The DIRECTOR'S SECOND YEAR REPORT as delivered by USFWS Director Jamie Rappaport Clark November 18, 1999, at the National Conservation Training Center, Shepherdstown, WV
First, thank you everyone for the best wishes and support my family and I received this summer. Our son, Carson, is a delight and inspiration to me, and I do miss spending the days with him. But at the same time, it is really good to be back in the office. Luckily, I did stay connected at home this summer, by FAX, phone, and computer. So, re-entry wasn't so difficult!
I also want to thank everyone for all your hard work during the past year. When I issued my First Year Report, I challenged the Fish and Wildlife Service to move forward in four priority areas. Well, you delivered!
I asked for your help in strengthening the National Wildlife Refuge System and you rolled up your sleeves and helped save the dirt. We began at Keystone and from there developed the "Fulfilling the Promise" document, a blueprint to guide the implementation of the Refuge System Improvement Act and to set the course for the future. Proposed policies on compatible uses and Comprehensive Conservation Plans are out for public review as I speak. And today our refuges offer more hunting and fishing opportunities than ever before. Furthermore, with the Volunteer and Community Partnership Act, we are set to tap into the power of community partnerships. Right now we have 200 Friends groups, double the number we had a mere two years ago. The momentum is building and we are on track for a big 100th anniversary bash in 2003, with plenty to celebrate!
We've also seen a lot of action in another priority area: migratory bird conservation. Reaching out beyond our borders, we joined an international effort to reduce by up to 80 percent the number of seabirds that perish as by-catch in fishing long-lines. Back on dry land, we have exciting partnerships underway. In New Orleans, at the Conference of Mayors annual meeting, we debuted our Urban Treaties pilot program, aimed at involving the people of America's cities in bird conservation. We are also forging exciting partnerships with the private sector. Together with the electric power industry, we are addressing power line problems, including bird strikes and electrocutions. This year, we are hoping to repeat that success with another industry -- the communication industry, which must address bird problems associated with communication towers.
We are also addressing problems with overpopulation of certain species. We made a significant push to implement snow goose control measures but a legal challenge has delayed action. To get us moving forward again, we have conducted scoping meetings across the country and plan to have a draft EIS out by late spring.
Lastly, I am happy to announce that the ambitious North American Bird Conservation Initiative is off the ground. This bird conservation effort is of a magnitude and scale that has never before been attempted. Earlier this month, the U.S. steering committee for this continent-wide effort held its first meeting, which I co-chaired along with the President of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, David Waller. Many of the bird-conservation work plans we and our partners put together from Partners in Flight to the North American Waterfowl Management Plan are being dove-tailed into this initiative, making possible on-the-ground projects that will provide habitat for all bird species, from the Yucatan to the Arctic.
With regard to the fight against invasive species, we are on the front lines. The Service played a guiding role in the development of the Executive Order that sounded the alarm on this issue. We followed that up with a document entitled "A Call to Arms," a battle plan to fight invaders on every front. This builds on the leadership roles we presently hold as a co-chair of the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force and as one of the members on the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.
The Great Lakes, like many of our aquatic systems, are besieged by a great many of these invaders. One of them is the zebra mussel. Our Hundredth Meridian Initiative, focused on controlling the zebra mussel's spread, is sure to become a model effort. By rallying American and Canadian government agencies, tribal interests, and the private sector, it has fostered a comprehensive, volunteer effort to stymie the zebra mussel's westward expansion.
Partnerships are key elements not only in our efforts against a host of biological invaders, but also on our outreach and education campaigns, and in preventing the introduction of new invaders by means such as the management of ballast water discharges.
This cooperation underscores an important point . . . we can not do it all by ourselves.
And that need for collaboration brings me to the fourth priority I set last year -- moving us toward an ecosystem approach. Over the course of the year I visited a number of ecosystem teams and I saw firsthand many inspiring developments. I have also read with great interest of the many incredible things Ecosystem Teams are accomplishing on the ground.
Let me mention just a few of the projects that impressed me. In Region Four, one team is restoring the highly threatened scrub habitat, using Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge as an anchor in their efforts.
