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The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress.
9/10/1997--Passed Senate amended. National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 - Amends the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 (the Act) to state as the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats. Adds requirements that, in administering the System, the Secretary of the Interior shall: (1) ensure that the System's mission and policies are carried out, except that if a conflict exists between the purposes of a refuge and the System mission, it shall be resolved in a manner that first protects the purposes of the refuge; and (2) monitor the status and trends of fish, wildlife, and plants in each refuge. Recognizes and supports wildlife-dependent recreation (recreation which involves hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, or environmental education and interpretation) within the System. Authorizes the Secretary to enter into cooperative arrangements with State fish and wildlife agencies for the management of programs on a refuge. Prohibits the Secretary from initiating or permitting a new refuge use or expanding, renewing, or extending an existing use, unless the Secretary determines that such use is a compatible use which is not inconsistent with public safety. Establishes compatibility standards and procedures, including those for wildlife-dependent recreational uses. Requires the Secretary to issue final regulations establishing the process for determining a compatible use. States that the compatibility determination provisions of the Act shall not apply to overflights above a refuge or to activities authorized, funded, or conducted by a Federal agency having primary jurisdiction over a refuge. Directs the Secretary to propose comprehensive conservation plans for each refuge in the System except for lands in Alaska (which are governed by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act). Requires maximum 15-year cycles of plan revision. Sets forth matters to be considered in plan development, including fish and wildlife distribution and migration patterns, plant populations, archaeological and cultural values, habitat problems, and opportunities for compatible wildlife-dependent recreation. Authorizes the Secretary to temporarily suspend any refuge activity when necessary to protect the health and safety of the public or any fish or wildlife population.