Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Science and Biology


The passage of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (NWRSIA) and subsequent implementation of 601 FW 3: Biological Integrity, Diversity and Environmental Health Policy (hereafter, the “Integrity Policy”) represented a groundbreaking paradigm shift for refuge management. NWRSIA set forth a “mission for the System, and clear standards for its management, use, planning, and growth (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1999),” by uniting the eclectic mix of refuges nationwide under the same mission, “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” (NWRSIA 1997). The act goes on to say that the Secretary of the Interior must “ensure that the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of the System are maintained for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1999.)” NWRSIA legally formalized the concept of biological integrity as a refuge management objective, but failed to define it. As a result, field experts and refuge managers struggle to discern applications of the biological integrity concept. Given the difficulties inherent in defining biological integrity, and the ambiguities involved with applying the concept to refuge management, examining how the concept is being applied on local refuges reveals valuable information about its practicality. Ultimately, for the biological integrity concept to shape refuge management, some of the ambiguity surrounding its definition and application must be removed. With outside influences such as surrounding land-use, invasive species, and climate change altering the ecological trajectories, biological integrity, as currently defined by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, proves to be an unattainable goal.