Washington, D.C. - At a hearing today in the U.S. House of Representatives, the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) detailed the massive hurricane damage to Gulf Coast national wildlife refuges (NWR) and urged Congress to take swift action to speed their restoration. 2005 Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma and Dennis inflicted damage to 66 national wildlife refuges in eight states.
"This is literally an unmitigated disaster," said Evan Hirsche, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. "The estimated $270 million in damages represents approximately 70% of the Refuge System's annual budget. America's diverse wildlife heritage will suffer a great blow if we don't act quickly to address the damages."
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, total facility and habitat damages from the 2005 storms have exceeded $270 million. At Breton NWR in Louisiana, which includes all of the federally owned Chandeleur islands, an estimated 50-70% of habitat was completely washed away, with nothing but open water remaining. A number of refuges are also contaminated with hazardous materials (HAZMAT). "As we sit here today, more than 1,400 barrels of toxic liquids and gases are sinking further into the low-lying marsh right in the heart of Sabine National Wildlife Refuge (LA)," said Hirsche. "In short, we're looking at a refuge that's effectively been converted to a toxic dump."
An emergency supplemental request from President Bush asks for $132.4 million for facility repair and clean up on hurricane-impacted refuges. The NWRA has called on Congress to approve emergency funding for refuges of at least the level requested by President Bush. Further, Hirsche urged members of the Committee to support an additional $88 million to address habitat and natural resource damage in another supplemental funding bill this year.
"Restoring the marshes and estuaries vital to supporting wildlife is only half the equation," said Hirsche. "We now recognize that these areas are also critical to the security of coastal communities and provide economic benefits in the form of recreation and tourism. By supporting additional funds to sufficiently address the massive refuge facility and natural resource damages, both wildlife and people benefit."
Established in 1975, the National Wildlife Refuge Association is the only organization dedicated exclusively to protecting, enhancing and expanding the National Wildlife Refuge System, lands and waters set aside by the American people to protect our country's diverse wildlife heritage. A national membership organization, the organization benefits from the support of U.S. Fish and Wildlife professionals, more than 100 refuge "Friends" group affiliates, and thousands of individual members in all states. For more information, visit www.refugenet.org.