Remarks by Director Jamie Rappaport Clark, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the: annual meeting of the National Wildlife Federation

Here we are . . . together in Seattle to shape the conservation century. I look out on this audience and I am pumped! I'm excited because it is my good fortune . . . as Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service . . . to stand WITH you at a time when conservation faces its greatest challenges. And as a new mother, I am reassured, by the strength of your convictions, that my son, Carson, will grow up with places that are still natural, wild and free.

Carson is just 8 months old. He is growing up in Leesburg, Virginia, part of Loudoun County, one of the fastest growing areas in the nation. My husband, Jim, and I moved there in 1993, when our neighborhood was a community of a mere 50 homes, with plenty of trees and wide open fields . . . a real one-stop-light town. Exactly what we wanted for what we thought would be a short tour back east.

Fast-forward to today. In place of the two-lane road that led to our neighborhood, we now have a highway. The open fields, along with the woods beyond, have given way to hundreds of new homes. It's a transformation that is happening to communities all over the country. I'm sure many of you have experienced it in your own neighborhoods, as well.

It is a disturbing trend . . . a booming population and economy are fueling sprawl, causing the loss of wildlife habitat at an increasingly alarming rate. From where I sit, in the Director's chair, I see the impact in black and white . . . in the form of increasing listing actions for endangered and threatened species, increasing compatibility conflicts with our wildlife refuges, and more and more migratory birds sounding the alarms of ecosystems out of balance.

To make matters worse, our waterways, forests, marshes, and grasslands are being invaded. Exotic species -- like melaleuca from the Pacific, mitten crabs from East Asia, and the zebra mussel from the Caspian Sea -- are threatening America's biodiversity by changing the very character of the landscape. Freed of the controls present in their natural habitats, these invaders are spreading on the land like a carpet, out competing native plant and animal species, and thus changing the very nature of America at the ground level. Invasive species are insidious; causing long-term and perhaps permanent damage all across the landscape.

Habitat loss and invasive species pose the greatest conservation challenges of the new century. The sheer magnitude and complexity of these issues raises a very big question: How can we? How can we save habitat in our growing country? How can we control invasive species? How can we stem the flood of new exotic species that arrive each year?

I have the answer: Together . . . we can.

Just look at what we've done during this administration. Together, we've brought the wolf back to Yellowstone, the California condor to the Grand Canyon, and the pallid sturgeon to the Missouri. Together, we've restored the natural flow of many of America's rivers. We've made the National Wildlife Refuge System stronger and better. And together, we are tackling the tough issues, including the conservation of Pacific salmon right here in the northwest.

And right now we have the opportunity to achieve something conservationists have only dreamed of. We're on the verge of regular, dedicated funding for the conservation of non-game species. But it hasn't happened yet. There is the CARA bill in the House, with a companion bill in the Senate, and an Administration proposal in the President's Lands Legacy Initiative. Together, we need to continue our support for both efforts.

Keep up the good work! Keep pushing! Continue to advocate for it, and we WILL have dedicated funding for non-game species. Non-game funding is just one element of the President's Lands Legacy Initiative. In its second year, this Initiative seeks 307 million dollars for the Service. In addition to 100 million dollars for a new non-game partnership program, that total includes: 112 million dollars (a 60 million dollar increase) to acquire lands to strengthen the refuge system . . . 65 million (a 42 million dollar increase) for the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund . . . and a doubling of the funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund to 30 million dollars.

The President's Lands Legacy Initiative gives us an important boost, a boost that spells a GREAT start for the new conservation century. And I mean that literally.

Let me spell out for you what I see as some of the big issues of the 21st century. Let's take the "G" in "great" and talk a bit about grasslands. For a lot of people, the Federation's petition to list the black-tailed prairie dog was a wake-up call. It drew our attention, as well as the attention of others, to the fact that the alarm bells are going off in America's grasslands. Dwindling populations of species like sage grouse and mountain plovers, are alerting us to the fact that something is terribly wrong in the heartland of America.

Because they are so biologically rich, grasslands are important in and of themselves. But they are also important to conservationists because they present us with an opportunity we can ill afford to miss. They provide us with the continuing opportunity to explore ways to work with private landowners to realize conservation on private property. Make no mistake. Conservation on private lands is the wave of the future, and it is particularly important in our efforts to save grasslands.

