Refuge expansions benefit wildlife in several ways, particularly for the most vulnerable species. These newly expanded refuge lands create critical safe havens for endangered and at-risk species, such as the majestic Whooping Crane, the ancient Atlantic Sturgeon, and the imperiled Lesser Prairie-Chicken. Providing these animals with more protected and connected land significantly increases their chances of survival and recovery.

Refuge expansions also contribute to the health of ecosystems as a whole. These protected areas provide stopover points for migratory birds, breeding grounds for fish and other wildlife, and refuges for a wide variety of plants and animals. Healthy ecosystems are essential for clean air and water, and they provide us with many other benefits, such as pollination and flood control.

Why are Fee Title and Voluntary Easement Acquisitions Important?

To achieve these benefits, refuge managers need the authority to acquire land. In the case of the recent expansions, USFWS used two main methods of working with willing landowners to acquire land for refuge expansion: fee title acquisition and voluntary easement acquisitions. These are the most common methods used by the USFWS because they offer a balance between conservation needs and landowner interests.

  • Fee title acquisition gives the USFWS complete ownership of the land. Fee title acquisition allows the agency to manage the land as it sees fit and to restrict public access if necessary. Fee title acquisition is the most secure way to protect wildlife habitat but can also be the most expensive.

  • Voluntary easement acquisitions allow the USFWS to purchase specific rights from landowners, such as the right to develop the land or restrict certain activities. Easements can be a more cost-effective way to expand refuges, allowing landowners to retain some ownership and use of their land. Landowners who choose to sell easements to the USFWS may also be eligible for tax breaks.

By using a combination of fee title acquisition and voluntary easement acquisitions, the USFWS can expand refuges in a way that meets the needs of both conservation and private landowners.

The National Wildlife Refuge Association’s Contribution

The National Wildlife Refuge Association is proud to have played a significant role in expanding two of the Texas refuges included in this announcement: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and Big Boggy National Wildlife Refuge. Our conservation consultants, Ernest Cook and Mike Lange, were instrumental in developing the Land Protection Plans (1, Aransas NWR LPP; 2 Big Boggy NWR LPP) for these expansions.

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