10 U.S. Wildlife Refuges Cited as Imperiled : Kesterson and Nevada’s Stillwater at Top of List

Times Staff Writer

Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos, Calif., and Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge in northern Nevada are the national wildlife refuges most threatened by pollution, according to a report issued Thursday by the Wilderness Society, a conservation organization.

The report calls the condition of nation’s wildlife sanctuaries “one of the greatest scandals of American conservation” and recommends that more land be set aside for endangered sites and more comprehensive laws enacted to ensure their preservation.

“These places are in a desperate plight, and no one is hearing their call for help,” George T. Frampton, president of the society, said at a press conference.

Other Threatened Sites


Other national refuges cited by the society on a list of the 10 most threatened sites are the National Key Deer Refuge and Loxahatchee refuge in Florida, Chincoteague refuge in Virginia, Yazoo refuge in Mississippi, Arctic refuge in Alaska, Lower Rio Grande refuge in Texas, Great Swamp refuge in New Jersey and the Upper Mississippi River refuge, which includes parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.

The Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge system, denied that the service is responsible for the system’s pollution problems.

“The situations cited by the Wilderness Society are not new nor are they being ignored. The society seems to think we can build a moat around each of our 445 refuges to protect them from pollution and other external threats. Unfortunately, that just is not possible,” Frank Dunkle, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said.

Staff Chases Birds Away


Frampton cited Kesterson and Stillwater as the two most damaged refuges. If Kesterson is not dead, “it’s certainly in a coma,” he said, adding that the refuge’s staff spends much of its time trying to scare migrating birds away from contaminated ponds.

High levels of toxic selenium caused by agricultural runoff have resulted in the death and deformity of waterfowl and small animals at the refuge, the report says. The state Water Resources Control Board ordered the Kesterson Reservoir closed in 1985, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is now in the process of cleaning up the site.

At the Stillwater refuge, dangerous levels of mercury and selenium in marshes and wetlands have caused the deaths of more than 50,000 ducks, the report states.