The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has agreed that a DXpedition to Baker and Howland Islands (KH1) — the fourth most-wanted DXCC entity — would be an acceptable use, but has detailed strict conditions under which it would issue a special use permit (SUP) to allow such use. The FWS recently completed a compatibility determination for Amateur Radio operation on Baker Island National Wildlife Refuge, and 2 dozen comments showed “strong support” for Amateur Radio operation on the ecologically sensitive island refuge, the FWS said. Baker Island is 1,830 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu — an 8-day voyage.
“While…not a wildlife dependent public use according to National Wildlife Refuge Administration Act of 1966, as amended, Amateur Radio operation is a use that assists in the management of the resources indirectly,” the FWS said in its Compatibility Determination, released on June 8. “By allowing Amateur Radio operators to visit the PRIMNM refuges, the refuges benefit through the ability of staff to visit remote island sites to monitor wildlife populations, habitats, detect invasive species introductions, and perform management actions that would otherwise require the Service to charter a vessel.”
Citing an estimated cost of at least $250,000 to charter a vessel with a 14-day layover, the FWS noted that “most of the remote island refuges within the PRIMNM are rarely visited due to budget constraints.”
Baker and Howland Islands are part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM), created by former President George W. Bush under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906. The monument was expanded by President Barack Obama.
The Compatibility Determination mandated 18 stipulations for Amateur Radio DXpeditions visiting the Refuge. Among them: “All General Conditions of the SUP would apply to Amateur Radio operator expeditions. This includes the Special Conditions that stipulate stringent quarantine procedures, vessel inspections and certifications, anchoring and landing requirements, wildlife avoidance measures, zero-impact requirements, and reporting requirements. Biosecurity requirements will be part of the SUP.”
A DXpedition to the Refuge could last up to 14 days, with only 12 days of radio operation, given that deployment and breakdown of the camp and radio equipment usually takes 2 days on each end of the trip, the FWS has estimated.
“Complete avoidance of seabird colonies will minimize nest disturbance and prevent burrow nest cave-ins,” the FWS said in its Compatibility Determination. “Activities on Baker Island will always attract the land crabs that inhabit this location. All efforts must be taken to avoid inadvertently feeding or entrapping these animals.”
The FWS would also have to approve QSL cards to ensure that they include “an informative or educational statement about the Refuge.” The FWS called QSLs “a valuable outreach tool.”