WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, led a hearing today to spotlight 11 bills covering a wide range of subcommittee priorities. The bipartisan selection of legislation concern the Nations’ water infrastructure, water use efficiency and pollution, improving Great Lakes water quality, containing the spread of invasive species, volunteer programs under the Fish and Wildlife Service, and improving the effectiveness of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service among others.
Included on the hearing agenda was S. 2560, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Resource Protection Act (RPA). Authored by Senator Cardin and recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the bill would enhance the protection and restoration of USFWS resources found on National Wildlife Refuges, National Fish Hatcheries and other Service lands, should injury or harm occur. The RPA would specifically protect all living and non-living resources within Service lands and waters. Any funds collected to compensate for unlawful injury or destruction of Service resources would be used to rectify that specific harm without further Congressional appropriation.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages more than 150 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge lands and 71 National Fish Hatcheries for a broad range of activities – such as hunting, fishing, and wildlife dependent activities. It is commonsense that they should have the authority to recoup damages from accidental, negligent and willfully destructive behavior. It is unfortunate, but our refuges encounter various injuries and on fairly regular basis. The National Park Service and NOAA have the authority to sue for damages to restore the resources they manage it is time to give that same authority to the US Fish and Wildlife Service,” Senator Cardin added.
In 2010 there were 39 arson offenses were reported on Service lands. Monetary loss to the government resulting from these cases totaled almost $850,000. Similarly, over 2,300 vandalism offenses, totaling $314,000 in monetary loss were documented. Other reported offenses number in the thousands and could lead to recovery of damages for many field stations.
Under current law when incidents occur on Service lands, the USFWS has no legal authority to seek damages to restore, repair or replace damaged or destroyed property. In these instances, the Service must choose between using tax-payer funded appropriations to pay for assessing, repairing, replacing or restoring structures, habitat and other resources injured by the responsible party or for other important Refuge needs. The Service’s inability to collect damages only adds to the maintenance backlog.