I admire the Federation for the leadership it has shown in encouraging private landowners to do the right thing. More and more, we are seeing that, given the right tools and incentives, people will step up to the challenge. Look at what we are doing through the High Plains Partnership for the Lesser Prairie Chicken -- we've got 48,000 acres in private land agreements in Oklahoma and New Mexico. We are doing the same for one of North America's most endangered birds, the Attwater's Prairie Chicken. In Texas, where 97 percent of the land is in private hands, we've joined with landowners -- mostly ranchers -- to improve habitat by controlling brush, improving grazing management, and setting prescribed burns. The result is habitat for the Attwater's Prairie Chicken and better pastures for cattle; BOTH on private lands.

These types of programs are becoming so popular that people are now approaching us to get involved . . . and in some cases we have to put them on a waiting list! This kind of public interest was ignited thanks to cost-sharing incentives and to mechanisms, like Safe Harbor Agreements, which make having endangered species on your property a rewarding experience rather than a legal headache.

Ok. Moving on to the "R" in "great," I want to tell you about our refuges. The National Wildlife Refuge System is the only Federal land-base where fish, wildlife, and plant conservation comes first. Its more than 520 units comprise 93 million acres of the best wildlife habitat in the Nation. In 2003, the National Wildlife Refuge System will celebrate its one-hundredth anniversary. Already, we are setting the stage for the next one hundred years. Thanks to the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (or CARE group) -- especially to the Federation's strong role -- we have really begun to address some of the system's most pressing funding needs.

The Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 has stimulated the development of significant policies aimed at shoring up the integrity of the entire System for wildlife. In support of the System's wildlife mission, we are developing public-use policies that not only highlight traditional uses, such as hunting, fishing, and birdwatching, but that also place a strong emphasis on environmental education, interpretation, and volunteer programs. More and more, we are getting people involved with their local refuge. Our goal is to change the perception of these special places from islands of conservation to centerpieces for community conservation efforts.

Now, you might have heard about another idea for the Refuge System. An idea that proposes removing it from the Fish and Wildlife Service and creating a separate, stand-alone Refuge Service. This would be a disaster, and here's why.

First off, the Wildlife Refuge System is better off as part of the Service because it can draw on the skills and expertise of other support programs. For example, it was our Ecological Services field stations, with their indisputable data, that has rescued, time and time again, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. A separate Refuge Service would set up artificial bureaucratic barriers between our core conservation functions. Take the refuge system out of the Service and there is no guarantee it would survive on its own; nor are there any guarantees about what would become of the remaining functions of the Fish and Wildlife Service. We need to think these ideas through before we propose them, otherwise we risk playing into the hands of those who would rejoice at the dismantling of conservation's institutions.

This proposal threatens to divide us at a time in conservation history when it is essential that we stand together. I dread to think of what could happen to places like the White River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas if friends like you didn't stand solidly with us. I've been to White River and it truly is one of our special places. We must make sure that no alterations to the White River will EVER happen.

You are standing with us at White River and you stood with us at Keystone, Colorado when we laid out the Service's vision for the Refuge System -- making it stronger so that it can truly "Fulfill the Promise" for conservation. I ask for your continued support of our efforts to strengthen the Refuge System, and I invite you to join us in celebrating the centennial in 2003.

I want to move on now to a program area that is in dire straits. The "E" in "great" stands for "enforcement." Aldo Leopold once said there is no conservation without enforcement. He was so right; I can see it so clearly from where I sit today. We have much to do to prepare our Law Enforcement professionals for the next century. Our cadre of wildlife agents and inspectors are unique, with specialized knowledge and skills that distinguish them from your typical police force. Our special agents are essential to everything we do, from enforcing fishing and hunting regulations, to enforcing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act, to overseeing the increasing world-wide trade in endangered species. They have apprehended some of the biggest known wildlife smugglers in the world, an amazing feat considering that they are so few spread over so vast an area. We have fewer agents to cover the entire United States than the Customs Office has stationed in Detroit.

