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July 21, 2013

U.S. Rep. Fincher skeptical of wildlife refuge expansion benefits

U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher issued the following press statement on his newsletter for his 8th District constituents on July 3. Rep. Fincher takes issue with the proposed expansion of two wildlife refuges in West Tennessee.

Rep. Stephen Fincher writes:

Changes could be coming for the Mississippi and Hatchie River floodplains in Dyer, Lauderdale, Tipton and Haywood counties. This past December, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service proposed expanding the Chickasaw and Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuges into each refuge’s neighboring bottomlands. This expansion would result in the federal government purchasing 120,000 acres — over 1,000 privately owned parcels along 49 miles of the Mississippi River and 106 miles of the Hatchie River, making this the largest refuge west of the Mississippi, impacting our crop production, tax base, freedom of land use and people’s way o

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f life.

While I’m a firm believer in ensuring our environment flourishes with wildlife, this is not the path to follow. At an open listening session in Ripley, the constituents of the 8th congressional district shared their anxieties about how the character of the land will change over the years — how will the Fish & Wildlife Service change the way these bottomlands are used for neighboring farms, including the use of ditches, canals, roads and crop protection tools? They foresee the Fish & Wildlife Service being more concerned with how they use their private farmland than how to properly maintain the refuges for recreational use.

Fish & Wildlife has a significant amount of federal funds for land acquisition, yet it is skimping on management of the lands it already possesses and short changing local tax bases. Overgrown, poorly managed land does not encourage hunters or bird photographers. In fact, it only impacts its surrounding neighbors.

For the past three years, the Fish and Wildlife Service has not requested any appropriated dollars for the refuge revenue sharing program. If this short-sighted policy had been implemented by the Congress then counties throughout this nation who are guaranteed to be compensated for lost tax revenues under the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act of 1935 would have been further shorted in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The Fish & Wildlife Service has admitted that this a long-term buying project, given the “willingness of landowners to sell their land.” I anticipate the “willingness” of landowners to sell being subtly manipulated by this project’s tendency to create a “checkerboard” of federal and privately owned land parcels. Imagine owning a “holdout parcel” island within a wildlife refuge — when activity on the road leading to your driveway is heavily regulated, or when you are threatened with wildlife protection enforcements after building on your land, you may find yourself being passively forced out.

FWSlogo-225x186Finally, the aggressiveness of this project is troubling. The Chickasaw and Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuges expansion are priorities #24 and #32, respectively on the federal purchasing list. At a time when the federal government has taken an $85 billion spending reduction, such a rapid expansion project without proper funds for maintenance seems extremely short sighted. The completion of this project could result in nearly 200,000 acres of under-funded, under-maintained refuges, leading to a loss of realistic recreational use, productive farm land and tax revenue for county rolls.

Congressman Fincher held an oversight hearing during the last week of June in the House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee to discuss the impact of this proposed expansion in West Tennessee. Moving forward, Rep. Fincher plans to continue to investigate the necessity of this expansion to make sure the 8th District of Tennessee’s interests are represented. Fincher is a seventh generation agribusiness family farmer, and managing partner of the 3,000 acre Fincher Farms in West Tennessee.

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