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Nation’s six most threatened national wildlife refuges named in 2005 State of the System Report


Buffer zones immediately surrounding refuges at great risk

Six of the nation’s 545 National Wildlife Refuges are at severe risk, according to the 2005 State of the System Report, released earlier today.

The six most threatened National Wildlife Refuges in the United States are: Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), North Carolina; Horicon NWR, Wisconsin; Stone Lakes NWR, California; White River NWR, Arkansas; Alaska Maritime NWR, Alaska; and Desert NWR, Nevada.

The six sites were named for a variety of reasons, such as increasing human populations and planned development, but all face threats to their "buffer zones." Buffer zones, or the lands immediately surrounding a refuge, are critical to the protection of wildlife because they provide animals with additional resources needed for survival.

The State of the System report indicates that buffer zones actually have more agriculture, subdivision and other human activity than the national average. In other words, there is more development near these highly sensitive refuges than on less sensitive areas further away from them.

"Buffer zones are absolutely critical to the National Wildlife Refuge System," said Evan Hirsche, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, which issued the report. "Since many of the lands within buffer zones are privately held, we must work closely with private landowners to ensure the long-term protection of these national treasures."

The six refuges were named most threatened because:

  • Pocosin Lakes NWR (North Carolina): The proposed construction of a military outlying landing field on a 33,000-acre site just five miles outside the refuge boundary puts the entire refuge at risk.
  • Horicon NWR (Wisconsin): The proposed construction of 133 wind turbines within 1.2 miles of the Horicon Marsh infringes upon the refuge’s buffer zone. The 400-foot turbines’ giant arms would circle in the airspace where birds fly, placing them at significant risk.
  • Stone Lakes NWR (California): The newly incorporated city of Elk Grove, which has begun to envelop the refuge’s eastern border, is the second fastest-growing city in the nation, according to a U.S. Census report released in July.
  • White River NWR (Arkansas): Rice, long a staple of the region, requires more water than many other crops. To ensure the survival of local rice crops, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is constructing a pumping station capable of sucking water out of the White River and into reservoirs at the rate of more than 1,600 cubic feet per second.
  • Alaska Maritime NWR (Alaska): Cited due to the after effects of a major oil spill that occurred when the Malaysian freighter Selendang Ayu lost power, drifted aground and split in half on December 8, 2004. It represented the worst spill in U.S. marine waters since the Exxon Valdez accident 15 years earlier.
  • Desert NWR (Nevada): The southern boundary of the refuge is about a half-mile from the northern boundary of metropolitan Las Vegas, the third fastest-growing U.S. city. The city’s demand for water has led to calls for drilling wells and extracting scarce water from within this fragile habitat.

The NWRA is urging Congress and the Administration to implement five solutions: strengthening incentives for private landowners to practice conservation; conserving more land through acquisition and easements; allocating more funds at the state level; conducting more research to determine priorities; and establishing preventative systems for shipping disasters near refuges.

The National Wildlife Refuge System contains 545 refuges and 3,000 waterfowl production areas located in all 50 states and several U.S. territories. The refuges help protect 700 bird species, 220 mammal species and 200 kinds of fish, among others.

Brad Phillips | EurekAlert!
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