Statement by Senator John H. Chafee
Hearing on S. 1287 and S. 627 before the Committee on Environment and Public Works
November 4, 1997

Good afternoon. The Committee is holding this hearing to solicit views on two bills relating to conservation of the two species of elephants in the world today. The first is S. 1287, the Asian Elephant Conservation Act, and the second is S. 627, a bill to reauthorize the African Elephant Conservation Act.

Both of these bills promote worthy goals and programs in conserving these magnificent animals, and both have companion measures that have passed the House of Representatives, and been referred to this Committee. Before taking action on these bills, I feel that it is important for the Committee to have an opportunity to learn more about them, which is the main purpose of this hearing. I have scheduled a business meeting for Thursday to consider, among other things, the Asian Elephant Conservation Act.

The Asian elephant is gravely imperiled. Only 35,000 to 45,000 remain in the wild, and its habitat is disappearing steadily across its range from India to to Malaysia. S. 1287 was introduced by Senator Jeffords on October 9 to address the precarious existence of this keystone species. It is a companion bill to H.R. 1787, which was introduced by Congressman Saxton, passed the House on October 21, and was subsequently referred to this Committee. This bill would create a dedicated fund, authorized at $5 million annually, for activities relating to Asian elephant conservation. The bill has received wide support, and if the Senate passes it before recess, it would be possible to include funding in the President's budget request as early as next year.

S. 627 reauthorizes the African Elephant Conservation Act, which was first enacted in 1989 expires at the end of FY 98. The bill would reauthorize the Act through 2002, at the current level of $5 million.

This bill was also introduced by Senator Jeffords, as a companion bill to H.R. 39, which also passed the House and was referred to this Committee.

I fully support the purposes of these two bills, and recognize both the difficult plight of the Asian and African elephants, and the challenges facing efforts to protect them. At the same time, however, numerous species deserve the type of programs that these bills establish for elephants. There already exists a similar law for the tiger and rhinoceros, and conservation programs would certainly benefit the cheetah and panda, to name but two.

Under this piecemeal approach, we can wind up with a new law for each species that needs protection. I think that we owe it to ourselves, for the sake of efficient legislation, and we owe it to the species, for the sake of effective conservation, to consider legislation that establishes a general fund for the conservation of all foreign species that could benefit from the type of matching grants programs currently established, based on appropriate criteria. This is something that I hope to explore further, and invite the witnesses to speak to this question.

Today, we are honored to have Senator Jeffords, the sponsor of both bills, with us. We are also honored to have Congressman Saxton, chief sponsor of H.R. 1787, here to testify. I look forward to their testimony, as well as that of the other distinguished panelists.