State permit policies & procedures
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National Wildlife Refuges
Research and monitoring activities require a “special use” permit.
Employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service do not need this permit.
The application form can be downloaded here or from the USFWS website: http://forms.fws.gov/3-1383.pdf
Denial of permit; appeal process
The form is simple, but the process is much more elaborate.
➢ We strongly encourage researchers to meet with
refuge managers prior to submitting an application. Discuss the
research and the logistical aspects insofar as refuge management is
concerned (i.e., use of vehicles, off-hour access, modification of
vegetation). Be prepared to explain how the knowledge derived from your
research can help this refuge and the National Wildlife Refuges
generally. Although usefulness to the National Wildlife Refuge/Refuge
System is not strictly required by law, it will certainly go a long way
to helping an understaffed and overburdened refuge manager decide that
whatever workload your presence will add – however minimal – is
There appears to be no on-line listing of resarch science needs; the
Ornithological Council has Qasked the Chief of the National Wildlife
Refuge System if there might be some way to match refuge science needs
with researchers in need of research sites.
➢ Apply as far in advance as possible. The two
required analyses can be very time-consuming and most refuges are
understaffed and may find it difficult to make the time to undertake
this process. A simple project that will have little or no impact to
the refuge or other refuge users might not entail a lengthy approval
process, but refuge management might need several months to consider
more complex proposals that might have impacts on the refuge or require
coordination with refuge staff and/or other refuge users.
There is a provision for expedited review but as you can’t know if the
refuge manager will consider expedited review appropriate for your
proposal, assume for the purpose of planning that a full review will be
needed. Nonetheless, it can’t hurt to ask if expedited review is
“The Refuge Administration Act provides for expedited consideration of
uses that will likely have no detrimental effect on the fulfillment of
the purpose(s) of the refuge or the System mission. The intent of this
provision is to reduce the administrative burden on the refuge manager
and speed the compatibility determination process for uses that are
frequently found to be compatible. For minor, incidental, or one-time
uses that have been shown to have no significant or cumulative impact
to the refuge and would likely generate minimal public interest, the
time period for an opportunity for public review and comment may be
reduced to the time available.”
To issue a special use permit, a refuge manager must determine:
1. The use is “appropriate”
2. The use “compatible”
use policy can be found here
Although the policy addresses recreational uses, the USFWS made clear
when it published this policy that it would subject proposed uses for
research to the same analysis, “Not all research may be
appropriate. Some research may affect fish, wildlife, and plants in a
manner neither consistent with refuge management plans nor compatible
with refuge purposes or the Refuge System mission. Some research may
interfere with or preclude refuge management activities, appropriate
and compatible public uses, or other research. Some research may be
appropriate off the refuge, but not on the refuge. For example, some
natural and physical research may not be wildlife-dependent and may be
accomplished successfully at locations off the refuge. Because not all
research supports the establishing purposes of refuges or the Refuge
System mission, we cannot define research as a refuge management
activity. Therefore, we did not exempt all research from evaluation
under this policy.” 71 F.R.36415 (26 June 2006).
The appropriate use policy also states:
(4) Research. We actively encourage cooperative natural and cultural
research activities that address our management needs. We also
encourage research related to the management of priority general public
uses. Such research activities are generally appropriate. However, we
must review all research activities to decide if they are appropriate
or not as defined in section 1.11. Research that directly benefits
refuge management has priority over other research.
The criteria for finding that a proposed use is appropriate are as
A. A refuge use is appropriate if the use meets at least one of the
following three conditions:
(1) It is a wildlife-dependent recreational use of a refuge. This
finding does not require refuge supervisor concurrence.
(2) It contributes to fulfilling the refuge purpose(s), the Refuge
System mission, or goals or objectives described in a refuge management
plan approved after October 9, 1997, the date the Improvement Act was
signed into law. This finding does not require refuge supervisor
(3) The refuge manager has evaluated the use following the guidelines
in this policy and found that it is appropriate. The refuge manager
will address the criteria below and complete FWS Form 3-2319 for each
use reviewed for appropriateness, including uses reviewed in
conjunction with a CCP or step-down management plan. If the answers to
the questions on FWS Form 3-2319 are consistently “yes,” and if the
refuge manager finds, based on sound professional judgment, the use is
appropriate for the refuge, the refuge manager then prepares the
written justification using FWS Form 3-2319. (If the answer to any of
the factors is “no,” refer to section 1.11B) Before undertaking a
compatibility determination, the refuge manager should forward the
justification to the refuge supervisor to obtain written concurrence
when a use is found appropriate. The requirement for concurrence from
the refuge supervisor will help us promote Refuge System consistency
and avoid establishing precedents that may present management problems
in the future. Refuge supervisors will usually consult with their
Regional Chief/CNO Assistant Manager and peers in other Regions/CNO as
these decisions are made to promote consistency within the Refuge
System. The refuge manager will base the finding of
appropriateness on the following 10 criteria:
(a) Do we have jurisdiction over the use? If we do not have
jurisdiction over the use or the area where the use would occur, we
have no authority to consider the use.
(b) Does the use comply with all applicable laws and regulations? The
proposed use must be consistent with all applicable laws and
regulations (e.g., Federal, State, tribal, and local). Uses prohibited
by law are not appropriate.
(c) Is the use consistent with applicable Executive orders and
Department and Service policies? If the proposed use conflicts with an
applicable Executive order or Department or Service policy, the use is
(d) Is the use consistent with public safety? If the proposed use
creates an unreasonable level of risk to visitors or refuge staff, or
if the use requires refuge staff to take unusual safety precautions to
assure the safety of the public or other refuge staff, the use is not
(e) Is the use consistent with refuge goals and objectives in an
approved management plan or refuge purpose(s). These goals and
objectives are documented in refuge management plans, such as CCPs and
step-down management plans. Refuges may also rely on goals and
objectives found in comprehensive management plans or refuge master
plans developed prior to passage of the Improvement Act as long as
these goals and objectives comply with the tenets and directives of the
Improvement Act. If the proposed use, either itself or in combination
with other uses or activities, conflicts with a refuge goal, objective,
or management strategy, the use is generally not appropriate.
(f) Has an earlier documented analysis not denied the use or is this
the first time the use has been proposed? If we have already considered
the proposed use in a refuge planning process or under this policy and
rejected it as not appropriate, then we should not further consider the
use unless circumstances or conditions have changed significantly. If
we did not raise the proposed use as an issue during a refuge planning
process, we may further consider the use.
(g) For uses other than wildlife-dependent recreational uses, is the
use manageable within available budget and staff? If a proposed use
diverts management efforts or resources away from the proper and
reasonable management of a refuge management activity or
wildlife-dependent recreational use, the use is generally not
appropriate. In evaluating resources available, the refuge manager may
take into consideration volunteers, refuge support groups, etc. If a
requested use would rely heavily on volunteer or other resources, the
refuge manager should discuss the situation with the refuge supervisor
before making an appropriateness finding. The compatibility policy also
addresses the question of available resources (603 FW 2.12A(7)).
(h) Will the use be manageable in the future within existing resources?
If the use would lead to recurring requests for the same or similar
activities that will be difficult to manage in the future, then the use
is not appropriate. If we can manage the use so that impacts to natural
and cultural resources are minimal or inconsequential, or if we can
establish clearly defined limits, then we may further consider the use.
(i) Does the use contribute to the public’s understanding and
appreciation of the refuge’s natural or cultural resources, or is the
use beneficial to the refuge’s natural or cultural resources? If not,
we will generally not further consider the use.
(j) Can the use be accommodated without impairing existing
wildlife-dependent recreational uses or reducing the potential to
provide quality (see section 1.6D), compatible, wildlife-dependent
recreation into the future? If not, we will generally not further
consider the use.
But that’s not all….
The refuge manager must find a use is appropriate before undertaking a compatibility
review of the use. This policy clarifies and expands on the
compatibility policy (603 FW 2.10D(1)), which describes when refuge
managers should deny a proposed use without determining compatibility.
If we find a proposed use is not appropriate, we will not allow the use
and will not prepare a compatibility determination. By screening out
proposed uses not appropriate to the refuge, the refuge manager avoids
unnecessary compatibility reviews.
