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Report: MT's Nat'l. Wildlife Refuges "On the Edge"

PHOTO: A coalition of wildlife, sporting and conservation groups is pushing for full funding of National Wildlife Refuges. Sharp-tailed grouse are found in the Medicine Lake NWR in Montana. Credit: USFWS
PHOTO: A coalition of wildlife, sporting and conservation groups is pushing for full funding of National Wildlife Refuges. Sharp-tailed grouse are found in the Medicine Lake NWR in Montana. Credit: USFWS
November 20, 2012

HELENA, Mont. - Crippling cuts could be coming to the system of National Wildlife Refuges if Congress fails to prevent the country from going over the so-called "fiscal cliff" at year's end, according to a new report. Already operating on what's been called a "shoestring budget," the refuge system faces a further cut of nearly 10 percent if sequestration happens.

Fifteen of the nation's 560 refuges are in Montana, including Medicine Lake, War Horse and the Charles M. Russell.

Desirée Sorenson-Groves, vice president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, a member of the coalition which issued the report, says the system operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is severely underfunded.

"The managers of these National Wildlife Refuges, I liken them to the 'MacGyvers' of wildlife management. They make do on duct tape and chewing gum, and they figure out a way to get things done."

Sorenson-Groves says the nation's wildlife refuges attract 45 million visitors a year and generate more than $4 billion for local economies.

"People go there for hunting, fishing, wildlife watching. But when they're there, they're going to go to restaurants, they get gas, they may stay overnight. People come from around the world only to go birding."

Sorenson-Groves says the automatic budget cuts threaten both wildlife and local economies. She represents a coalition of 22 wildlife, sporting and conservation groups ranging from the National Rifle Association to Defenders of Wildlife, which are calling for full funding of the refuge system.

The report, "Fiscal Cliff Dwellers: America's Wildlife Refuges on the Edge," is at www.fundrefuges.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT