster development. (see more about Arctic below)
    • A great example of how partnerships with local communities can result in benefits for a refuge is the Wheeler Refuge in Alabama that received $5.4 m dollars for improvements to increase access and management capabilities. (see more below)
  • No FWS Director has been nominated yet
  • FWS is working hard to implement various Secretarial Orders (Administration sets the tone)
    • Increased recreational access
    • Increased hunting and fishing opportunities
    • We will conduct a separate call about this
  • Senator Mitch Mc Connell said there will be no Senate August Recess
    • This is a purely political move to hamper Dems from campaigning in tough elections. Not unexpected, Dems would do the same thing if the situation were reversed. Just politics. But it means we need to understand that if you are trying to get your Senator out to your refuge; which is arguably the most important thing you can possibly do to benefit your refuge – show decision makers the amazing things going on at your refuge.
    • Congress may actually get things done — this could be good or bad
      • They could pass appropriations bills on time
        • This would help provide certainty for refuges and allow them to get their money on time
  • Santa Ana Refuge, TX
    • There is a funding prohibition through FY18 that states that no money shall be spent to build a wall at the refuge – this expires on Sept 30, 2018.
    • FY19 House bill does not include this prohibition – could be added later.

What can you do now

  • Get major decision makers at all levels out to your refuge – it can take years of building relationships
  • If your member of Congress or staff comes to your refuge, make it relevant for them.
  • Show them what is going on at your refuge and what increased funding could mean, show them great things that you are doing, show them challenges that could be overcome if you had more funding.
  • Find out what the congressman is interested in – environmental education, hunting, heath care, social justice, etc.  — show them something that piques their interest by knowing their passions and causes. FWS does a great job in making visits relevant to visitors.
  • The visit doesn’t have to include an advocacy ask, it is more important to show that the refuge is a community asset. (Note – if you have entered into a Partnership Agreement with the Service at your refuge, and you are on a tour with a member of Congress or their staff AND YOU ARE OFFICIALLY REPRESENTING YOUR FRIENDS GROUP, you are prohibited from lobbying that member or staffer on the refuge. However, you are certainly able to answer any question they ask – answering questions of legislators or their staff, even if your answer is that your refuge needs more funding, is NOT lobbying, you are providing answers to an elected official who is requesting information.) If you have any questions, please email Desiree.
  • Great example of community seeing the refuge as a community asset:  Wheeler Refuge in Alabama
    • Refuge and Friends made relationships with city and county leaders → who eventually lobbied on behalf of the refuge → huge impact resulting in language in the appropriations bill and $5.4 million being allocated directly to the refuge for facility improvements.
      • Support comes from all political stripes – in this case, they are conservative Republicans
    • This is easier to do at some refuges than others but it won’t work if you don’t try.
    • Local leaders are the ones who can help carry your water
  • Put in requests to Congressional delegation as well as local, county and city leaders and do it in coordination with your refuge staff.
  • Write a letter to your congressional delegation → urge them to support increased funding for the Refuge System and in turn, your specific refuge
    • This is the time to ask!
  • Media
    • Letter to editor
      • If you have any contacts with a local reporter, see if they would be interested in opportunities at your refuge – could be recreational or volunteer.
      • Spotlight on a volunteer and what they are doing

 

  • The Refuge Association has a Recess Action Kit that we will share with Friends next week, it will have sample letters to Congress, letters to request decision makers come to your refuge, letters to the editor, and more.

What you can do for the Arctic Refuge

  • A provision in the tax law opened Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling
    • The law changed the purpose of the refuge to oil and gas – never been done before
  • Many members of Congress may not have known it was in there
    • Lost many people who have always been against drilling in the Arctic because of this
  • Our only way to make sure drilling never occurs is to repeal this portion of the tax law.
    • There are currently bills in the House and Senate aimed at doing this.
  • A recent study by Yale and George Mason University shows that the majority of Americans oppose drilling in the Arctic.
    • Scoping:
      • The administration is moving forward at a breakneck pace but they must follow specific processes to do so.
      • The Bureau of Land Management is holding scoping hearings for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposed oil drilling leases on the Coastal Palin of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This proposed sale is an assault on the Arctic Refuge wilderness, wildlife, and the Gwich’in people. It is crucial that we make our voices heard to stop this desecration that the conservation community has successfully fought off for almost 40 years until pro-drillers in Congress and the administration used a back-door method by attaching this provision to tax reform legislation. The BLM must receive comments by June 19th.
      • The Refuge Association will be putting out an alert soon, but you can submit your own via this website:  Or, you can email comments directly to the BLM.
      • We encourage Friends and advocates comment on the need for studies of birds, wilderness, the Gwich’in way of life, the porcupine caribou herd, climate change and the changed purpose of the refuge to include oil and gas drilling. Below are sample topics to include in comments:
        • Sacred area → would be a tremendous blow to the Gwich’in and wildlife
        • Would be a spiderweb all across the coastal plain
        • Producing more oil exacerbates global warming
        • Problems for people who live in and around the refuge
        • Permafrost
        • Release huge amounts of methane gas
        • US and Canada entered into an agreement to protect the porcupine caribou herd
      • Consider sending a copy of your scoping comments to your members of Congress.
        • The only way to truly stop this is to repeal this portion of the tax law and to do that, we need Congressional support.
        • Looking for a full repeal in 2021, unlikely to occur in 2019.
    • DOI is pushing to put out a draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in 6 months which is highly optimistic given the Arctic CCP and Environmental Statement took about 4 years to do
      • The administration will do everything they can to create shortcuts and jam this through

Local Issues

  • Ding Darling, FL
    • Contaminated water from Lake Okeechobee coming to refuge
  • Could Congress change the purpose of other refuges since they did it with the Arctic?
    • Yes, Congress can do this and the administration can make the purpose of a refuge when it is established.
    • Could have implications for Friends Groups → could be forced into supporting things a group doesn’t support.  
  • Florida Panther, FL
    • Refuge doesn’t own mineral rights so fracking could occur on the refuge’s border, so far it has not had enough support to happen.  
    • Not uncommon for the federal gov not to own the mineral rights to their refuge

 

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2018/06/friends-call-what-you-can-do-now-to-help-the-refuge-system/

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