Although a refuge use may be both appropriate and compatible, the
refuge manager retains the authority to not allow the use or modify the
use. For example, on some occasions, two appropriate and compatible
uses may be in conflict with each other. In these situations, even
though both uses are appropriate and compatible, the refuge manager may
need to limit or entirely curtail one of the uses in order to provide
the greatest benefit to refuge resources and the public. See the
compatibility policy (603 FW 2.11G) for information concerning
resolution of these conflicts.
The full compatibility policy can be found here
Compatible use. A proposed or existing wildlife-dependent recreational
use or any other use of a national wildlife refuge that, based on sound
professional judgment, will not materially interfere with or detract
from the fulfillment of the National Wildlife Refuge System mission or
the purposes of the national wildlife refuge.
A compatibility determination is required for all refuge uses as
defined by the term "refuge use" and must include in the analysis
consideration of all associated facilities, structures, and
improvements, including those constructed or installed by us or at our
direction. This requirement will apply to all such facilities,
structures, improvements, and refuge actions associated with uses that
we approve on or after the effective date of this policy and to the
replacement or major repair or alteration of facilities, structures,
and improvements associated with already approved uses.
Refuge use, and Use of a refuge. A recreational use (including refuge
actions associated with a recreational use or other general public
use), refuge management economic activity, or other use of a national
wildlife refuge by the public or other non-National Wildlife Refuge
Denying a proposed use without determining compatibility.
(1) The refuge manager should deny a proposed use without determining
compatibility if any of the following situations exist:
(a) The proposed use conflicts with any applicable law or regulation
(e.g., Wilderness Act, Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection
Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act);
(b) The proposed use conflicts with any applicable executive order, or
written Department of the Interior or Service policy;
(c) The proposed use conflicts with the goals or objectives in an
approved refuge management plan (e.g., comprehensive conservation plan,
comprehensive management plan, master plan or step-down management
(d) The proposed use has already been considered in an approved refuge
management plan and was not accepted;
(e) The proposed use is inconsistent with public safety;
(f) The proposed use is a use other than a wildlife-dependent
recreational use that is not manageable within the available budget and
(g) The proposed use conflicts with other resource or management
objectives provided that the refuge manager specifies those objectives
in denying the use.
(2) A compatibility determination should be prepared for a proposed use
only after the refuge manager has determined that we have jurisdiction
over the use and has considered items (a) through (g) above (see
2.11 What are considerations when applying compatibility?
A. Sound professional judgment.
(1) In determining what is a compatible use, the Refuge Administration
Act relies on the "sound professional judgment" of the Director. The
Director delegates authority to make compatibility determinations
through the Regional Director to the refuge manager. Therefore, it is
the refuge manager who is required and authorized to exercise sound
professional judgment. Compatibility determinations are inherently
complex and require the refuge manager to consider their field
experiences and knowledge of a refuge's resources, particularly its
biological resources, and make conclusions that are consistent with
principles of sound fish and wildlife management and administration,
available scientific information, and applicable laws. When a refuge
manager is exercising sound professional judgment, the refuge manager
will use available information that may include consulting with others
both inside and outside the Service.
(2) The refuge manager must also consider the extent to which available
resources (funding, personnel, and facilities) are adequate to develop,
manage, and maintain the proposed use so as to ensure compatibility.
The refuge manager must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the lack
of resources is not an obstacle to permitting otherwise compatible
wildlife-dependent recreational uses (hunting, fishing, wildlife
observation and photography, and environmental education and
interpretation). If reasonable efforts do not yield adequate resources
to develop, manage, and maintain the wildlife-dependent recreational
use, the use will not be compatible because the Service will lack the
administrative means to ensure proper management of the public activity
on the refuge.
(3) Refuge managers are reminded that, unless otherwise provided for in
law or other legally binding directive, permitting uses of national
wildlife refuges is a determination vested by law in the Service. Under
no circumstances (except emergency provisions necessary to protect the
health and safety of the public or any fish or wildlife population) may
we authorize any use not determined to be compatible.
