Remarks by Director Jamie Rappaport Clark at the: 2000 annual meeting of the Outdoor Writers Association of America
Good afternoon! It's great to be here again this year after missing the meeting last year. I want to open my remarks with a word of thanks to the Outdoor Writers Association. The retirement letter you sent to John Rogers was very moving. I want you to know that it meant a lot to him and to all of us at the Service who have worked with the Outdoor Writers organization over the years.
I read in Dave Buchanan's Outdoors Unlimited column that the last thing you want from me is any political puffery, and that what you want to hear about is the "running dust-up" in Washington over Federal Aid funds. Believe me when I say that I wanted to come here today in large part because of the Federal Aid controversy. As a biologist and a career Service employee, puffery is really not my game. I hope, however, that you will hold others who may speak to you about Federal Aid to the same "no political puffery" standard.
I'd like to start out by saying a few things about the Federal Aid program. I know that you are aware of how important the Federal Aid program is to fish and wildlife and to hunting and fishing in our country. The Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration programs have provided reliable, consistent funding for conservation for many years and will continue to do so into the future. They have brought back some of our most important game species. They have allowed for the growth of fish and wildlife management as a profession. They have provided for hunter safety training. And they have provided facilities and opportunities for hunting, fishing, and boating.
These programs are way too important to be poorly managed. They are also too important to be made part of a partisan political campaign, by anybody, for any purpose. Unfortunately, some have seen the current situation as an opening too good to pass up in a Presidential election year. Over the past year, most outdoor writers have been very responsible in their treatment of the Federal Aid controversy. I hope you will continue to separate the wheat from the chaff as you report on this issue.
Most of you I know have heard the allegations about diversion, waste, or illegal use of Federal Aid funds. I am not going to stand up here and tell you there are no problems in Federal Aid management. There are some problems and I am going to tell you what we are doing to fix them. However, the kinds of problems we have in Federal Aid do not nearly match up to the allegations you have heard.
I must admit that when I became Director, I did not expect to be spending so much time on strengthening the management of our Federal Aid program. The program has been in existence for over 60 years, and candidly it seemed to be running along pretty well. In hindsight, the program had perhaps become so familiar and routine that as the years went by it was not receiving the kind of management scrutiny it needed. In the last year, both the General Accounting Office and the majority staff of the House Resources Committee investigated the Service's management of Federal Aid administrative dollars. They did find poor record keeping and other management concerns that magnified over the years. As the current Service Director, I have the responsibility for these problems and I am committed to fixing them on my watch.
I don't want to spend a lot of time responding to past allegations because I'd like to move on to where we are now and where we're going. But I know some of these things are on your minds, so I'll just respond to a few of them briefly.
First, no Federal Aid money was ever granted to any anti-hunting organization, nor did the Service ever intend to issue such a grant. No employee was dismissed for refusing to grant money to an anti-hunting organization.
Second, no money is "missing." GAO auditors did find poor record-keeping in our Washington Division of Federal Aid office, and there were discrepancies between accounting systems maintained in that Division and our Service-wide accounting system in Denver. These have all been reconciled, and every dollar has been accounted for.
Third, all Federal Aid grant funds were used for projects that support the purposes of the Federal Aid laws. The so-called "slush fund" which I have been accused of maintaining, and other national grant funds, in fact went to supporting such projects as National Fishing Week, the National Shooting Sports Symposium, Becoming an Outdoors Woman, the Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program, and similar programs familiar to outdoor writers. The GAO testified that the Service did indeed have the broad authority for these grant programs. A committee of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies reviewed and recommended funding for projects under the national grants program.
Finally, I would like to point out that despite the heated allegations, the GAO has not accused the Service of doing anything illegal. Interestingly, GAO has yet to even issue a final report on this audit, though I've formally asked them for it. This seems surprising in view of their harshly worded Congressional testimony.
Although we strongly disagreed with some of their testimony, we nevertheless took the GAO's criticisms very seriously. We have undertaken a wide-ranging review of the program, both internally and in cooperation with our State partners. As a result we have put in place considerable changes to improve management.
With the help of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, we convened a State/Federal Review Team. The team issued recommendations in November and we are in the process of implementing many of them right now. For instance, we are tightening oversight of our Federal Aid programs and phasing in reductions to lower the administrative costs to 4 percent of total receipts for both. We have eliminated the Federal Aid administrative grants and Director's conservation fund, two grant programs with record keeping that was strongly criticized by GAO. We have also initiated an outside audit of our Federal Aid administrative expenses. And the Washington office of Federal Aid has new leadership; Kris LaMontagne is on board and has both familiarity with the program and a strong financial background.
In short, our critics identified some real administrative problems that clearly needed correction. The Service has many, very dedicated professionals who are working to put the program back on course. We are working with States and constituent groups to ensure that the Federal Aid program not only improves, but prospers. I pledge to you, and to all America's hunters, anglers and boaters, that the Service can and will do a better and more effective job of administering these critically important programs.
Before I leave this topic, I just want to say that the Fish and Wildlife Service remains committed to maintaining its strong record of support for hunting and fishing. Just in the last couple of years, we have initiated youth waterfowl hunting days, enlisted hunters to help with the light goose overpopulation problem, and increased hunting and fishing on national wildlife refuges. There are now hunting opportunities at 287 refuges, and fishing is allowed at 251 refuges. To keep our partnership with sportsmen strong, we are actively supporting the new Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. I really hope you will drop by their Tuesday evening press event, where they will explain their important outreach campaign to promote fishing and boating. This is a timely story idea considering that this August 9th will mark the 50th anniversary of the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration fund. Again, the press conference is this Tuesday evening at 6:15 in Imperial Ballroom C.
Next I would like to address the challenges facing our fisheries program and our National Fish Hatchery System. Today our fish hatcheries are in dire straits. Our average national fish hatchery is 55 years old. The system has a 75 million dollar operational deficit and a 218 million maintenance backlog. One in four hatchery positions is vacant because we can't afford to fill them. Some hatcheries are losing fish, or are unable to raise fish, because of maintenance problems. We urgently need additional resources to deal with these issues, and to strengthen the scientific and technical capabilities of our hatcheries.
At the same time, our aquatic resources across this country are under tremendous stress. Our national fish hatcheries have been critically important to the restoration of fish like the striped bass, lake trout, salmon and steelhead, and to providing fish to mitigate for the impacts of Federal projects. We will continue to need hatcheries in the future. Unfortunately, securing adequate funding for them has been difficult. In the 1980's, we were dealing with a political climate in which fish hatcheries were seen pretty much as a function of the States. Today, we are addressing concerns raised by the scientific community about interactions between hatchery and wild fish. Our national fish hatcheries have been created over a period of many years, with many different and sometimes conflicting mandates from the Congress. The result has been a lack of clear direction, a lack of focus, and a lack of funding for our hatcheries. We tried, once again this year, to break through some of these barriers to obtain additional funding for our fisheries program and our national fish hatcheries, but so far we have not managed to achieve the kind of public understanding and bi-partisan, broad support for fisheries that has helped our national wildlife refuges in recent years.
To help in that regard, I asked the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council to review the challenges facing the national fish hatchery system and make recommendations to the Service. Under the leadership of Helen Sevier, the Partnership Council has brought hatchery stakeholders together and developed a consensus vision for the future of the System. This vision is contained in a draft report from the Council which the Service is presently reviewing. I hope you will continue to follow this issue as we move forward. I can guarantee that, no matter who the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service is next year, that person will have to face the severe operational, funding, and manpower shortages at our national fish hatcheries. Everyone who cares about fish and fishing should be concerned about this complex and important issue. I hope that outdoor writers will help us by visiting our fish hatcheries and technology centers, and by going out in the field with our great fisheries staff. You'll get some good stories, and you can help shape the future by increasing public understanding of the many resource challenges our fisheries professionals are facing.
Turning to other matters..., I'd like to talk a bit about law enforcement. Typically, people think of federal wildlife agents as "duck cops," ... as federal game wardens who concern themselves with checking hunting licenses and enforcing bag limits. Historically, this has been their role, and today it remains an important part of their work. But the nature of wildlife law enforcement is changing. At the Service, our Law Enforcement Division addresses a wide range of wildlife issues, ranging from illegal wildlife trade, commercial exploitation, habitat destruction, and contaminants. Aldo Leopold once said that there is no conservation without enforcement, and at the Fish and Wildlife Service it is certainly true that law enforcement is an integral part of everything we do.
At the Service, enforcing the law does not only mean nabbing lawbreakers. Our preferred approach is to prevent the law from being broken in the first place. Our law enforcement officers have been extremely successful in building strong partnerships, particularly with industry groups. For instance, to address the problem of bird electrocutions and collisions with power lines, our Law Enforcement Division initiated a partnership with the electric utility industry. Similarly, our wildlife agents worked with the oil industry to address the issue of problem oil pits, which migrating birds too often mistake for ponds . . . with fatal consequences.
These kind of partnerships are redefining wildlife law enforcement in the new century. But unfortunately, the thin green line of wildlife law enforcement is getting thinner. You might recall that Kevin Adams, Chief of our Law Enforcement Division, spoke to you about this last year. For the past 15 years, the Division of Law Enforcement has not received adequate funding. In fact, for the past five years, funding has remained basically flat. The result: We lack funds for travel, investigative work, gasoline, and basic safety equipment. Further, our law enforcement ranks are below full strength because we cannot hire, pay, train, equip, or support our authorized number of special agents, which, at 252 positions, is low in and of itself. For comparisons sake, the U.S. Customs Service has 487 officers in Miami alone. Right now, because of the budget, we have only 208 special agents to enforce wildlife laws throughout the entire United States. This situation is rapidly becoming critical because our agent force is ageing. The number of agents eligible to retire by 2001 could push the number of job vacancies to more than 100.
As Director, I have pushed strongly for law enforcement funding increases. There is support in the administration for it, and a request was included in the President's 2001 budget proposal. But unfortunately due to this year's funding caps, our law enforcement increase may not make it through the Congress.
I share this with you because I hope you can help us raise the profile of our wildlife law enforcement agents and inspectors. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Lacey Act, this country's very first wildlife protection law. The United States has pioneered wildlife law enforcement and today we have the world's most widely respected professional force of wildlife enforcement officers. With their limited resources they have accomplished amazing things. They are always good for an interesting story. Your help in increasing public understanding of wildlife law enforcement will make a difference in maintaining healthy wildlife populations for hunters, anglers, and all our citizens.
Next, I want to share my thoughts on the Conservation and Reinvestment Act. I am very much in favor of the idea behind this legislation -- the use of Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas receipts to maintain healthy populations of non-game species. For the most part, present wildlife programs are geared either to benefit game species or endangered species. That leaves a great many critters in conservation limbo, too many of which are sadly headed for an endangered species listing. To head them off, the Administration proposed its Lands Legacy initiative, to augment critical conservation funding. The CARA bill is in the same spirit. Through the hard work of the "dynamic duo" -- Congressmen Young and Miller -- the CARA bill passed the House with strong support and -- from what I understand -- is moving rapidly through the Senate.
I commend Congressmen Young and Miller for championing conservation funding, especially during an election year and in a House where conservation issues have been known to spark strong disagreements between the parties. But we must remain vigilant. We understand that Senators Bingaman, Murkowski, and their staffs have been working hard to develop a compromise bill that will contain strong conservation goals and has enough support to be passed out of the Senate Energy Committee. Secretary Babbitt has joined in working with the Senate to address the concerns we have.
First, as currently drafted, CARA imposes burdensome and unnecessary restrictions on Federal land acquisition authority. Additionally, the bill does not provide adequate administrative funds for acquisition, while increasing administrative requirements.
Second, CARA does not presently ensure that wildlife grants to states are to be dedicated to the conservation of non-game and "at risk" species.
And third, CARA provides a billion dollars to coastal states for "impact assistance" without ensuring that the money will be used to further the legislation's environmental and conservation goals.
As the White House communicated in its SAP during the House debate, it is important for these issues to be addressed sometime in the legislative process. With that said, I remain supportive of the process and hopeful that someday soon we will have a commitment strengthening the conservation goals of this important legislative initiative.
In closing, I want to highlight an important national celebration that is fast approaching. In 2003, the National Wildlife Refuge System will celebrate its centennial. As part of the centennial we will highlight the partnerships that have made America's National Wildlife Refuge System the finest collection of wild lands for wildlife in the world. An important and long standing partnership is our relationship with hunters and anglers. Too often sportsmen do not receive the credit they deserve for the conservation of America's flora and fauna. The refuge centennial gives you an occasion to feature the sportsmen's role in conservation. Highlight the recovery of waterfowl, the restoration of fisheries, and the impact sportsmen have made through our Duck Stamp and Federal Aid programs. Talk about Teddy Roosevelt, the first conservation president, and how it was his ethic as a sportsmen that led to the establishment of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Throughout this century, refuges have been a uniting force for conservation, bringing together hunters, anglers, bird watchers, and the general public. There is an adventure for everyone waiting in every refuge. As sportsmen and women, I'm sure you've experienced your own adventures and that they have become meaningful moments in your lives. Let's take the occasion of the Refuge System centennial and make it a meaningful event as we embark on this new century.
I've covered a lot of ground today and I am happy to take your questions. We might not get to them all, however, and so I want to remind everyone that Service officials Tom Melius, Dan Ashe, Jon Andrew, Hannibal Bolton and Jim Kurth will hold a press event immediately afterward in the Morehead Room, which is right down the hall.