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 PRESS RELEASE: House Committee on Resources 5/25/05

Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Public
Access to National Wildlife Refuges

Washington, D.C. - The Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans is scheduled to hold an oversight hearing on "Public Access Within the National Wildlife Refuge System" Thursday, May 26 at 10:00 a.m. in 1324 Longworth House Office Building. Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) and members of the subcommittee will hear witness testimony on certain refuges and activities closed and or prohibited to the public.

"The refuge system is widely popular with the American people as more than 39 million visited a refuge last year," said Subcommittee Chairman Gilchrest. "Nevertheless, a number of taxpayers have been denied the opportunity to visit or engage in recreational activities on refuge land. This hearing will give us a better idea of why certain refuges are closed and the reasoning behind those decisions."

The National Wildlife Refuge System consists of federal lands acquired for the conservation of fish and wildlife. There are 545 refuges in all 50 states that comprise approximately 97 million acres of land. Of the 545 refuges, roughly 16 percent, or 88 refuges are closed to the public.

"I want to thank Subcommittee Chairman Gilchrest for convening a hearing on this important issue," said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA). "It's important the public have reasonable access to their lands and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today."

The National Wildlife Refuge System has provided outdoor recreational opportunities to the public for decades. In 1997, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act was enacted and established an overarching statute for the refuge system. The law defined the term "compatible use" and reinforced the importance of wildlife-dependent recreation such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography.

However, individuals and organizations have repeatedly been denied the opportunity for access to the refuge system for certain activities. In some cases, the activities had previously occurred without any adverse impacts on existing wildlife resources.

The oversight hearing will provide an avenue for members to gain a better understanding of why refuges are closed to public access, apparently inconsistent policies among different refuges within the system and factors contributing to the need for limited public access.






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