B. Materially interfere with or detract from.
(1) When completing compatibility determinations, refuge managers use
sound professional judgment to determine if a use will materially
interfere with or detract from the fulfillment of the System mission or
the purpose(s) of the refuge. Inherent in fulfilling the System mission
is not degrading the ecological integrity of the refuge. Compatibility,
therefore, is a threshold issue, and the proponent(s) of any use or
combination of uses must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the refuge
manager that the proposed use(s) pass this threshold test. The burden
of proof is on the proponent to show that they pass; not on the refuge
manager to show that they surpass. Some uses, like a proposed
construction project on or across a refuge that affects the flow of
water through a refuge, may exceed the threshold immediately, while
other uses, such as boat fishing in a small lake with a colonial
nesting bird rookery may be of little concern if it involves few boats,
but of increasing concern with growing numbers of boats. Likewise, when
considered separately, a use may not exceed the compatibility
threshold, but when considered cumulatively in conjunction with other
existing or planned uses, a use may exceed the compatibility threshold.
(2) While refuge managers should be looking for tangible impacts, the
fact that a use will result in a tangible adverse effect, or a
lingering or continuing adverse effect is not necessarily the
overriding concern regarding "materially interfere with or detract
from." These types of effects should be taken into consideration but
the primary aspect is how does the use and any impacts from the use
affect our ability to fulfill the System mission and the refuge
purposes. For example, the removal of a number of individual animals
from a refuge through regulated hunting, trapping or fishing would, in
many instances, help the refuge manager manage to improve the health of
wildlife populations. However, the take of even one individual of a
threatened or endangered species could significantly impact the
refuge's ability to manage for and perpetuate that species. Likewise,
wildlife disturbance that is very limited in scope or duration may not
result in interference with fulfilling the System mission or refuge
purposes. However, even unintentional minor harassment or disturbance
during critical biological times, in critical locations, or repeated
over time may exceed the compatibility threshold.
(3) The refuge manager must consider not only the direct impacts of a
use but also the indirect impacts associated with the use and the
cumulative impacts of the use when conducted in conjunction with other
existing or planned uses of the refuge, and uses of adjacent lands or
waters that may exacerbate the effects of a refuge use.
C. Making a use compatible through replacement of lost habitat values
or other compensatory mitigation. We will not allow compensatory
mitigation to make a proposed refuge use compatible, except by
replacement of lost habitat values as provided in subparagraph D below.
If the proposed use cannot be made compatible with stipulations we
cannot allow the use.
D. Existing rights-of-way. We will not make a compatibility
determination and will deny any request for maintenance of an existing
right-of-way that will affect a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge
System, unless (1) the design adopts appropriate measures to avoid
resource impacts and includes provisions to ensure no net loss of
habitat quantity and quality; (2) restored or replacement areas
identified in the design are afforded permanent protection as part of
the national wildlife refuge or wetland management district affected by
the maintenance; and (3) all restoration work is completed by the
applicant prior to any title transfer or recording of the easement, if
applicable. Maintenance of an existing right-of-way includes minor
expansion or minor realignment to meet safety standards. Examples of
minor expansion or minor realignment include: expand the width of a
road shoulder to reduce the angle of the slope; expand the area for
viewing on-coming traffic at an intersection; and realign a curved
section of a road to reduce the amount of curve in the road.
E. Refuge-specific analysis. We must base compatibility determinations
on a refuge-specific analysis of reasonably anticipated impacts of a
particular use on refuge resources. We should base this refuge-specific
analysis on information readily available to the refuge manager,
including field experience and familiarity with refuge resources, or
made available to the refuge manager by the State, tribes, proponent(s)
or opponent(s) of the use, or through the public review and comment
period. Refuge-specific analysis need not rely on refuge-specific
biological impact data, but may be based on information derived from
other areas or species that are similarly situated and therefore
relevant to the refuge-specific analysis. We do not require refuge
managers to independently generate data to make determinations but
rather to work with available information. Refuge managers may work at
their discretion with the proponent(s) of the use or other interested
parties to gather additional information before making the
determination. If information available to the refuge manager is
insufficient to document that a proposed use is compatible, then the
refuge manager would be unable to make an affirmative finding of
compatibility, and we must not authorize or permit the use. See
2.12A(8) for additional information dealing with priority public uses.
