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Vicky Meretsky

Hannah Schroder
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Professors design blueprint for modern conservation management

March 7, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Nearly a decade after the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 called for bold changes in protecting and managing national wildlife refuges, many refuge managers still lack adequate monetary and scientific support to gain basic information about the resources they protect.

Conservation scientists from Indiana University and five other institutions have assessed progress and proposed solutions to the unmet challenge of managing the federal refuge system as a source of both conservation and recreation. Their recommendations for protecting ecosystems and resolving management obstacles in accordance with the federal law appeared in last month's BioScience and serve as a blueprint for modern conservation management.

As refuge budgets decline and threats to the ecosystem increase, the pressure has grown exponentially on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the National Wildlife Refuge System, to better understand what's needed to protect valuable natural resources.

"Protecting wildlife on refuges requires information to make decisions in an intelligent fashion," said Vicky Meretsky, an associate professor in IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the paper's lead author. "But often there's no list of wildlife or other resources on the refuge. It's a matter of knowing what you have and what processes are important in protecting them."

Meretsky said that refuges offer many benefits to society, including increased wildlife visibility, outdoor recreation opportunities, cleaner water, flood protection and increased quality of living. They also can serve as learning classrooms, attract businesses and raise land value.

Robert Fischman, a professor of law at the IU School of Law-Bloomington, collaborated on the paper. He called refuges the "quiet, under-appreciated middle child" of federal land systems, because refuges receive smaller appropriations per acre managed than other systems. Fischman also said that refuges are the most important network for nature protection and the most innovative proving ground for new conservation management techniques.

The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act established the strictest requirements to date for management of resources and defined conservation as a first priority.

Key recommendations in BioScience were devised from an April 2004 workshop at IU of legal and academic scholars, refuge managers, wildlife advocates and agency administrators and focus, in part, on expanding refuge partnerships.

The paper's authors call on refuges across the nation to work as a single coordinated unit instead of as isolated, individual pieces in order to maximize the resources necessary to sustain wildlife.

"Conservation can be more effective if you look outside the refuge and partner locally, internationally and everywhere in between," Meretsky said.

Refuges should look outside their borders and partner with nearby colleges and universities to provide a learning workshop for students. In return, they will gain valuable scientific advice and information, the authors suggest. They should also partner with neighboring landowners to ensure a healthy refuge neighborhood, because actions on neighboring lands and waters can impact the refuge resources.

"We really can't protect what we value in nature by building a lot of fences," said Fischman.

The authors recommend that refuges use a science-based process to identify the species and ecosystems contained in refuges to understand more specifically what's needed to protect these resources.

Locally, the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge in Seymour, Ind., is on the right track for conservation, Meretsky said. It recently reviewed its planning process and altered its land use to achieve a larger, less-fragmented forest.

James Karr, a biology professor at the University of Washington; Daniel Ashe, a science advisor to the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; J. Michael Scott, a research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey; Reed Noss, a biology professor at the University of Central Florida; and Richard Schroeder, a wildlife biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey Fort Collins Science Center, contributed to the paper.

The workshop was funded by hte IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the IU School of Law-Bloomington.

To speak with Meretsky or Fischman, please contact Meretsky at 812-855-3836 or, or Hannah Schroder, IU Media Relations, at 563-343-1738 or