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Highlights

Over the past two decades, provisions of the Food Security Act of 1985, among others, have allowed the Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency in partnership with the Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to add farmlands found to have important resources to the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Farm Service Agency transferred such farmlands to the Service through outright ownership ("fee simple") or through conservation easements. Individual farmlands are managed by the nearest refuge office. GAO was asked to examine (1) the extent of farmland received by the Service, (2) the extent to which the Service is currently managing its farmlands, and (3) alternatives for managing these lands. To answer these objectives, GAO visited five refuges and surveyed managers responsible for a random sample of 98 farmlands.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Interior To improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (Service) management of its farmlands, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Service to ensure that the Service's records for all of its farmlands are accurate and complete by reconciling regional and refuge office records and property records to determine which farmlands were transferred from the Farm Service Agency.
Closed - Implemented
In our September 2007 report on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (Service) management of farmlands it received from the Department of Agriculture, we found that the Service had an incomplete account of its farmlands because some farmlands we identified through refuge office site visits were not contained in the Service's centralized database of lands or reported to us by its regional offices. To improve the Service's management of its farmlands, we recommended that the Service take action to ensure that the Service's records for all of its farmlands are accurate and complete by reconciling regional and refuge office records and property records. Based on our audit findings and recommendation, the agency has taken action to address this recommendation. Specifically, in December 2009, the Service's local and regional units completed a detailed inventory of all of the farmlands, including their location, size, responsible managing unit, type of interest (fee-simple or conservation easement), as well as additional management information. In our report, we identified 1,412 farmland parcels covering roughly 132,000 acres. The complete inventory produced by the Service included 3,038 parcels covering 194,363 acres.
Department of the Interior To improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the Service's management of its farmlands, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Service to develop a proposal to Congress seeking the authority for additional flexibility with regard to the farmlands the Service determines may not be in the best interest to continue to include as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Closed - Implemented
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed proposed legislation to dispose of FSA properties that it determined may not be in the best interest to continue to include as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. As of April 2011, the proposed legislation was undergoing agency review, which is expected to be finalized in March 2012.

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