A leaked memo says the Department of the Interior plans to shut down an essential refuge law enforcement program which has been in place for over 115 years.
Chincoteague ponies running wild in Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. These ponies, this lush wildlife refuge and the people who visit it will be in much higher danger after the cutback in law enforcement personnel by the Trump administration. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Refuge
At the same time as the Department of the Interior has significantly increased access for hunting and fishing in America’s Wildlife Refuges, it apparently plans a complete phaseout of the wildlife refuge managers who protect against illegal fishing, trapping, hunting, and polluting on those grounds. The jobs will be completely gone by the end of 2018.
That’s the frightening news according to a September 21 memo written by Cynthia Martinez, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System. That memo, which was discovered by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, says the existing system of dual-officer roles of policing and maintaining the refuges is going to disappear this year. Nothing will be set up to replace the policing function when that happens.
In explaining the need for the change, Martinez said that, “In the 21st century, the threats facing visitors and wildlife are now more complex than ever. Protection of the National Wildlife Refuge System now requires a full-time officer corps that combines a concentrated effort on conservation protection, traditional policing and emergency first response to protect, serve and educate the public and service staff.”
As currently staffed, there are currently 61 dual-function officer slots versus 239 full time officers. The dual-function officers are mostly in place in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. The more experienced dual-function officers are already being phased out. “All other current dual function officers will cease carrying out law enforcement duties on January 1, 2019,” according to Martinez’s memo.
This is happening at the same time that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke just opened up an additional 251,000 acres of refuge land for hunting (at 377 sites) and fishing (at 312 sites) across the country.
The cutback in law enforcement protection is happening at the same time as more people than ever are visiting the refuges – and for multiple reasons. It is of serious concern to many.
As Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, said in a prepared statement, “Because of the multiple public uses and growing visitation to refuges, the law enforcement role in these preserves is complex and increasingly demanding.” Rich went on to say that, “We are worried that the thin green line protecting both visitor safety and refuge resources is about to snap.”
This is all being done quietly and "under the radar" of the public and press. Those concerned about what this could mean to wildlife, the refuges, and safety for all living creatures visiting or living there, should contact PEER, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and your Senators and members of Congress, or take more effective action such as creating a local citizen's refuge protection force.