Cat Urbigkit: Biden Administration Proposes More Rules Driven by Ideology, Not Science

Columnist Cat Urbigkit writes, "A new Biden policy would ban agriculture, predator control, & mosquito control on National Wildlife Refuge lands, while allowing introduction of non-native species, seeks to expand federal authority outside refuge lands, and to acquire more water rights."

Cat Urbigkit

February 13, 20247 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)


By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

The Biden Administration has proposed another sweeping new policy for management of public lands that is based more on ideology rather than science. The new policy and regulations once again take the view that “natural processes” are best and stands to further this administration's drive to separate humans from the environment.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), the federal agency charged with managing the nation’s network of more than 560 national refuges encompassing 1.32 million square miles, the purpose of the proposed rule and policy revision "is to clarify the Service’s authority to maintain the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of the Refuge System.” This "biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health” policy is known as the BIDEH policy.

FWS wrote: "This proposed regulation would codify the Service’s continued commitment to managing refuge ecosystems holistically as components of larger landscapes and seascapes and supporting natural processes to meet our conservation goals, while also acknowledging that climate change and other anthropogenic change can require intervention to carry out the Refuge System mission and achieve refuge purposes.”

The proposal includes a legal standard for managing refuge activities that would instruct refuge managers "to use their sound professional judgment, informed by the best available scientific information, to ensure that management actions benefit wildlife conservation by contributing to, and not diminishing, BIDEH.”

The proposal calls for FWS to evaluate the environmental health of soil, water, air and other abiotic features and functions by referencing historical conditions that existed "prior to ecological degradation caused by anthropogenic change," which is defined as "environmental change that humans cause or influence, either directly or indirectly.”

The proposed regulation and associated policy updates "would prioritize deference to natural processes and support ecological connectivity” but "when natural processes are insufficient to meet refuge habitat objectives" the agency would be granted authority to intervene techniques that "mimic natural processes.” FWS defines “natural processes” as “interactions among plants, animals, and the environment that occur without substantial human influence.”

If FWS were to follow its own proposed mandate, FWS should then dry up much of its National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) lands since they are primarily based on irrigation systems developed by humans. But no, FWS also leans in on the need for upholding its water rights and even commits to acquiring, transferring or leasing more water rights to fulfill its purposes under the new policy.

The BIDEH directives include provisions to address climate change through mitigation and adaptation strategies; conserve and connect habitat by allowing for and deferring to natural processes on habitats; conserve fish and wildlife populations; uphold water rights, including acquiring, transferring, or leasing water rights; and promoting and maintaining healthy soil, water and air within the Refuge system.  

FWS wrote: "We will address threats to these abiotic components by pursuing appropriate actions, including when such threats to refuge resources arise outside refuge boundaries.”

Got any alarm bells ringing yet? That statement encapsules the FWS desire to flex federal muscle outside the boundaries of NWR lands and jurisdiction.

The regulations propose to prohibit predator control of native predators. It doesn’t matter that predator control is used to protect sea turtles on NWR lands in Florida, or sandhill crane chicks in Oregon, or forest birds in Hawaii, or to benefit waterfowl in the mid-West, or for a variety of endangered species in California. FWS can’t even claim that this proposed policy is a science-based decision – it’s not.

Under the rule, FWS will allow refuge-approved recreational hunting and fishing, under certain conditions as determined by the agency. Not much mention is made of cooperating with state wildlife agencies, so Wyoming Game & Fish, be forewarned about the federal intention to trample the state’s right to manage its wildlife.

The regulations propose to remove invasive species but will allow conservation translocation of a species outside its current range not just to avoid extinction of a species, but to "reestablish a specific ecological function lost to extinction or extirpation.” Remember last year when the Biden Administration set aside $25 million for bison restoration programs? I do. Coming to a neighborhood near you.

The regulations propose to prohibit the use of genetically engineered organisms, and to prohibit the control of "native mosquitoes,” but the agency may allow the use of pesticides.

Astonishingly, under the proposal by FWS, "We prohibit the use of agricultural practices unless they are determined necessary to meet statutory requirements, fulfill refuge purposes, and ensure biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health, and where we cannot achieve refuge management objectives through natural processes."

Say what? I’m telling you, bison releases will be next.

Anyway, I find this proposed policy astoundingly stupid, driven by ideology and not science. FWS has had a program of cooperative agriculture in place on NWR lands for decades. As the agency describes, “Cooperative agriculture — partnering with farmers and ranchers to meet wildlife management objectives — is a long-standing practice on national wildlife refuges. Cooperative agreements between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and farmers or ranchers may permit grazing by cattle or the growing of grain, hay or other crops at a refuge. The refuge benefits by producing food for wildlife or by improving natural habitat. The farmer profits by harvesting and selling some of the crop. The rancher gains access to grazing land.”

Agriculture occurs on most NWR lands in Wyoming, with some based on historic agreements that were put in place to protect future use like livestock watering and trailing as conditions of the federal government acquiring the land.

Other farming, haying, and grazing use is based on local needs at each refuge, such as a refuge near Cokeville, where farming occurs on previously farmed acreage where small grains, legumes are grown specifically as a stopover/habitat for migrating birds. The production of about 400 acres of small grains on the refuge serves as protection against crop depredation by cranes, geese and ducks on lands outside the refuge.

Other refuges use prescribed grazing by livestock to achieve habitat objectives. For example, at

Seedskadee, managers use grazing to maintain productivity. According to a grazing suitability document written by FWS, “In irrigated areas, naturally or through a series of man-made ditches and levees, the undisturbed vegetation can become so thick that productivity declines and habitat conditions deteriorate. Wetlands require periodic disturbance to maintain productivity, grazing helps to open the canopy to sunlight and warmth earlier in spring to create areas where invertebrates, vegetation and amphibians are jump started in the spring to provide food for migratory birds using the area as a stopover during migration as well as migratory birds that will use the area for nesting and brood-rearing. Open areas are also critical to reduce chytrid fungus, which thrives in shaded cool areas with dense vegetation, to help maintain healthy amphibian populations, mainly Boreal chorus frogs and tiger salamanders.”

The Biden Administration’s proposal seeks to eliminate ag use, but for no reason at all other than it’s an action undertaken by humans.

If you don’t live near a NWR, why should you care? Did you know that FWS has the authority to administratively create new refuges simply by developing a land protection plan? It doesn’t require an act of Congress. That’s been an issue in five counties in northwestern Pennsylvania and southwestern New York, where FWS engaged in a process to consider creating the French Creek NWR by acquiring working farms throughout the area. After farmers and their rural communities expressed opposition, FWS backed off earlier this year.

Read the draft regulation here and read/submit public comments here, by the March 4 deadline.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

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Cat Urbigkit

Public Lands and Wildlife Columnist