U.S. Rep. Bill Barrett, R-NE, has sent a letter to Morgan Weck, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for the Mountain-Prairie region, regarding the concerns with the development of the new management plans for the Fort Niobrara and Valentine National Wildlife Refuges and a proposed plan to address recreational usage on the Niobrara River.
"I continue to hear from constituents concerned with the process used to update the refuges' management plans. It was an open process that used local input in name only. This is not how it is supposed to work. Many fear the development of a plan to address recreational usage of the Niobrara River may be conducted in the same manner," Barrett said.
Barrett asked the regional director to meet with concerned citizens as soon as possible to set the development of a river usage plan "off on the right foot" and offered to set up the meeting.
"A river usage plan should draw on the resources, interest and expertise of the community, especially since much of the economic activity in the area is a result of recreation on the river. There is no reason why a plan cannot be developed that balances the resources of the refuge with the needs of the community. As you know, when the service and communities work together, the results are better and more widely accepted," Barrett wrote.
The Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, originally established in 1912 by executive order as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds, encompasses nearly 20,000 acres near Valentine. The Valentine National Wildlife Refuge was established as a breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife in 1935 by Congress. It encompasses 71,000 acres and is located about 25 miles south of Valentine.
About every 15 years, each refuge conducts comprehensive conservation planning to guide the management of that refuge. The planning effort is designed to allow interested citizens, organizations and governments to provide input on management issues. The planning effort for the Fort Niobrara and Valentine refuges coincided with system-wide efforts to comply with the 1997 National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act. This law updated the six primary purposes of refuges, including the conservation of fish, wildlife and their habitats, and to provide opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation--fishing, hunting, and bird watching. It also, for the first time, provided a federal definition for "compatible use" to guide what activities are allowed in refuges.
The Fort Niobrara management plan calls for the development of a two-year, step-down plan to address recreational usage of the Niobrara River, which flows through a portion of the refuge.