In Region Two, we have joined with private landowners to save the Attwater's prairie chicken, one of our continent's most endangered birds. Under a pilot program, we signed cooperative agreements with 8 landowners to restore prairie habitat. Interest has exceeded funding in this case -- we have a waiting list of many more landowners eager to participate.
Lastly, I want to congratulate the Roanoke/Cape Fear/Tar/Neuse Ecosystem Team for its impressive demonstration of cross-program potential. In an effort that includes 11 wildlife refuges, two regional offices, our fisheries and ecological service programs, and two states, the team took on the task of completing a multi-refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan that extends beyond refuge boundaries to include most of the drainage of the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds.
The ecosystem teams are creating incredible opportunities for cross-collaboration, and to make this easier for everyone, our National Outreach Team has prepared a Fish and Wildlife Service pocket guide which every employee will receive by year's end. Within its pages, you'll be able to find each of our major offices listed and you'll also find information on all the other programs of the Service and how they can help you meet your needs. This will be a great tool for us all.
As you can see, 1999 has been a good year. And not only in our four priority areas. This past summer we celebrated the success of some of our endangered species recovery efforts. In July, we announced the removal of the American peregrine falcon from the endangered species list. This creature, the fastest of all birds, was reduced to 320 nesting pairs in 1975 due to the indiscriminate spraying of DDT. Today, there are more than 1,600 pairs.
Other species are also bouncing back. Heading the list is the bald eagle, America's symbol of majesty, power, and grace. At a White House ceremony in early July, President Clinton announced plans to delist our national bird. A year from now, I hope to announce its full recovery. The bald eagle is not alone on the comeback trail. Joining it are the Aleutian Canada goose, the Tinian Monarch, and the gray wolf. All of you involved in these recovery efforts deserve tremendous praise for your dedication, your commitment, and your perseverance.
In 1999, we also saw one of the most dramatic improvements in aquatic habitat when Maine's Edwards Dam was breached, opening 17 miles of the Kennebec River to 9 migratory fish species. For the first time in 160 years, the Atlantic salmon, American shad, blueback herring, striped bass, and rainbow smelt of the Kennebec, as well as other fish, now have free access to their historic habitat.
This was a tremendous event. Secretary Babbitt was on hand, and two governors and the entire congressional delegation of Maine took a personal interest in securing the removal. Service employees in the Northeast deserve tremendous credit for helping restore this important fish passage.
As you can see, we have momentum going into the new century. To help us make the most of it, we have some new faces in key leadership positions.
In the Washington Office, we have Assistant Director Cathy Short at the helm of the Fisheries Program. Heading the Ecological Services Program, we have Gary Frazer. And I'd like to welcome Lori Williams, my Special Assistant, back into the Fish and Wildlife Service family. Also joining us in the front corridor is Paul Chang, Special Assistant to Deputy Director John Rogers.
There are some new Deputy Regional Directors out there, too: Mamie Parker for Region Five and Gary Edwards for Region Seven.
Now, as I am sure you have heard, some functions may be re-shuffled in the Washington Office. The changes that are being proposed were prompted, in large part, by the massive workload associated with Ecological Services, as well as the need to provide increased attention to Federal Aid, strengthen our Fisheries Program, elevate the status of the Refuge System, and provide a greater emphasis on our partnerships with the states.
After a thorough review, I decided to ask Congress for reprogramming authority to restructure our headquarters office. The proposal I will present to Congress was detailed in an all-employee memo I issued in late October. The changes add a new Assistant Director and re-align existing programs. Under the plan, there would be an AD for the National Wildlife Refuge System, with responsibility for the divisions of refuges and realty, and a new AD for Migratory Birds and State Programs, including the Migratory Bird office, North American Waterfowl and Wetlands Office, Federal Aid, Duck Stamp and the Partnership Liaison Division. The divisions of Habitat Conservation and Environmental Contaminants would move from Ecological Services to Fisheries, which will be renamed Fisheries and Habitat Conservation. Marine mammals will join Endangered Species under the AD for Endangered Species and Marine Mammals. The National Conservation Training Center, which is running very successfully and no longer needs direct supervision from the Director's office, will be re-aligned under External Affairs.
Allow me to emphasize that the changes we are proposing begin and end on the Director's corridor. They will have no effect on the Service's field operations. Any minimal adjustments the Regional Offices feel will be necessary must first meet with the approval of my office. Remember, these changes will not take effect unless and until we receive Congressional approval.
