Response from a US Fish and Wildlife Representative
Today we mailed over 800 signatures to several US FWS regional representatives. Prior to that going out - based on other emails that supporters sent -we received this reply from David Viker, Chief, Southeast Region, National Wildlife Refuge System, Fish and Wildlife Service U.S. Department of the Interior.
Thank you all again for your passionate support and willingness to support our cause!
St. Vincent Island, NWR Supporters Group
Thank you all for your e-mails regarding the fate of St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge. First things first: we are not planning to close St. Vincent NWR, and reductions will only be implemented if the budget requires downscaling. The rumored proposal that you refer to is likely the result of planning; undertaken because of budget cuts that have occurred since fiscal year 2010. Responsible administration requires that we examine our programs and plan to use funding and personnel in ways that give the best outcomes within limits imposed by our Congressionally-appropriated budget. Since 2010, we have eliminated or held vacant more than 100 positions out of just 800 on our 129 refuges in the Southeast Region. We do know that St. Vincent NWR advances certain U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission objectives with regard to migratory birds, recovery of endangered species, and wildlife-dependent recreation. We agree that it is a hidden gem that connects youth to the wonderful wilds of Florida. In fact, for me, it gets more personal than that.
Though I oversee the 129 national wildlife refuges for our Southeast Region, I grew up in rural north Florida not far from you around the "Big Bend" near the Suwannee River. Long before becoming Regional Chief, I hiked St. Vincent NWR, fished in adjacent waters, crabbed many a day on the bridges at Indian Pass, and have vacationed in the St. Vincent/Cape San Blas area nearly 20 times since the 1980s. We visit again this July; I love your part of the country and St. Vincent NWR.
I say all that to assure you that St. Vincent NWR will get full consideration as we continue to go through very painful budget and staffing reductions, managing our workforce and focusing on priorities. Tough choices may be made if budget cuts continue, but where and when across the Southeast Region have yet to be finalized. St. Vincent NWR will likely see some reduction to the level of public use opportunities offered and active management conducted. But again, we do not plan to close the refuge.
We will always maintain some level of public safety and resource protection. Our hope is that more favorable budgets will return and we can maintain or even increase our public programs and active habitat management to benefit wildlife. Thank you all again for your interest and support of St. Vincent NWR.
Feel free to share this note with others. If you have additional questions, please contact Refuge Manager Shelley Stiaes at (850) 653-8808 or North Florida NWR Complex Project Leader James Burnett at (850) 524-2265.
David Viker, Chief, Southeast Region, National Wildlife Refuge System, Fish and Wildlife Service U.S. Department of the Interior