The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed new planning policies for National Wildlife Refuges, but unfortunately that document did not include any mentions of the benefits of working with agriculture. Shelby Hagenauer, senior director of government affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said agriculture is a key part of National Wildlife Refuge activity.

"It's called cooperative agriculture, and this is a long-standing practice. Farmers and ranchers partner with a refuge to help meet wildlife management goals," Hagenauer said. "In some refuges, agricultural activities were identified as a primary purpose when Congress established that refuge. It's important that this partnership is maintained in new policy documents."

Hagenauer talks about what would happen if agricultural uses were left out of the upcoming final guidance document.

"If the draft documents are not amended, it would be a missed opportunity for the service to send a signal to individual refuge managers about the benefits of agricultural activities on refuges," Hagenauer said. "Agriculture on refuges both provides and improves wildlife habitat and the food resources for that wildlife, and that's consistent with current and proposed refuge planning goals. Grazing is an important management tool to keep invasive species in check, stimulate establishment of native vegetation, and also decrease fire risk by reducing fuel loads on a refuge."

Now that the public comment period is closed, she talks about the next steps for FWS in finishing this guidance.

"The service will now review all the comments submitted, including those from Farm Bureau, along with comments they received during conversations with state agencies and tribes," Hagenauer said. "They will then issue the final policies and those will be used across the refuge system for years, possibly decades. So, we encourage the service to include the importance of agriculture as part of these final management policies."