Proposed Greater Cherry Valley Area
National Wildlife Refuge
What is a National Wildlife Refuge?
The National Wildlife Refuge System is the only national network of public lands in the world set aside specifically for the conservation of fish, wildlife, and plants. Comprising more than 500 refuges in 50 states and five U.S. territories and encompassing 93 million acres, the Refuge System boasts more units than the National Forest System and more acres than the National Park System. National Wildlife Refuges are special places with significant natural resources where the US Fish and Wildlife Service acquires land and/or conservation easements. Each refuge has an 'Acquisition Boundary' within which the Service can acquire land from willing sellers. Land that is acquired by the Service comprises the 'Refuge Boundary'. Lands within the Refuge Boundary are managed for wildlife and habitat conservation.
Will the US Fish and Wildlife Service be able to force me to sell my land?
The proposed Wildlife Refuge is based on acquisition of land or conservation easements from willing sellers. In the past 20 years, the only time the US Fish and Wildlife Service has used eminent domain to acquire land has been when it was unclear who legally owned the property. 99.5% of their purchases are from willing sellers.
If a refuge is created and I am not interested in participating, what authority will the US Fish and Wildlife Service have over my land?
None that they do not already have. The Service will manage lands that they own or own easements on. Local landowners will be subject to the same laws and regulations that they currently are subject to. A National Wildlife Refuge brings no additional laws or regulations for private landowners. It provides an additional option for landowners who are interested in selling or conserving their property.
Why is this needed?
The Greater Cherry Valley Area is home to 78 species and natural communities of concern. Generations of local landowners have exercised great stewardship in caring for these resources. There are many existing programs in place to help protect local landowners who are interested in conservation. However, the existing pressures are greater than the existing programs. A National Wildlife Refuge will provide local landowners with one additional tool to contemplate as they consider the future of their land. And, importantly, it could bring significant financial resources to help meet the area's conservation challenges. In addition, a National Wildlife Refuge could provide additional staff resources to help inventory, manage, and restore habitat for native plants and wildlife.
Will public access be provided?
Lands owned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service would comprise the National Wildlife Refuge (unlike the larger 'acquisition boundary' within which they would be authorized to acquire lands from willing sellers). Portions of most Refuges are open to the public, but only after the US Fish and Wildlife Service completes a thorough resource analysis and public use plan. Ultimately, the Refuges are managed for wildlife and any public use must be compatible with wildlife conservation. Unlike National Parks, Refuges are not widely promoted. In fact, most are rather secluded and hard to find.
Will hunting, trapping, and fishing be allowed?
Hunting, trapping, and fishing are among the big six public uses supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Before opening a Refuge (lands owned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service) to these uses, the Service prepares a hunt plan, environmental assessment, and compatibility determination. The process includes public review.
Who is behind this?
The Friends of Cherry Valley, a group of local landowners and community leaders, have begun exploring the concept of a Greater Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge. They are seeking input from local residents to determine whether and how to proceed with this proposal. At their request, The Nature Conservancy and Monroe County Conservation District are providing technical and logistical support.
Won't this process make the area more desirable to developers?
Land in the Greater Cherry Valley Area is a hot commodity. It is, has been, and will likely continue to be. It is these pressures that are most threatening the area's wonderful natural resources. Publicizing and promoting a proposal for a National Wildlife Refuge will likely increase the demand for the area (and land values) in the short-run. However, in the long-run, it will hopefully realize greater conservation for the area by bringing significantly greater financial resources to do the job.
Are there any types of property within the Acquisition Boundary that the USFWS would not acquire from a willing seller?
Available properties would be prioritized for acquisition based on the amount of funding available. If more land were available for sale than there was funding, the USFWS would likely prioritize acquisitions based on each property's natural resource values.
Often, the USFWS is not interested in properties where most of the value is associated with buildings. In addition, the Service would not purchase any properties where the seller wants more than the appraised value.
Will The US Fish and Wildlife Service pay property taxes on any land it acquires?
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, "lands acquired by the Service are removed from the tax rolls, but the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act, as amended, allows us to offset the tax losses by annually paying the county or other local unit of government an amount that often equals or exceeds that which would have been collected from taxes if in private ownership. The actual rate paid varies every year according to congressional appropriations. However in 2001, a lean year, the Service paid 51% of the regular tax assessment which is often higher than Clean and Green rate.
What will be the fiscal impacts?
Property values in the area will likely increase, especially for parcels adjacent to preserved lands. Through revenue sharing, the US Fish and Wildlife Service would make payments that often exceed what would have normally been collected on any properties it acquires.
In addition, it has been demonstrated that conservation and open space help keep property taxes down, providing more in revenue than they demand in services (birds don't go to school). Residential development, on the other hand, is often a net loss to the property tax equation. This is particularly due to the demands placed on the school system which typically are greater than the revenue they receive from new development. In many developed and developing areas, significant property tax increases are required to keep up with the extra demand for services caused by new development.
Also, any Refuge visitors would come, spend money, and go home, without requiring any significant level of local government services.
What will happen next?
The Friends of Cherry Valley are coordinating efforts to share information and gather resident input. If you have questions, please email Debra Schule at firstname.lastname@example.org.