JULY 6, 1998
ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
FULL COMMITTEE HEARING ON S. 2107,
THE NEOTROPICAL MIGRATORY BIRD PROTECTION ACT OF 1998.
TESTIMONY OF SENATOR SPENCER ABRAHAM

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee with respect to the "Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1998." This legislation, which Senator Daschle and I introduced, is designed to protect over 90 endangered species of birds spending certain seasons in the United States and other seasons in other nations of the Western Hemisphere.

Every year, approximately 25 million Americans travel to observe birds, and 60 million American adults watch and feed birds at home. Bird-watching is a source of great pleasure to many Americans, as well as a source of important revenue to states, like my own state of Michigan, which attract tourists to their scenes of natural beauty. Bird watching and feeding generates fully $20 billion every year in revenue across America.

Birdwatching is a popular activity in Michigan, and its increased popularity is reflected by an increase in tourist dollars being spent in small, rural communities. Healthy bird populations also prevent hundreds of millions of dollars in economic losses each year to farming and timber interests. They help control insect populations, thereby preventing crop failures and infestations.

Despite the enormous benefits we derive from our bird populations, many of them are struggling to survive. 90 species are listed as endangered or threatened in the United States. Another 124 species are of high conservation concern. The primary reason for these declines is the degradation and loss of bird habitat.

What makes this all the more troubling is that efforts in the United States to protect these birds' habitats can only be of limited utility. Among bird watchers' favorites, many neotropical birds are endangered or of high conservation concern.

Because neotropical migratory birds range across a number of international borders every year, we must work to establish safeguards at both ends of their migration routes, as well as at critical stopover areas along their way. Only in this way can conservation efforts prove successful.

The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act will protect bird habitats across international boundaries by establishing partnerships between the business community, nongovernmental organizations and foreign nations. By teaming businesses with international organizations concerned to protect the environment we will combine capital with know-how. By partnering these entities with local organizations in countries where bird habitat is endangered we will see to it that local people receive the training they need to preserve this habitat and maintain this critical natural resource.

This act establishes a three year demonstration project providing $4 million each year to help establish programs in Latin America and the Caribbean. These programs will manage and conserve neotropical migratory bird populations. Those eligible to participate will include national and international nongovernmental organizations and business interests, as well as U.S. government entities.

The key to this act is cooperation among nongovernmental organizations. The federal share of each project's cost is never to exceed 33 percent, and half the nonfederal contribution must be in cash, not in-kind contributions.

The approach taken by this legislation differs from that of current programs in that it is proactive and, by avoiding a crisis management approach, may prove significantly more cost effective. In addition, this legislation does not call for complicated and expensive bureaucratic structures such as councils, commissions or multi-tiered oversight structures. Further, this legislation will bring needed attention and expertise to areas now receiving relatively little attention in the area of environmental degradation.

This legislation has the support of the National Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy and the Ornithological Council. As I understand it, the Fish and Wildlife Service has a letter of support currently working its way through OMB. I expect the Fish and Wildlife Service will recommend several small changes and anticipate that most, if not all, of them will be acceptable.

Again, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you and the Members of this Committee for considering this legislation and allowing me the opportunity to comment. I look forward to working with all of you in the effort to enhance the protection of migratory bird habitat.