Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Defender-in-Chief of FISH & WILDLIFE

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Defender-in-Chief of FISH & WILDLIFE

Article excerpt

The director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service talks conservation, new initiatives and the importance of parks for all communities

The federal agency charged with the protection of our nation's fish and wildlife resources has a big portfolio when it comes to conservation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), a bureau of the Department of the Interior, has responsibility for the management of the 551 wildlife refuges of the 150-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System. In addition to the National Wildlife Refuges, FWS manages thousands of smaller wetlands, special management areas, and fish hatcheries and management areas. These lands comprise some of the most outstanding wildlife habitat in the nation, and as such are afforded some of the highest protection for public lands.

FWS enforces the nation's fish and wildlife laws, protects federally designated endangered species and manages migratory birds. Since most wildlife resources are on private lands, U.S. law and regulations apply to these species that FWS regulates. Recently, FWS has seen increased news coverage regarding endangered species protection, the impact of climate change on our nation's fish and wildlife resources, and new initiatives that FWS is taking including the launch of the Urban Wildlife Program, which focuses on their role in urban environments and with the purpose of engaging the public in the mission of conserving our nation's fish and wildlife resources.

FWS is headed by Director Dan Ashe, who spent much of his Atlanta childhood on national wildlife refuges and in fish hatcheries in the Southeast, where he learned to band birds, fish, hunt and, most importantly, simply enjoy the outdoors. Prior to his appointment as director of FWS, Ashe served as the Service's deputy director for policy, as science advisor to the former director and as chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

NRPA had a chance to catch up with Ashe recently to discuss his views on the challenges the agency faces heading into the future and how parks can work with FWS on national conservation objectives.

Richard Dolesh: What are the biggest conservation challenges that FWS is facing, and what are the top priorities going forward in the next year?

Director Dan Ashe: The biggest challenge we face is dealing with threats to our nation's natural resources and the loss and conversion of wildlife habitat. This is not just the traditional challenges of the conversion of wildlife habitat to agricultural land, or the dredging and filling of wetlands, but a more insidious form of habitat degradation caused by water scarcity, changing climate and most recently, invasive species. These factors are changing natural systems. It's becoming much more complicated to do our jobs.

The top priorities for us right now are priority species and priority landscapes. The monarch butterfly is a great example of how we are prioritizing conservation efforts to address the needs of a species in need of conservation. Certain wildlife species strike a deep chord in people. With the monarch, there is very strong public support, and people want to help the monarch. If we can get them engaged, they are not only helping the monarch but helping to protect and enhance habitat for many other important species.

The efforts to protect the sage grouse in some ways are similar to protecting the monarch. When we talk about threats to the sage grouse - fire, invasives, soil moisture - we are really talking about ecological function of 200 million acres of habitat for this species. Yes, it's about the sage grouse, but it's also about sagebrush habitat.

Some want to assign blame - to chemical companies, agriculture or other reasons. We want American agriculture to be as efficient as possible. We need to figure out how to we can make alternative habitats. Let's focus on things we can agree on, and we can move forward and build consensus and find solutions.

Dolesh: We have heard about some exciting new initiatives from FWS. …

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