Oct. 30, 2006 – The US Fish & Wildlife service plans to tighten the fiscal belt around 4 million acres of protected wilderness in the southeastern United States by cutting crucial staff.
The Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) says the cuts are necessary due to financial constraints. The agency plans to eliminate 79 full-time positions from field personnel, such as park rangers and public-outreach staff. FWS says it has already eliminated 68 positions over the past two years and the combined cuts would constitute 20 percent of the agencyâ€™s field workforce.
According to the FWS, the impacts of the planned cuts include; reduced capacity for repairs and upkeep of facilities; the closure of certain areas to the public due to lack of staffing; and the elimination of the biological program at Alabamaâ€™s Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge, which could impact as many as 15 threatened and endangered species. Several refuges would experience reductions in environmental education programs for school children and other visitors.
Conservationists criticized the slated cuts, which follow similar proposed staff reductions in the Northeast refuge region, as part of a trend of eroding public services that could eventually threaten all of the countryâ€™s refuges. The Wilderness Society called the plan "a bleak preview of a National Wildlife Refuge System starved for funding."