The changes I am proposing will make the Washington Office more effective. Together with the leadership in the Regional Offices and the new faces in Washington, this new structure should give the Service the capability it needs to move ahead in our priority areas and tackle some hot internal issues that we must resolve.
One of our biggest challenges for the coming year will involve aquatic conservation. A recent article by Canadian researchers found that America's freshwater species are disappearing at a rate five times greater than land species. Already this century, we have seen 123 freshwater species become extinct. We need stronger aquatic conservation efforts. I believe the Washington Office re-alignment will help, but more than anything else we need to work with our state, tribal, and local partners to improve fish passage, restore aquatic habitats, and replenish fish stocks.
Our National Fish Hatcheries are critically underfunded and under-staffed, yet the demands on our hatcheries are greater than ever. Our hatcheries are a vital tool for aquatic resource conservation, and we need to re-tool them for the challenges of the 21st century. I am grateful to the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council for agreeing to help us work with stakeholders in developing a long-range blueprint for the Hatchery System. By combining a revitalized Hatchery System with increased emphasis on habitat restoration and conservation, we will have the kind of Fisheries program we need to take us forward into the new century. And for those of you who may be wondering, we DO plan to continue our mitigation responsibilities, but we plan on seeking a higher level of reimbursement for our activities from other Federal agencies. We will also continue our support to Tribes, and working with them we will seek opportunities over time to recover more of our costs and to restore native fishes on Tribal lands.
While on the topic of fisheries, I want to applaud the hard work of Region 7, which today finds itself in the very controversial position of taking over subsistence-fishing rights in the State of Alaska. It's a big challenge, but I know our folks in Region 7 are ready for it.
Now I want to discuss Law Enforcement. Our wildlife agents play an important role in everything we do at the Fish and Wildlife Service, yet this thin green line is stretched to the breaking point. I want to let everyone in our Law Enforcement program throughout the country know that I appreciate their hard work. Earlier, I mentioned our work with the electric power industry to reduce bird strikes and electrocutions on power lines. Law Enforcement led that effort, as well as our effort with the oil industry to address problem oil pits. Both of these efforts demonstrate that law enforcement is about much more than prosecuting violators and imposing fines. Law enforcement is also part of the solution, working on-the-ground with industry and others to help them avoid violating the law.
I know there is much more law enforcement could do for the resource if they had more support. Well, I'm proud to stand up for law enforcement and I hope to boost the resources available for our special agents and inspectors before my tenure is up.
As you can see, we accomplished much, but there is still much to do. We are on the cusp of a new millennium, a time loaded with symbolic significance. Let us use it to renew our commitment to wildlife conservation. In doing so, let us not forget those who have left us: Kathy Cheap and James "Mike" Callow of Washington's Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge and Eric Cox of Minnesota's Red Lake Wildlife Management Area -- all of whom perished in tragic airplane crashes; Tommy Tollefson, a Region Two Realty Specialist, whose legacy includes the Balcones National Wildlife Refuge and its bounty of life; Paul Starkey, an enrollee in our Career Awareness Institute who passed away suddenly of a heart seizure; John Gottschalk, one of our former and greatest directors, who lost his life to cancer; and Senator John Chafee, a personal, dear friend of mine and also of the Service whose leadership on the Hill gave us much to prepare us for the new century. Let us draw inspiration from them and commit ourselves to carrying on the mission to which they dedicated their lives.
One last thing. Should we ever be filled with doubt . . . or if we ever feel we are fighting for the impossible . . . let us remember one of our greatest moments this past year. Let us remember Izembek. At that place on the Alaska peninsula, we kept a road from cutting through a wilderness. We can do it . . . especially now, with the backing of two of the Service's great supporters: Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Assistant Secretary Don Barry. These true friends of the Service are key leaders in a supportive administration. We have come far in a year's time. We have much to be proud of, but now we need to think like a long-distance runner on the last leg of a race; this is the time to dig deep, to empty the tank and to push hard. We have the momentum. Let us enter the new millennium with powerful, determined strides, and make it a meaningful moment in the history of the Fish and Wildlife Service.