Vieques Wildlife Refuge Saved from Auction Block
The decision by members of Congress to leave the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge intact benefits thousands of wildlife species, some of which are not found anywhere else on earth. This refuge is the largest national wildlife refuge in the Caribbean, providing habitat and shelter for about 190 bird species, including herons, egrets, grebes, pelicans and shorebirds, and other wildlife such as the Antillean manatee, blue and humpback whales, dolphins, bats and sea turtles.
A proposal to allow the sale of thousands of acres of the refuge galvanized National Wildlife Federation supporters, Sociedad Ornitologica Puerttoriquena (SOPI), NWF’s affiliate in Puerto Rico, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and HECHO, Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors, to save this irreplaceable treasure.
Led by Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, lawmakers responded to calls to remove the sell-off plan from H.R. 4900, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act. The sell-off was proposed as a way to allow Puerto Rico to make money off the land and help pay down its debt. But, selling 3,100 acres of the 17,771-acre refuge wouldn’t have made even a small dent in the territory’s debt. It would have opened the door to proponents of privatizing our public lands to the detriment of wildlife and our nation’s long, proud outdoor traditions.
“America’s public lands provide tremendous economic benefits and selling them off is a short-sighted and counterproductive way to attempt to reduce debt” – Collin O’Mara, NWF President and CEO said in a news statement
The National Wildlife Federation joined SOPI, HECHO and LULAC to send House members a letter reiterating Collin’s statement and saying that America’s public lands provide tremendous economic benefits.
Vieques is part of a wide network of lands and waters conserved to sustain and maintain our country’s diverse wildlife. Refuges have been critical to preventing the extinction of species, including sea birds that were slaughtered for their feathers and bison, decimated during the westward expansion.
The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge and adjoining waters are home to least 14 endangered species. It is also an important part of the economy, drawing more than a quarter million visitors each year. In a 2015 poll, Vieques was voted the fourth best refuge in the national wildlife refuge system. It boasts pristine beaches and coastal landscapes within 40 miles of more than a million people.
Thankfully it is off the auction block – for now. It’s crucial that people remain vigilant and confront attempts to sell or privatize the public lands that sustain fish and wildlife and are invaluable to hunters, anglers, wildlife watchers, paddlers, hikers – all Americans.