A federal plan unveiled last week would "mothball" the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge and shutter dozens of others across the Southeast, while cutting scores of wildlife refuge personnel, according to an announcement from the Wilderness Society.
Florida's Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation's first national wildlife refuge, will lose the staff assigned to working with visitors, according to the new Workforce Management Plan of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast Region.
The 128 national wildlife refuges in the Southeast support 11 million visitors annually -- more than those in any other region.
Wilderness Society President Bill Meadows blasted the planned cuts:
"Pelican Island is symbolic of our nation's commitment to protect our most critical bird and wildlife habitat. Sadly, Pelican Island is now a stark example of how Congress and the Administration have failed to provide the funding and attention needed to sustain our wildlife legacy."
Among the other cuts outlined in the plan:
* Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee would lose its public-use staff, leading to a 90 percent reduction in environmental education programs.
* J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida would lose two park rangers, forcing the closure of its visitor center for two days a week and significantly reducing environmental education for 55,000 school children.
* Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia would lose two park rangers, resulting in the close of one entrance two days a week and reducing annual visits by about 50,000.
* Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge Complex will eliminate surveys for sea turtles and other marine resources on more than 400,000 acres within Great White Heron and Key West refuges.
* Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama would lose its entire biological program, which supports three national wildlife refuges and affects over 15 threatened and endangered species.
The agency's planned cuts in the Southeast come in the wake of a similar proposal to cut staff and services in Northeast wildlife refuges.