Thursday, August 1, 2013

House renews wildlife refuge volunteers program

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The House by voice vote last night passed a bill to extend volunteer and community partnership programs at the nation's wildlife refuges through 2017.

H.R. 1300, by Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.), would allow the National Wildlife Refuge System to expand its volunteer programs and encourage environmental education efforts, the Interior Department said.

Current authorization for the programs was set to expire in 2014

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Northern Mariana Islands Del. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D), passed under suspension of the rules.

Jim Kurth, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, backed the bill at a hearing in April before the House Natural Resources Committee.

In 2012, volunteer work at refuges "skyrocketed" to more than 56,000 individuals who donated more than 2 million hours of time, the equivalent of more than 1,000 full-time employees, he said. The work was worth nearly $47 million, he added.

"They help implement conservation measures, provide environmental education and recreational opportunities to the American people, organize and carry out special events, and perform many other valuable services for fish and wildlife conservation and for the refuge system and its visitors," Kurth told the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs. "These volunteers donate millions of hours of their time each year, and those volunteer hours continue to increase."

The program, which is authorized at $2 million annually, allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to recruit and train volunteers and provide them with food, housing, transportation and uniforms.

It also allows the agency to enter into cooperative agreements with partner organizations, academic institutions or state or local governments to support operations, maintenance and educational projects and develop refuge education programs.

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