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Jobs to be cut from refuges in Southwest

The Fish and Wildlife Service cites increasing operating costs.

March 09, 2007|From the Associated Press

TUCSON — Thirty-eight jobs will be cut from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges in the Southwest region over the next three years, the agency announced Thursday.

The Wilderness Society immediately criticized the cuts, saying that refuge staffing has been dropping for the last two years, and that the newest cuts will mean a decrease of 20% more.

The Southwest region is made up of 45 refuges in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas with 2.86 million acres of habitat. The refuges attract nearly 5 million visitors a year.

Arizona's nine refuges include the 860,000-acre Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, the third-largest in the lower 48 states.

Some refuges are to be combined, and others will essentially become unmanned, the agency's Southwest regional office announced.

In all, the national refuge system encompasses 547 refuges and more than 96 million acres.

The restructuring comes "in the face of increasing operating costs and increasing conservation needs," the Fish and Wildlife Service's announcement said. "Permanent staff reductions are planned as personnel costs consume a hefty portion of the budget."

The move aims to reach a budget ratio of 80% salary to 20% operating expenditures, down from the current 86-14 ratio, agency spokeswoman Elizabeth Slown said. The region's budget currently is $27.3 million, she added.

Anticipated savings of more than $2.7 million for the four states in all would be plowed back into operational expenses, such as grading roads, building fences and paying higher fuel costs, Slown said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service's staffing plan said that funding for the refuge system nationwide rose from $300 million in 2001 to $383 million in 2006, but that the increases were directed at specific programs, such as controlling invasive species, maintenance or border security.

The plan acknowledged that staff cuts would be significant, given an already "relatively lean work force," resulting in a decrease in habitat management and restoration projects, among other things.

From 2004 through 2006, a dozen field jobs and five regional office jobs were left vacant in the Southwest region, the report said.

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