Report Wildlife refuges need more staff

first_imgPORTLAND — Hundreds of national wildlife refuges that provide critical habitat for migratory birds and other species are crippled by a staffing shortage that has curtailed educational programs, hampered the fight against invasive species and weakened security at facilities that attract nearly 50 million visitors annually, a group of public employees and law enforcement said Wednesday.Staffing at the nation’s 565 wildlife refuges and related properties shrank nearly 15 percent in the past decade, and more than one-third of those locations don’t have any staff on site, the Washington, D.C.-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said. More than half of the refuges no longer have their own managers and have been combined into massive “complexes” that are overseen by someone who might be hundreds of miles away, said Jeff Ruch, executive director of the nonprofit alliance.The report raises concerns about staffing given the recent armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote southeast Oregon. More than two dozen people occupied the refuge’s headquarters in January, launching a 41-day standoff with authorities that ended two weeks after one of them was fatally shot.The crisis set off alarm bells and prompted officials to spend $6 million from an already-tight budget to add law enforcement officers on preserves scattered in remote locations across the West, said David Houghton, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. Many refuges are patrolled by a single officer who covers several states.Some refuge managers have since sent their law enforcement officers to additional training or updated security plans.“People are paying attention to that whole dynamic. I only have one law enforcement officer here and she covers the entire range of refuges, and she’s by herself,” said Michelle Potter, who manages seven refuges and three other habitats in the Long Island, N.Y., area. “I worry about safety.”last_img read more