Fish and Wildlife Service:

Agency Needs to Inform Congress of Future Costs Associated With Land Acquisitions

T-RCED-00-89: Published: Feb 15, 2000. Publicly Released: Feb 15, 2000.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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contact@gao.gov

 

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed its recent report on how the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decides to establish and expand refuges, focusing on: (1) the financial effect of establishing refuges by means other than appropriations; and (2) differences in the priority-setting processes for acquiring land using the land and water and migratory bird funds.

GAO noted that: (1) even when FWS establishes refuges without the need for appropriated funds, these actions have usually been followed by requests for appropriations to expand the refuges and have always resulted in the need for future appropriations to operate and maintain them; (2) from fiscal years 1994 through 1998, FWS established 23 refuges, 15 of which were established with land that was donated, transferred, or exchanged; (3) after establishing these refuges, FWS subsequently used $29 million in appropriated funds to acquire more land to expand them and plans to request another $786 million to acquire additional land for them; (4) furthermore, FWS will incur operations and maintenance costs for these refuges, which will be funded through appropriations, but it is unable to estimate how much these costs will be; (5) FWS uses separate and dramatically different priority-setting processes to decide which lands to acquire with its two funding sources; (6) for land and water funds, FWS used the Land Acquisition Priority System (LAPS), which is a centralized, automated system that generates a single national priority list; (7) in contrast, for migratory bird funds, FWS' regional offices develop their own priority lists, based on FWS' criteria for managing waterfowl habitat and on the likelihood of purchasing the land within a year of receiving funds; (8) LAPS has shortcomings that limit its usefulness in deciding which of FWS' land acquisitions to fund; (9) it uses subjective criteria, differentiates little between refuges, and does not provide a true relative ranking; (10) FWS is working to revise LAPS; (11) FWS does not provide Congress with information on its plans to acquire refuge lands with migratory bird funds; and (12) as a result, Congress does not know what these plans are and cannot factor this information into its decisionmaking.

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