Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge Q&A

Some places should be left unvisited, without people. Is Featherstone one of those places?

  • The FWS Compatibility Determination resolves the key debate: opening the refuge to public access will not harm the wildlife resources. Featherstone NWR is not so sensitive that the land and water must be left undisturbed in order to protect its natural assets.
  • That Compatibility Determination is consistent with the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, which established 1) wildlife-dependent recreational uses involving hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation, when determined to be compatible, are legitimate and appropriate public uses of the Refuge System and 2) these compatible wildlife-dependent recreational uses are the priority general public uses of the Refuge System.

Would opening the refuge impact wetlands and wildlife?

  • Trespassers already damage Featherstone NWR.  FWS can’t patrol the site all the time, so people ride motorcycles and ATV’s without getting caught. If the public was allowed to use the site, then local residents and others using the trails legitimately will provide more “eyes and ears” to protect the refuge, report violators, and reduce the current damage.
  • Opening this site to wildlife-dependent public uses would also help generate, as it has at the other Northern Virginia Refuges, a sense of community stewardship, enhancing efforts to protect the quality of natural areas.
  • FWS knows how to locate trails and manage recreational use by individuals and groups. They demonstrated that capacity when FWS opened Occoquan Bay NWR to public use, just 5 weeks after acquiring the land from the Army in 1998.

The refuge always has been closed to public use.  Why is there a need to open it now?

  • The population boon in Northern Virginia has eliminated most natural areas, replacing them with lawns.  Unless we want to see the “last child in the woods” during our generation, we need to protect natural areas and allow people to have a personal experience with wild areas – woods with dead snags and woodpeckers, river shorelines without bulkheads and boardwalks, etc. Featherstone was not all that unique in 1979… but today, it’s a rare remnant of a natural area.

Does the FWS needs more funding/staff before it can handle the extra workload of visitor use at Featherstone?

  • FWS could benefit from additional funding and staff at the Potomac River Refuges complex. Nonetheless, the refuge staff have already demonstrated at Occcoquan Bay NWR that public use can be allowed without damaging natural resources, even before staff/funding is increased.
  • Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is prepared to partner with FWS to help manage recreational use at Featherstone, especially hunting and fishing activities. Non-government organizations such as the Prince William Conservation Alliance, Virginia Native Plant Society, Northern Virginia Bird Club and others are prepared to assist in inventorying the habitats and species. Such assistance will not be available, if the refuge stays locked up.
  • Public support will be required to get the Administration and Congress to prioritize additional funding. Getting the public to enjoy the natural resources at Featherstone could increase public support for additional funding… but how would keeping Featherstone locked up generate public support? Hiding a light under a bushel is not a good strategy for getting people to admire the lamp.

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