Presentation at Leadership Training Course

Let me begin by saying it is a privilege to serve as your Director. I am thrilled to be in this position especially at this time, when this storied agency is entering a new millennium. Let me tell you why: Attitudes are changing.

I've seen this change for myself in the very town where I live. When my career brought me to Washington, my husband and I set out to find a new home with one non-negotiable criteria: we wanted a natural landscape around our house. We settled on Leesburg, Virginia. It's one heck of a commute but we found what we wanted: a community of a mere 50 homes with one stop light, and all around us plenty of trees and wide open fields. At least, that's how it was when we moved there in 1993. Change has come to Leesburg. The two-lane road that led to our house is now a highway, and the open fields, along with the woods beyond, have given way to hundreds of new homes.

Nonetheless, when the Leesburg development plan was discussed at a town hall meeting, I'll never forget the one request my neighbors kept making: Leave us some trees. It is a request being echoed throughout the land. According to data gathered by the Land Trust Alliance, the last election cycle saw 148 ballot proposals on open-space funding initiatives. Of those, 84 percent passed, many by large margins, and for many of them, people voted to raise their taxes for the sake of preserving natural habitat.

These communities deserve praise for their foresight. They have the right attitude toward natural areas. Think about it. The human population of the planet has reached nearly six billion people. Here in the United States it is expected to increase by 125 million people in the next 50 years. That is the equivalent of 15 New York Cities. Population growth tends to lead to habitat loss, and habitat loss today has given us the highest rate of species extinction in the history of the world! My heart breaks every time we have to list a species as endangered. It is especially difficult to swallow knowing that with enough foresight, the listing could have been avoided.

But now, with communities across the nation standing up for open space, there is promise for the new millennium. And for us at the world's premiere wildlife agency, there is a unique opportunity to step up to the plate and provide some leadership for this emerging grassroots movement. All of us in this room should seize that opportunity.

This is exciting stuff. At the dawn of a new millennium, the Fish and Wildlife Service has the chance to help people change the way they interact with the land. This will be the key to saving wildlife in the future, especially when we are confronted with the anticipated population growth.

Based on our agency's past, I have the utmost faith that we can do it. We did it during the era of the Dust Bowl, when we restored dwindling waterfowl populations. Our efforts paid off. Right now, we are seeing the largest fall flights of ducks on record.

We also did it with the Pittman-Robertson Act, a law that established what is to this day one of the most successful user-pay programs of all time. This program enabled us, with our state partners, to restore populations of white-tailed deer, black bear, and wild turkey, to name just a few species.

If we are determined, we can save even the most imperiled species. The Endangered Species Act, only 26 years young, is starting to show results; I'm sure you've all read about the peregrine falcon's delisting. It joins the Eastern brown pelican, the American alligator, and the Rydberg milk-vetch on the list of recovered endangered species. We can do it.

So take pride in being part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service has accomplished some amazing things in the past. Now it is up to the future leaders of the Service -- all of you here today -- to live up to the legacy of our predecessors.

What will our legacy be? As Director, I have made it my personal goal to do more in four areas. Before my time is up, I would like to:

  • Take migratory bird conservation to a new level;
  • Move the Service toward an ecosystem approach to conservation;
  • Strengthen our National Wildlife Refuge System; and
  • Lead the charge in our nation's fight against invasive species.

All of these address the larger issue of habitat loss.

There are also four burning issues that we will have to address in the coming years:

  • Fish Hatcheries: Together with the states, fishing groups, and Native American tribes, we need to re-examine our National Fish Hatchery System, and position it so that it can be an effective aquatic resource conservation tool for the next century.
  • Federal Aid: We need to look at the future of our Federal Aid program, especially in light of the GAO audit and recent Congressional scrutiny.
  • Law Enforcement: We have a budget-starved skeleton crew trying to enforce wildlife laws throughout the nation. How bad is this situation? The U.S. custom service has more agents covering the city of Detroit than we have covering the entire nation. With just more than 90 agents on staff, crimes against wildlife are going undetected because we don't have the resources to effectively enforce wildlife laws.
  • Workforce diversity: Our workforce must reflect the public we serve. As community relations and outreach become more important to conservation, we need people who understand the various segments of our population. We've made headway in the hiring of women and minorities, but we need to do more. All of you are in a position to make it happen.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will need strong leaders to make headway in the four priority areas and to overcome the hardships of the burning issues of the day. That is where you come in. There is no single recipe for leadership. Much depends on your personal management style and the personalities of your staff, but if you were to ask me what it is going to take to get the job done at the Fish and Wildlife Service, I would emphasize four things:

  • Team work: The future of conservation will depend on the partnerships we forge now. We have a good start with our partnerships with states, wildlife recreation groups, Friends groups, conservation organizations, and Indian tribes. We need to do more with private landowners along the lines of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. But we must also think of others in the Service as partners. That is what the GARDs and PARDs are supposed to foster ... better internal cooperation. I expect GARDs and PARDs to sit down together and engage in a dialogue on how to tackle wildlife conservation problems in a comprehensive manner. Let's not think in terms of refuge issues, fisheries issues, contaminants issues. They are all wildlife issues and every program has a role to play.
  • Communication: This will be vital to forging partnerships. The majority of Americans support our mission. Now we must be able to articulate our plan of action and motivate the public to participate. And we must also listen. Be open to other points of view. In negotiation and in public speaking, seek out the common ground. Talk to people in terms that mean something to them.
  • Imagination: We live in a world that is rapidly changing. We have new congressional members every two years. Globalization is changing the way entire industries do business. New breakthroughs in science and technology are requiring us to re-examine what we're doing. Future managers will have to be imaginative and adapt to these changes. The human imagination is limitless and so are the possibilities. Explore all your options and be open to new ways of doing things.
  • Courage: This is what is required to take chances and try new approaches. People might not always agree with you, but if you have conviction based on facts, they will respect you. And with respect comes credibility in your leadership skills. Stand up for wildlife, and you'll soon see others standing with you.

We have a lot of work ahead of us and several challenges to overcome. When you all leave this room, I hope you will remember one thing: The best thing we have going for us are the people of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Your staffs are dedicated and hard-working professionals, and it is our jobs as agency leaders to help each one of them realize their full potential. That is why we're here, and I commend you for coming.

I'd like to end my talk by sharing with you something very special that happened to me on July 13. On that day, my son Carson was born. He has become an inspiration for me. When he grows up, I would like him to know what it is like to explore the woods behind the yard, to be awed by the vastness of a desert, to stand on a mountain and marvel at the stars as they shine in a clear night sky. With Carson's future in my mind, I go to work every day determined to save wild places and wild creatures. I hope that all of you will find that special something that stirs the passions of your hearts, and that it will cause you to cherish the leadership roles that you now have. You have one of the best wildlife professional jobs in the world!

Well, I shared my thoughts with you. Now I would like to open it up for discussion.