Remarks by USFWS Director Jamie Rappaport Clark at the dedication of a Fish and Wildlife Service airport exhibit at BWI

Thank you all for coming this morning to help celebrate the exhibit we are dedicating today. When it comes to wildlife conservation, public education and outreach are crucial first steps. A number of hard working and committed professionals made this exhibit possible. I would like to personally recognize and thank those that are with us today. From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service . . .

  • Mike Martin, Patuxent Research Refuge
  • Barbara Benson, Chesapeake Bay Field Office
  • Rick Potvin, Wildlife Inspector, Baltimore LE Office

    Mike and Barbara were responsible for making this happen. They thought of the idea, developed the exhibit, and worked with the Maryland Aviation Administration to secure the airport location. Rick Potvin gathered together the information for the Law Enforcement section.

  • Tom Healy, Senior Resident Law Enforcement Agent, Baltimore, and Catherine Cockey, wildlife inspector.
  • John Wolflin, chief, Project leader, Chesapeake Bay Field Office for his support

    From the Maryland Aviation Administration . . .

  • Kirk Wineland, Deputy Administrator, for the support of his agency.
  • Nancy Sites, Projects Coordinator, for her graciousness and enthusiasm in helping to make this exhibit and this day a success.

The display we are dedicating today conveys a lot of information -- some of which is important to know if you are traveling abroad, and some that is good to know if you are visiting the Baltimore/Washington area.

And what good timing -- Spring Break is just around the corner! During the coming weeks, college students and beach lovers throughout our country will be passing through airports on their way to resort get-aways. For those going to the Caribbean or other foreign destinations, the exhibit warns of the illegal trade in endangered species with information on how to avoid becoming an unwitting participant. And for those traveling in the U.S., it encourages a visit to some of our spectacular wildlife refuges across the country. Right here in the Baltimore/Washington area, it promotes a great place to visit -- our very own Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland.

Next month, the Department of the Interior is celebrating its 150th anniversary. At the Fish and Wildlife Service, the month of March is especially significant -- not only do we celebrate our Department's birthday, but we also celebrate the birthday of our National Wildlife Refuge System, the only system of lands in the world set aside exclusively for the protection of wildlife.

The system turns 96 years old this March. Over its lifetime, it has grown to more than 500 refuges, totaling more than 93 million acres of important wildlife habitat. Each refuge has a conservation success story, whether it be stabilizing waterfowl populations, providing sanctuary for endangered species, or being the site where a new plant community was discovered. There is at least one refuge in every state, and most major cities have a refuge within an hour's drive.

Case in point: our Patuxent Research Refuge is only 15 miles south of BWI airport. This spectacular place, with its nearly 13,000 acres of wetlands and forests, has been called the "lungs of the Baltimore-Washington corridor." It is the site of important national and international wildlife research. Because of the sensitive nature of this research, the area was closed to the public until mid-1990's.

Now, people can visit most of the refuge and take advantage of its interpretive nature tours, hiking trails, and opportunities to hunt, fish, or observe wildlife. The national wildlife education center located on the refuge has some very impressive, high-tech displays on wildlife conservation, such as the efforts to save the critically endangered whooping crane, and also on issues of environmental concern, including deforestation, wetland loss, environmental contaminants, and population growth. The center's display area is a good primer before visitors go outside to enjoy the sights. Outdoors, you might encounter white-tailed deer, bald eagles, blue herons, wood ducks, beavers and a host of other critters.

Now, it might seem unusual to be talking about wildlife here in the middle of a metropolitan airport. But the role the Fish and Wildlife Service plays at airports is crucial to protecting endangered and threatened species. Our wildlife inspectors are the first line of defense in the fight against the illegal trade in rare and protected species. And their efforts right here are especially important. Baltimore is the tenth busiest port in the U.S. when it comes to the import and export of wildlife and products made from wildlife.

Service wildlife inspectors make sure these shipments meet the requirements of not only a wide range of U.S. wildlife laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act, but also international treaties such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and foreign laws of countries regulating the importation and exportation of their native plants and animals. Wildlife inspectors also work hard to encourage international passengers to avoid buying illegal wildlife products, since commerce in such products contributes to the demise of endangered species.

This exhibit will be a big part of that effort to reach out to the public. I understand that here at Baltimore/Washington International airport, nearly 700,000 travelers pass through each year on their way to and from foreign destinations. Unfortunately, many of them are unaware of the need to monitor the trade in endangered species. Some might unwittingly bring back illegal wildlife products as souvenirs. We hope travelers will visit this exhibit before boarding their planes, and that they will pick up a copy of the "Buyer Beware" brochure to take with them. This brochure explains the endangered species trade and alerts readers to the need to protect wildlife worldwide.

If they know before they go, travelers will be able to make informed decisions about what they purchase abroad and understand the consequences of bringing some of these wildlife products back into the United States. Not only may the product be confiscated from them, but they may face fines.

Equally important is the knowledge we provide to travelers that by avoiding the purchase of these products, they are helping other countries and the United States conserve precious and irreplaceable wildlife species. In the end, protecting endangered wildlife is not only an international responsibility, it is also an individual responsibility.

When we return to this country, customs asks us if we have anything to declare. I would ask travelers returning from trips abroad to declare themselves in favor of wildlife!

Thank you.