On November 15, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a hearing on four bills, including H.R. 3979, Keep America’s Refuges Operational Act. The Wildlife Society and 15 other organizations sent a letter to the subcommittee in support of the Act in early November. The other bills that the hearing addressed include: H.R. 801, which would designate Route 66 a National Historic Trail; H.R. 2888, which would establish the Ste. Genevieve National Historic Site in Missouri; and H.R. 4266, which would clarify the boundary of Acadia National Park.
Six different witnesses were called before the committee to speak about the bills. Caroline Brouwer, the Director of Government Affairs for the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and Dan Ross, the Virginia State Chairman for Ducks Unlimited both spoke in favor of H.R. 3979. Ms. Brouwer’s testimony emphasized the important role that volunteers play in the National Wildlife Refuge System, both in terms of supporting the mission of the Refuge System, and also in allowing volunteers, and other groups to more fully participate in their local refuge. Annually, Friends of the Refuges groups and volunteers provide 20% of work on refuges and contribute in excess of 1.5 million hours every year. Mr. Ross also testified about the roles that volunteer, community partnership, and education programs play in ensuring that Americans can hunt, fish, visit, and explore wildlife. Without these programs the natural resources and waterfowl havens that the refuges protect would face more challenges in staying productive, open, and operational.
When asked what would happen if the National Wildlife Refuge System was no longer allowed to use volunteers, Ms. Brouwer spoke about funding challenges,the value of the time that volunteers spend supporting the refuges, and the “connection between the communities and the land”’ that the volunteers provide for the system as a whole. She also emphasized that many of the visitor centers and gift shops on National Wildlife Refuges are staffed by volunteers and would not exist without volunteer support.
Sue Masica, the acting deputy director of the National Park Service spoke in favor, with some technical recommendations, of H.R. 801, H.R. 2888, and H.R. 4266. William Thomas, the chairman of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership, also expressed his support for H.R. 801. Paul Hassler, the mayor of Ste. Genevieve Missouri spoke in favor of H.R. 2888 and the establishment of the Ste. Genevieve National Historic Park at the first permanent settlement in Missouri. Tim Woodcock, an attorney with Acadia Disposal District, spoke in favor of H.R. 4266.
These bills currently appear to be non-controversial and have bipartisan support. Markups for the bills have yet to be scheduled by the committee, and it is unclear if or when they will be voted on by the full House.