Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are talking to members of the governing board of the South Florida Water Management about the need to control invasive exotics on the Refuge, primarily Old World climbing fern or lygodium and Melaleuca trees. Finding the funding to confront this serious problem is still an ongoing challenge, but at least there’s more reason to hope that solutions can be found when folks are talking to each other than when they’re not. The new administration’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018 is not encouraging, recommending a 12% cut, or $1.5 billion, to the Department of the Interior. If this cut were evenly applied to all Interior programs, it would slash $58 million from the National Wildlife Refuge System’s already meager budget of $481.4 million, which funds the management of more than 850 million acres across 566 National Wildlife Refuges in every state in the Union.
The Refuge System’s budget is already down 20% from FY10 levels, and were the Congress to pass the proposed budget into law, Refuges would close, access for hunters, fishers, and birders would be lost, and volunteer programs would be terminated, as wildlife management efforts would proceed at the bare minimum.
On a more positive note, four Western state Senators have introduced a bill, S.509, that would direct the Secretary of the Interior to protect natural resources from invasive species. A companion bill, H.R. 1330 has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s not clear that the bills would provide the needed funding, but just raising the profile of the seriousness of this issue across our public lands is a start.
For all of you who care about protecting our nation’s wildlife and the Refuges they call home, please contact your Congressional representatives and ask them to fund the Refuge System at a more appropriate level. And please call their attention to these newly introduced bills and urge them to sign on as co-sponsors. The more our decision-makers understand the threat that invasives like lygodium pose to our native plants and wildlife, the more reason to hope they will understand the need for funding.