The Trump administration is abruptly ending a decades-long program that trained national wildlife refuge managers with law enforcement capabilities to police often remote spots of public land.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced to employees on Sept. 21 that refuge managers who were also trained to police the area would no longer be able to act in any enforcement capacity and would be stripped of their firearm, according to an internal FWS email shared with The Hill.Sources said the decision came as a shock to many of the people who have worked in the position, known as dual-function officers, including retirees who had spent decades in the role at their respective refuges.
Critics argued it would lead to new violations in the refuges.
“It means there will be lots of violations, wildlife violations as in over-bagged hunting areas, damaged fences, signs, roads and all kinds of damage to the environment. If there is no one there to enforce the law, that would spread like wildfire,” said Kim Hanson, who retired from FWS in 2008 after more than 30 years at the agency. “It’s an extreme disservice to the American people because they expect us to take care.”
The nation has 562 national wildlife refuges spread across 20.6 million acres of public land. Unlike national parks, mining, drilling, hunting and farming are all regulated activities on certain refuges.
“Our dual-function officers were an integral aspect of refuge management during a time that allowed for multiple functions within a single position,” stated the memo outlining the change, first obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
“In the 21st Century the threats facing visitors and wildlife are more complex than ever. Protection of the National Wildlife Refuge System now requires a full-time officer corps that combines a concentrated effort on conservation protection, traditional policing and emergency first response to protect, serve and educate the public and Service staff.”