F. Relationship to management plans. The refuge manager will usually
complete compatibility determinations as part of the comprehensive
conservation plan or step-down management plan process for individual
uses, specific use programs, or groups of related uses described in the
plan. The refuge manager will incorporate compatibility determinations
prepared concurrently with a plan as an appendix to the plan. These
compatibility determinations may summarize and incorporate by reference
what the refuge manager addressed in detail in the comprehensive
conservation plan, step-down management plan, or associated National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document.
G. Managing conflicting uses. The refuge manager may need to allocate
uses in time and/or space to reduce or eliminate conflicts among users
of the refuge. If this cannot be done, the refuge manager may need to
terminate or disallow one or more of the uses. The Refuge
Administration Act does not prioritize among the six wildlife-dependent
recreational uses. Therefore, in the case of direct conflict between
these priority public uses, the refuge manager should evaluate, among
other things, which use most directly supports long-term attainment of
refuge purposes and the System mission. This same analysis would
support a decision involving conflict between two nonpriority public
uses. Where there are conflicts between priority and nonpriority public
uses, priority public uses take precedence.
H. Reevaluation of uses.
(1) We will reevaluate compatibility determinations for existing
wildlife-dependent recreational uses when conditions under which the
use is permitted change significantly, or if there is significant new
information regarding the effects of the use, or concurrently with the
preparation or revision of a comprehensive conservation plan, or at
least every 15 years, whichever is earlier. In addition, a refuge
manager always may reevaluate the compatibility of a use at any time.
(2) Except for uses specifically authorized for a period longer than 10
years (such as rights-of-way), we will reevaluate compatibility
determinations for all existing uses other than wildlife-dependent
recreational uses when conditions under which the use is permitted
change significantly, or if there is significant new information
regarding the effects of the use, or at least every 10 years, whichever
is earlier. Again, a refuge manager always may reevaluate the
compatibility of a use at any time.
(3) For uses in existence on November 17, 2000, that were specifically
authorized for a period longer than 10 years (such as rights-of-way),
our compatibility reevaluation will examine compliance with the terms
and conditions of the authorization, not the authorization itself. We
will frequently monitor and review the activity to ensure that the
permittee carries out all permit terms and conditions. However, the
Service will request modifications to the terms and conditions of the
permits from the permittee if the Service determines that such changes
are necessary to ensure that the use remains compatible. After November
17, 2000, no uses will be permitted or reauthorized, for a period
longer than 10 years, unless the terms and conditions for such
long-term permits specifically allows for the modifications to the
terms and conditions, if necessary to ensure compatibility. We will
make a new compatibility determination prior to extending or renewing
such long-term uses at the expiration of the authorization. When we
prepare a compatibility determination for reauthorization of an
existing right-of-way, we will base our analysis on the existing
conditions with the use in place, not from a pre-use perspective.
(4) The refuge manager will determine whether change in the conditions
under which the use is permitted or new information regarding the
effects of the use is significant or not. The refuge manager will make
this decision by considering whether or not these new conditions or new
information could reasonably be expected to change the outcome of the
compatibility determination. Any person at any time may provide
information regarding changes in conditions and new information to the
refuge manager. However, the refuge manager maintains full authority to
determine if this information is or is not sufficient to trigger a
(5) When we reevaluate a use for compatibility, we will take a fresh
look and prepare a new compatibility determination following the
procedure outlined in paragraph 2.12A.
I. Public review and comment. An opportunity for public review and
comment is required for all compatibility determinations. For
compatibility determinations prepared concurrently with comprehensive
conservation plans or step-down management plans, we can achieve public
review and comment concurrently with the public review and comment of
the draft plan and associated NEPA document. For compatibility
determinations prepared separately from a plan, we will determine the
appropriate level of opportunity for public review and comment through
a tiered approach based on complexity, controversy, and level of impact
to the refuge. See 2.12A(9) for details on public review and comment.
