A Response to Farmers
US Fish & Wildlife Service has an opportunity to improve their process and to prepare and deliver a meaningful response to these local farmer concerns. In addition, acknowledgment of the role farmers already play, and will play into the future, in building a healthy place for wildlife to thrive will be very important for mending relationships and gaining respect.
Land Protection Plan Input and Timeline
The concerns and expectations outlined here should be incorporated into the Land Protection Plan for the Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge & Conservation Area, as well as any future documents or planning efforts involving refuges in Illinois.
A Land Protection Plan timeline should be developed, and the agency should be held accountable to the public for producing a plan that is clear, based in science, and provides ample opportunity for input and discussion with stakeholders.
Continued Efforts to Build a Relationship
A good working relationship with the US Fish & Wildlife Service should not be dependent on the personality of the staff person appointed to work on the refuge. Rather, the agency should adopt and act on policies that require better communication, outreach, and partnership opportunities between agency staff and a diverse array of local stakeholders, including the Farm Bureau.
Farmers should be respected for the vast amounts of traditional and ecological knowledge they bring to each discussion regarding wildlife and the environment. Farmers should also be trusted to continue to steward the land and the wildlife as they have for generations.
“We need to be thought of as people, not obstacles.”
- Kankakee County farmer
US Fish & Wildlife Service should never highlight individuals and publicly shame them. The federal government is held to high standards, and the agency should make all efforts to meet those expectations.
The US Fish & Wildlife Service shouldn’t force local communities to follow a complicated rulebook that is difficult to understand when establishing and managing the National Wildlife Refuge System. Moving forward, we want a clear and transparent process with ample opportunities for public input and decision-making power from local residents. Likewise, we expect a transparent method for hearing from US Fish & Wildlife Service about their plans, timelines, and goals.
Appropriate Stewardship of Refuge Lands
Given the concerns expressed in this report, it is very important that US Fish & Wildlife Service only commit to refuge lands they can manage well. It is important that the agency stay on top of maintenance needs and actively work toward management goals to lessen the negative impacts on farmer neighbors.
Responsiveness and Good Faith Mitigation When Problems Arise
US Fish & Wildlife Service has not always met the needs of their neighbors when adjacent lands are negatively impacted by the refuge. That must change going forward. Again, that cannot be dependent on the personality of the refuge manager, but rather must be incorporated into agency policy and procedures. Neighbor needs must be respected and addressed.
Regularly Scheduled Discussions and Meetings with Farm Bureau and Elected Officials
Discussions between Farm Bureau, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and elected officials must continue at regularly scheduled intervals. These discussions bring a level of accountability that was previously absent.