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Introduction of the National Wildlife Refuge Review Act

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Unknown

Mr. FLEMING. Mr. Speaker, today, I am reintroducing, along with a number of our colleagues, the National Wildlife Refuge Review Act. This legislation is necessary because under current law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can administratively create a national wildlife refuge regardless of size, location or support from the local communities without any input from the Congress.

There may have been some logic in granting this federal agency an unfettered ability to establish a national wildlife refuge in 1903 when the first was created by President Theodore Roosevelt. However, with our national debt exceeding $16.5 trillion, it is now imperative that the Congress carefully review each significant expenditure of our tax dollars.

During the past four years, the Fish and Wildlife Service has administratively established more than ten national wildlife refuges including two in Kansas and Florida that involve more than 1 million acres of private property and a price tag exceeding $1 billion. Under current law, the Service first establishes these refuges and then comes to the Congress seeking funds to actually obtain the lands through either fee title or conservation easements.

On October 25, 2011, the Service testified before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs and stated that requiring a Congressional authorization would ``Impede the Service's ability to be strategic, flexible, nimble and responsive to strategically grow the Refuge System.''

Mr. Speaker, this is the same federal agency that has an operations and maintenance backlog exceeding $3 billion, with dozens of refuges infested by invasive species, with overgrown trails and full of potholed roads. By their own admission, they lack the financial resources to fix more than 3,300 mission critical projects. During the past two years, it has become increasingly clear that the Service is incapable of effectively managing what they already own. The Congress has a responsibility to curb their insatiable appetite for property acquisition. For far too long, this agency has placed too much emphasis on growing the refuge system rather than maintaining it.

What I am suggesting is neither a new or radical idea. In fact, under current law, no Administration can create or expand a national park, a wilderness area, a national forest, a Wild and Scenic River, a National Heritage Area or a National Conservation Area; construct a Bureau of Reclamation Water Recycling project; modify the Coastal Barrier Resources System; or remove property from the National Wildlife Refuge System. The House Natural Resources Committee routinely considers dozens of these types of bills each year.

It is also important to note that Congress has legislatively created more than 60 national wildlife refuges throughout the United States. In my own Congressional District, the Red River National Wildlife Refuge was established by an Act of Congress. In fact, including public hearings, Committee markups and action in both the House and the Senate, it took exactly six months to get this legislation to President Bill Clinton, who signed the bill into law on October 13, 2000. Even by the standards articulated by the Fish and Wildlife Service, this period of time demonstrated that the Congress can act swiftly when there is public support for the establishment of a specific refuge.

Under my bill, all new national wildlife refuges established after January 3, 2013 would require a Congressional authorization. This bill does not affect the existing 560 refuges, nor does it require that additions to these units obtain Congressional approval. This is a modest and commonsense solution. It is past time for the Congress to exercise its oversight responsibility before the Fish and Wildlife Service creates huge new financial burdens on taxpayers.

As the Chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, I can assure my colleagues that there is nothing inherently unique or urgent about the establishment of a new refuge that requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to unilaterally act on its own, while putting our taxpayers on the financial hook for billions in land acquisition costs.

I urge my colleagues to join in this important effort to protect the taxpayers of the United States by cosponsoring the National Wildlife Refuge Review Act.


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