The text below outlines what the refuge manager must document. Reading
this text will give you insight into what might make your proposal more
acceptable and insight into the burden this policy imposes on the
(1) Use. Identify the use. A use may be proposed or existing, and
may be an individual use, a specific use program, or a group of related
uses. The refuge manager will determine whether to consider a use
individually, a specific use program, or in conjunction with a group of
related uses. However, whenever practicable, the refuge manager should
concurrently consider related uses or uses that are likely to have
similar effects and associated facilities, structures and improvements,
in order to facilitate analysis of cumulative effects and to provide
opportunity for effective public review and comment.
(2) Refuge name. Identify the name of the refuge.
(3) Establishing and acquisition authority(ies). Identify the specific
authority(ies) used to establish the refuge (e.g., Executive Order,
public land order, Secretarial Order, refuge-specific legislation, or
(4) Refuge purpose(s). Identify the purpose(s) of the refuge from the
documents identified in 2.12A(3). For a use proposed for designated
wilderness areas within the System, the refuge manager must first
analyze whether or not the use can be allowed under the terms of the
Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1131-36). If so, the refuge manager must then
determine if the use is compatible. As a matter of policy, the refuge
manager will also analyze whether or not the use is compatible with the
purposes of the Wilderness Act, which makes such purposes supplemental
to those of the national wildlife refuge.
(5) National Wildlife Refuge System mission. The mission of the
National Wildlife Refuge System is "to administer a national network of
lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where
appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and
their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and
future generations of Americans."
(6) Description of use. Describe the nature and extent of the use. The
refuge manager may work with the proponent(s) of a use to gather
information required in subparagraphs (a) through (e) below to describe
the proposed use. If the use is described in sufficient detail in a
comprehensive conservation plan, step-down management plan, other plan,
or associated NEPA document, the refuge manager may provide a summary
of the use and reference the plan or NEPA document. At a minimum, the
refuge manager must address and include the following in the
(a) What is the use? Is the use a priority public use?
(b) Where would the use be conducted? Describe the specific areas of
the refuge that will be used: habitat types and acres involved; key
fish, wildlife, and plants that occur in or use that habitat; and the
proportion of total refuge acreage and the specific habitat type
involved. Include a description of other areas that may be affected
incidental to the specific use, such as access to the destination area
and storage of equipment. This information may be described in writing
and on a map.
(c) When would the use be conducted? Describe the time of year and day,
and duration of the use.
(d) How would the use be conducted? Describe the techniques to be used,
types of equipment required, and number of people per given period.
Include supporting uses and associated facilities, structures and
improvements as appropriate, e.g., boating and boat ramps to support
fishing, camping and campsites to support hunting, etc.
(e) Why is this use being proposed? Describe the reason for the use and
the need to conduct the use on the refuge. Describe the extent to which
other areas in the vicinity provide similar opportunities.
(7) Availability of resources.
(a) Complete an analysis of costs for administering and managing each
use. Implicit within the definition of sound professional judgment is
that adequate resources (including financial, personnel, facilities,
and other infrastructure) exist or can be provided by the Service or a
partner to properly develop, operate, and maintain the use in a way
that will not materially interfere with or detract from fulfillment of
the refuge purpose(s) and the System mission. If resources are lacking
for establishment or continuation of wildlife-dependent recreational
uses, the refuge manager will make reasonable efforts to obtain
additional resources or outside assistance from States, other public
agencies, local communities, and/or private and non-profit groups
before determining that the use is not compatible. If adequate
resources cannot be secured, the use will be found not compatible and
cannot be allowed. Efforts to find additional funding must be
documented on the compatibility determination form.
(b) For many refuges, analysis of available resources will have been
made for general categories of uses when preparing comprehensive
conservation plans, step-down management plans, other plans, or NEPA
documents. If the required and available resources are described in
sufficient detail in a comprehensive conservation plan, step-down
management plan, other plan, or associated NEPA document, provide a
summary of the required and available resources for the use and
reference the plan or NEPA document. If not sufficiently covered in the
planning document, the following should be documented in the
(i) Resources involved in the administration and management of the use.
(ii) Special equipment, facilities or improvements necessary to support
the use. Itemize expenses such as costs associated with special
equipment, physical changes or improvements necessary on the refuge
that would be required to comply with disabled access requirements.
(iii) Maintenance costs associated with the use (e.g., trail
maintenance and mowing, signing, garbage pickup or sanitation costs,
parking areas, road repair or grading, building or structure repair,
including blinds, boat ramps, kiosks, etc.).
