Hearing on Fish and Wildlife Conservation Bills
Tuesday, July 7,1998, 9:00 a.m.

Good morning, Mr. Chairman. Although I will not have comments on every bill before us this morning, I want to emphasize that these bills represent important issues in Fish and Wildlife Conservation.

S. 361, and H.R. 2807, two versions of the Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act amend the Endangered Species Act to make certain labeling of products a criminal act. I am concerned about these provisions and concerned that these bills may be placing the administration of justice above the doing of justice.

Under S. 361 specifically, if a person labels a product as containing any endangered or threatened species, this provision would make that labeling a criminal act regardless of the content of the package, and regardless of whether the package actually contains parts or products derived from the endangered or threatened species. The penalties for such labeling are enormous, potentially including confiscation of property and considerable fines. The purpose of the provision is to discourage trade in these threatened or endangered species. They say that it is impossible to test all packaging and that continuing to allow such product labeling does not sufficiently discourage trade in endangered and threatened species. Yet I fear that the means to this admirable end may be the discouragement of First Amendment rights.

I remember just a few years ago when the Spotted Owl debate raged on, a small business in the Pacific Northwest relabeled some cans of potted meat product as containing Spotted Owl, a listed species. "Spotted Owl Helper" was packaged claiming to contain Spotted Owl. This humorous attempt to parody a critical habitat designation designed to end logging in the Pacific Northwest would become a criminal act under this law. Why?

During my recent negotiations on the Endangered Species Recovery Act this provision was suggested by the Minority and rejected by the Majority. If passed, the Justice Department might choose to use this provision to stamp out criticism of executive branch policies. Innocent citizens will be made criminals. If this is not the result of this provision then we are on the verge of implicitly agreeing to legislation which is overly broad.

The House version of this bill (H.R.2807), is preferable only in that it applies to a smaller subset of species. But the underlying problem is the same. Mere speech should not be a criminal act. Neither bill contains any exemptions. I see them as prohibitions against free speech. I fear that once this type of legislation is made law, without any of the protections this Congress could provide that the Justice Department will then seek a broader statute for all endangered and threatened species.

The problem that I have with this bill is that it has been proposed for the purpose of stopping poaching of tigers and rhinos in their native habitats to prevent their being sold in the U.S. as natural remedies for arthritis and other ailments. I want to make it clear that I am very much in favor of stopping such poaching. But, I see nothing coming of this bill except criminal confusion. Let's work together to find better ways of stopping poaching.

Senator Allard has recognized in S. 2094, the Fish and Wildlife Revenue Enhancement Act, that the Federal Government stores and disposes of specimens of protected species that have been abandoned or forfeited at our ports. These materials are distributed by the Government to qualified recipients for educational and scientific uses, and for religious purposes of Native Americans. Although the remaining material may be sold if it is not from an endangered or threatened species, the current law does not allow any revenue generated from sales to manage the storage and sales of these materials. Senator Allard's bill will allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to pay shipping, storage, appraisal, and other disposal costs from sale of these items. Because this will make the Government's job easier, and allow disposal rather than perpetual storage, I have chosen to cosponsor this bill.

Senator McConnell has introduced S. 263, the Bear Protection Act which would make the export of bear gall bladders and other tissues an illegal act under Federal law. Mr. Chairman, I am informed that the Black Bear populations in the United States are growing practically everywhere within their native range. The grizzly bear, a species listed under the Endangered Species Act is already protected by Federal law.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to enter into the record this letter from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game which clearly states that the poaching of Black Bear parts for sale is not a problem in my state. I believe that we will hear testimony from witnesses today that suggests similar information is available throughout the range of the species.

I am looking forward to the testimony on S. 2244, National Wildlife Refuge System Volunteer and Partnership Enhancement Act of 1998. I was pleased to be able to cosponsor this bill with you, Mr. Chairman.

Finally, I am very pleased to see continued attention being given to the conservation of our native birds. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation which we reauthorized recently in this Committee has leveraged $5.4 million into nearly $14.5 million for birds throughout the American tropics. Mr. Chairman, I would like to enter this list of AID [Agency for International Development] and non-AID funded projects of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation into the record. I especially want to hear the testimony on S. 1970, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act to see how it fits into the programs we have already established.

Thank you Mr. Chairman for scheduling this hearing. I look forward to hearing the testimony of the witnesses.