14 National Wildlife Refuges affected by Harvey

By Kaitlyn Miller

©Klaus Nigge/USFWS

Fourteen National Wildlife Refuges in Texas and Louisiana were affected by Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in late August 2017.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service is still conducting assessments as to the extent of damage that the hurricane caused. Initial estimates suggest more than $336 million in damages to the real property assets in the refuges is likely — including damages to buildings, visitor centers, boat launches and piers, levees, trails, roads, and bridges. No estimates have yet been made regarding costs associated with recovering fish and wildlife habitats on the refuges, The entire National Refuge System the operations and management budget is $484 million in Fiscal Year 2017.

In Texas, ten refuges were heavily impacted — Aransas NWR, Big Boggy NWR, Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR, San Bernard NWR, Brazoria NWR, Moody NWR, Anahuac NWR, Trinity River NWR, McFaddin NWR, and Texas Point NWR. Refuges that were affected in Louisiana are Sabine NWR, Cameron Prairie NWR Lacassine NWR, and Shell Keys NWR. Combined, these 14 refuges welcomed 1.5 million visitors in 2016. Eight of the refuges are still closed and one has only limited facilities. In refuges that have managed to reopen, many areas are still closed due to public safety concerns caused by continued flooding, structure damages, and debris.

Some of the refuges that were affected by the hurricane are key to protecting endangered species, such as the Attwater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido attwateri), a grouse that is unique to Texas and Louisiana gulf coast areas. According to USFWS only about 100 remain in the wild, with at least 42 individuals estimated to roam the Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR; there are concerns about how many survived the flooding. Aransas NWR also provides key overwintering habitat for the endangered Whooping Crane (Grus americana).

The $15 billion Harvey emergency relief bill that President Trump signed into law on Sep. 8, is only the beginning. The total cleanup and rebuilding will cost the government billions of dollars through emergency supplemental appropriations. The Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement, a large coalition of which The Wildlife Society is a member, is requesting an initial emergency appropriation of $336 million to repair the damages to the assets of the affected NWRs be included in relief bills.

Several National Wildlife Refuges located in Florida are also expected to have sustained significant damages to real property assets and wildlife habitats due to the landfall of Hurricane Irma in early September.

Kaitlyn Miller is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Wildlife Policy and Programs team. Read more of Kaitlyn's articles here.