(iv) Monitoring costs (e.g., biological or visitor surveys, maintenance
of control sites, etc.) to assess the impact of uses over time on
natural resources and quality of the visitors' experience.
(c) This analysis of cost for administering and managing each use will
only include the incremental increase above general operational costs
that we can show as being directly caused by the proposed use.
(d) Offsetting revenues, such as entrance fees and user fees that are
returned to the refuge, should be documented in determining the costs
to administer individual or aggregated uses.
(8) Anticipated impacts of the use.
(a) Identify and describe the reasonably anticipated impacts of the
use. In assessing the potential impacts of a proposed use on the
refuge's purpose(s) and the System mission, refuge managers will use
and cite available sources of information, as well as their best
professional judgment, to substantiate their analysis. Sources may
include planning documents, environmental assessments, environmental
impact statements, annual narrative reports, information from
previously conducted or ongoing research, data from refuge inventories
or studies, published literature on related biological studies, State
conservation management plans, field management experience and
consultation with wildlife research professionals, State wildlife
resource managers and industry professionals, etc. Refuge managers are
not required to independently generate data on which to base
compatibility determinations. The refuge manager may work with the
proponent(s) of the use and other interested parties to gather
additional information before making the determination. If available
information to the refuge manager is insufficient to document that a
proposed use is compatible, then the refuge manager would be unable to
make an affirmative finding of compatibility and we must not authorize
or permit the use. If the use is a priority public use, and sufficient
information is not available, the refuge manager should work with the
proponent of the use to acquire the necessary information before
finding the use not compatible based solely on insufficient available
information. This does not mean that the burden of information
collection is shifted to the refuge manager, but that the refuge
manager should take steps to ensure that the additional information
needs are clearly identified and that appropriate assistance is
provided in facilitating the collection of that information.
(b) Refuge managers should distinguish between long-term and short-term
impacts. A use may initially only be expected to cause minor impacts to
the resource. However, the cumulative impacts over time may become
quite substantial. Other uses may have impacts that are very short in
duration but very significant while they are occurring, or are the
converse: very long in duration but very insignificant in effect.
(c) Although direct impacts on refuge resources, such as wildlife
disturbance or destruction of habitats, or degradation of ecological
integrity may be easily predicted, the analysis of impacts must also
address indirect and cumulative effects that may be reasonably
associated with a specific use. Indirect impacts of a proposed use may
include taking away or diverting resources from an activity that would
support fulfilling the System mission or refuge's purposes and
therefore would be a factor in determining whether the proposed use is
compatible or not. A use with little potential for impact on its own
may contribute to more substantive cumulative impacts on refuge
resources when conducted in conjunction with or preceding or following
other uses, and when considered in conjunction with proposed or
existing uses of lands and waters adjacent to the refuge.
(d) If the anticipated impacts of the use are described in sufficient
detail in a comprehensive conservation plan, step-down management plan,
other plan, or associated NEPA document, refuge managers may provide a
summary of the anticipated impacts of the use and reference the plan or
(e) Refuge managers should list all conservation objectives in approved
refuge management plans (e.g., comprehensive conservation plan,
comprehensive management plan, master plan, or step-down management
plan), that reasonably might be affected by the proposed use. To the
extent possible, the determination of anticipated impacts should
include an explanation of the impacts on these specific conservation
objectives and how that affects fulfilling refuge purposes or the
(9) Public review and comment.
(a) The refuge manager must provide an opportunity for public review
and comment on the proposed refuge uses(s) before issuing a final
compatibility determination. Public review and comment includes
actively seeking to identify individuals and organizations that
reasonably might be affected by, or interested in, a refuge use.
Additionally, public review and comment will offer the public the
opportunity to provide relevant information and express their views on
whether or not a use is compatible. The extent and complexity of public
review and comment that is necessary or appropriate will be determined
by the refuge manager. For example, significantly modifying a popular
hunting, fishing, or wildlife observation program would likely be
controversial and would require considerable opportunity for public
review and comment, whereas temporarily closing a small portion of a
wildlife observation trail would likely require much less opportunity
for public review and comment. For compatibility determinations
prepared concurrently with comprehensive conservation plans or
step-down management plans, public involvement can be achieved
concurrently with the public review and comment of the draft plan and
associated NEPA document. For compatibility determinations prepared
separately from a plan, handle the level of public review and comment
through the following tiered approach.
