From the National Wildlife Refuge Association e-Newsletter, December 2014
This month, Refuge System champion and conservation hero, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) participated in his last meeting of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission as he is retiring in January. He is the longest serving member of the Commission, having begun his tenure 45 years ago in 1969.
The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission authorizes and approves areas of land and/or water recommended by the Secretary of the Interior for purchase or easement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They also fix the price or prices at which such areas may be acquired. Most importantly for conservation, the Commission considers the establishment of new waterfowl refuges.
Congressman Dingell enjoying his cake | Desiree Sorenson-Groves
Established on February 18, 1929 by the passage of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, the Commission typically convenes three times per year in March, June, and September, as needed, or in this case November. The Division of Realty within the Service produces an annual report that summarizes the operations of the Commission.
Since the Commission was established, over 5.5 million acres have been acquired by the Service via fee purchase, easement, or lease. These purchases are funded by the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund which draws funds mostly from the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (also known as the Duck Stamp), but also from appropriations authorized by the Wetlands Loan Act of October 4, 1961 as amended, important duties collected on arms and ammunition, and receipts from the sale of refuge admission permits as provided for by the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986. The Fund is further supplemented by receipts from the sale of products from rights-of-way across national wildlife refuges, disposals of refuge land, and reverted Federal Aid funds.
In 1989, the Commission earned the additional responsibility to approve project funding under the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). The North American Wetlands Conservation Council, which was created by NAWCA, submits project recommendations to the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission for funding approval, and thus far all have been approved for funding representing $1 billion for the protection of wetland habitat.
This particular meeting was particularly meaningful because two of the Congressional members of the Committee will not be back in 2015. Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) was defeated in his re-election bid and Congressman Dingell is retiring. As the longest serving member of the Commission, and indeed, the longest serving member of either the House or Senate in our country’s history, Representative Dingell has been a longtime champion of the National Wildlife Refuge System and talked about the importance of the System in remarks to the Committee. Dingell established the first International Wildlife Refuge and endorsed the development of many others protecting critical breeding and wintering habitat for hundreds of species of fish and wildlife. Since he came on the Commission in 1969, 3300 tracts of land totalling over 700,000 acres have been added to the Refuge System. As his long time former staffer, and now Director of Government Affairs for Ducks Unlimited remarked, “Congressman Dingell is second only to Theodore Roosevelt when it comes to conservation in America.”
Below is the list of approved projects for national wildlife refuges. NAWCA projects were approved, but await funding from the Fiscal Year 2015 spending bill currently being debated by Congress:
Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, Texas – 475.93 acres for $606,800
Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana – 804 acres for $2,010,350
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland – 153.6 acres for $490,000
Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, Washington – 303 acres for $455,000