Our thin green line is unfortunately getting thinner. We can't just pick people off the street for this line of work. We have to grow them. And we need to prepare them for challenges that are becoming more complex and problematic. The Internet, for example, is enabling illegal trade operations to become more sophisticated. We need to tap into these new technologies and use them as enforcement tools against the outlaws. This is going to take training, equipment, and recruitment. The President's 2001 budget request gives Law Enforcement a boost, the first installment of a multi-year rebuilding plan. I ask for your support, especially during this time of federal budget-making, to help us re-invigorate our law enforcement program. Without a strong law enforcement program, the very fabric and strength of our most important conservation laws are in real jeopardy.

That brings us to the "A" in "great," and I'm going to use it to talk about aquatic restoration. I'm sure you'll agree that there truly is a crisis in our rivers, lakes, and streams. Scientists estimate that in North America, we will lose freshwater species at a rate of 3.7 percent per decade throughout the new century. That is 5 times the extinction rate for land species. To avoid it, we must take action whenever we see projects like the Yazoo Pumps in the lower Mississippi Delta, Oregon Inlet in North Carolina, and Long Island Beach Replenishment in New York, being contemplated. I thank the Federation for stepping up . . . for joining us in exploring alternatives to the dinosaur-like, traditional approaches to controlling nature's water courses. It is essential that we bring the Federal water resource programs into the 21st century, where environmental values are considered, not as an afterthought, but up-front as an essential part of the decision-making process.

Another aquatic issue we need to act on -- one that has been getting a lot of press lately -- involves barriers to fish passage. One of the most effective things we can do to restore declining fish species -- and revive fisheries and recreational angling opportunities -- is to remove fish barriers. Secretary Babbitt, hammer in hand, has made this a personal crusade. As river-ways open up, so do new opportunities for the Fish and Wildlife Service. Unfortunately, securing adequate resources for our Fisheries Program has not always been easy. Our National Fish Hatchery System suffers from tremendous maintenance and operational backlogs. Even so, this branch of the Service has a distinguished track record when it comes to aquatic restoration -- it helped restore the lake trout in the Great Lakes, the American shad in Virginia, and the pallid sturgeon in the Missouri. Our Hatchery System is one of the best tools we have to restore aquatic species and maintain fishing opportunities in the 21st century. We need a strong, robust Fisheries Program to make it work. I ask for the support of Federation members to help us improve aquatic restoration efforts.

And finally, the "T" in "great" brings me to the most important point I want to make this morning. Togetherness.

That is how we NEED to approach conservation's second century. I cannot stress enough the importance of communication and collaboration as we enter conservation's new century. We need to reach out to diverse interests, to talk to those who impact wildlife, to find solutions that work for everyone. Look at how far we've come with the timber industry . . . with the building industry. Together, we can.

Together, we MUST. We are facing a growing population that is encroaching more and more on our wild places. President Clinton says that the goal of his Lands Legacy Initiative is to build a strong community around a healthy environment. Right now the public is waking up to the problem of sprawl. Last month, the Pew Center for Civic Journalism reported the results of five public-opinion surveys on quality-of-life-issues, which show that people consider sprawl and traffic as big an issue as crime.

We NEED to tap into this public interest. We NEED to motivate and enable individuals to take responsibility for the future of wildlife conservation. The conservation movement is fortunate to have people like you, who keep pushing, who keep public opinion high. As advocates for conservation, YOU are in a unique position to inspire the public and shape conservation's future. Use your education and communication programs to connect not only with our traditional audiences, but look to open a dialogue especially with those who we not always see eye-to-eye with. They are the ones, after all, that we must get on the right path.

Rachel Carson once wrote: "We stand now where two roads diverge. . . . The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road . . . offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of life on earth. The choice, after all, is ours to make."

Friends . . . colleagues . . . we are blessed, all of us in this room, to be of these times. We are living in a time of urban sprawl, of tremendous population growth, of extinction rates unrivaled in our era. We have salmon in the west, piping plovers in the east, and grizzlies, wolves, and mountain plovers in between. We get to make the tough choices Rachel Carson wrote about -- choices that will determine how this, our time, is remembered by our children's generation, and those to follow. Our challenge is to be remembered for what we leave of the land, rather than what we build on it. The moment is upon us. It is time to leave our legacy on the land.