(i) For minor, incidental, or one-time uses that have been shown by
past experience at this or other refuges in the System to result in no
significant or cumulative impact to the refuge and would likely
generate minimal public interest, the public review and comment
requirement can be accomplished by posting a notice of the proposed
determination at the refuge headquarters.
(ii) For all other uses, at a minimum, the refuge manager will solicit
public comment by placing a public notice in a newspaper with wide
local distribution. The notice must contain, at a minimum: a brief
description of the compatibility determination process, a description
of the use that is being evaluated, the types of information that may
be used in completing the evaluation, how to provide comments, when
comments are due, and how people may be informed of the decision the
refuge manager will make regarding the use. The public will be given at
least 14 calendar days to provide comments following the day the notice
(iii) For evaluations of controversial or complex uses, the refuge
manager should expand the public review and comment process to allow
for additional opportunities for comment. This may include newspaper or
radio announcements, notices or postings in public places, notices in
the Federal Register, letters to potentially interested people such as
adjacent landowners, holding public meetings, or extending the comment
(b) Public review and comment efforts must be documented on the
compatibility determination form and relevant information retained with
compatibility determinations as part of the administrative record. The
documentation must include a description of the process used, a summary
of comments received, and a description of any actions taken or not
taken because of the comments received. All written public comments
will be retained in the administrative record. If a comprehensive
conservation plan or NEPA document is being prepared, this information
would be included in these documents as part of the administrative
(10) Use is compatible or not compatible. Identify whether the use is
compatible or not compatible. This is where the refuge manager
indicates whether or not the use would, or would not, materially
interfere with or detract from the fulfillment of the National Wildlife
Refuge System mission or the purposes of the refuge.
(11) Stipulations necessary to ensure compatibility.
(a) Describe any stipulations (terms or conditions) necessary to ensure
compatibility. If a use is not compatible as initially proposed, it may
be modified with stipulations that avoid or minimize potential adverse
impacts, making the use compatible. It is not the responsibility of the
refuge manager to develop a sufficient set of stipulations so as to
make an otherwise not compatible proposed use, compatible. If the use
cannot be modified with stipulations sufficient to ensure
compatibility, the use cannot be allowed.
(b) Protective stipulations in the compatibility determination for a
particular use should specify the manner in which that use must be
carried out to ensure compatibility. Stipulations must be detailed and
specific. They may identify such things as limitations on time (daily,
seasonal, or annual) or space where a use could be safely conducted,
the routes or forms of access to be used, and any restrictions on the
types of equipment to be used or number of people to be involved.
Monitoring of the use must be sufficient to evaluate compliance with
stated conditions and swift action must be taken to correct or respond
to any serious deviations.
(12) Justification. After completing the steps described above, the
refuge manager will provide a written justification for the
determination. The justification must provide a logical explanation
describing how the proposed use would, or would not, materially
interfere with or detract from the fulfillment of the National Wildlife
Refuge System mission or the purposes of the refuge.
And that’s not all…
Even if the use is found to be appropriate and compatible, it can still
A determination that a use is compatible does not require the use to be
allowed. Determinations on whether or not to allow otherwise compatible
uses are based on compliance with other laws, the System mission,
policy, refuge purposes, availability of resources to manage the use,
possible conflicts with other uses, public safety, and other
administrative factors. The refuge manager must clearly document and
describe in writing the administrative reasons for not permitting a
compatible use. Usually, a refuge manager will make this decision prior
to making a compatibility determination and completing one will be
What can you do if your permit request is denied?
Procedures for appealing a permit denial are provided in 50 CFR 25.45
(special use permits), 50 CFR 29.22 (rights-of-way), 50 CFR 36.41 (i)
(special use permits for refuges in Alaska), or 43 CFR 36.8
(rights-of-way for Alaska). We are providing no administrative
mechanism to appeal a compatibility determination.
Details of the appeal process are provided here.