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Bill would allow Fish & Wildlife Service to recover for damage

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) could require those who damage its resources to pay for repairing or replacing them, under new legislation. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced a bill that would allow FWS to go after those who injure natural resources on its property and then restore, repair or replace them without special congressional authority. Cardin introduced the United States Fish & Wildlife Service Resource Protection Act on Wednesday, June 26.

The legislation was referred to the Committee on Environment & Public Works. No other senator has thus far cosponsored the bill. Other federal land management agencies, such as the National Park Service, already enjoy such authority.

In addition to directly repairing the harm, the legislation would allow FWS to use recovered funds to asses damage, minimize further harm and assess its efforts. Current law requires FWS to use its already strained resources to repair or replace damage, unless Congress specifically authorizes money for a given project. The only exception involves oil spills.

Cardin's bill would allow FWS to recover from persons and entities that dump toxic waste or other garbage or pollutants that damage national wildlife refuges, fish hatcheries and wetland management districts as well as the National Conservation Training Center. Cardin says the legislation would be budget neutral.

Other than seek compensation, the legislation would not allow FWS to seek any other punitive damages from parties who damage its resources. Current federal civil and criminal laws can punish those responsible for illegal dumping, but any fines recovered go directly to the U.S. Treasury, not to FWS, let alone to mitigate the damage caused.

Cardin said on the Senate floor that in 2010, for instance, 39 arson incidents were reported on FWS property causing $850,000 in assessed damage. He also cited 2,300 vandalism incidents, such as riding vehicles off roads in proscribed territory.

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