by Gary J. Taylor, Legislative Director, International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
July 7, 1998

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am Gary Taylor, Legislative Director of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and I appreciate the opportunity to share with you the Association's perspectives on several fish and wildlife bills before the Committee. You have asked particularly for our comments on the Bear Protection Act; the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act; and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act.

The International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, founded in 1902, is a quasi-governmental organization of public agencies charged with the protection and management of North America's fish and wildlife resources. The Association's governmental members include the fish and wildlife agencies of the states, provinces, and federal governments of the U.S. , Canada, and Mexico. All 50 states are members. The Association has been a key organization in promoting sound resource management and strengthening federal, state, and private cooperation in protecting and managing fish and wildlife and their habitats in the public interest.

Let me begin, Mr. Chairman, with our comments on S. 263, the Bear Protection Act. The Association cannot support S. 263 as introduced. We understand that the intent of the bill sponsors is to help address the poaching of Asian bear species for their gall. However, the bill as currently drafted focuses its application largely on the regulation of trade of bear viscera in the United States based on the premise that domestic poaching of U.S. indigenous bear species is contributing to the market demand for bear gall and is having (or could in the future have) a significant negative impact on U.S. bear populations. Mr. Chairman, there is no substantiation to support either of these premises, and the Association therefore concludes that as drafted S. 263 is neither necessary nor helpful in addressing the decline of foreign bear species. Let me offer right up front, Mr. Chairman, that the Association is certainly willing to work with the bill sponsors and the USFWS on a more appropriately focused import-export bill that would address any existing regulatory deficiencies under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). However, S. 263 as introduced, does not do that.

Mr. Chairman, as you are likely aware, bear populations throughout the United States are robust and generally increasing. Also, as you are likely aware, the statutory responsibility for the conservation and management of bear species in the United States lies largely with the State fish and wildlife agencies, except for the polar bear, grizzly bear and Louisiana black bear where the USFWS shares jurisdiction for these species with the States. Regulation of bear harvest and allowable use of any parts or products (fur, claws, gall, etc.) is thus closely regulated by the State Fish and Wildlife agency including through the application and enforcement of the Lacey Act by State and federal wildlife officers. As you are aware, the Lacey Act already makes it a federal violation to transport or sell across state lines any wildlife that is illegally taken in the state of origin. As recently as May, 1997, our Association surveyed all 38 bear range states regarding illegal harvest and population impact. The information from the States clearly substantiates that while incidental illegal harvest occurs, there is no significant population impact from illegal harvest in any bear range state. If there were, Mr. Chairman, I can assure you that our State fish and wildlife agencies would take appropriate action to address it. This conclusion is also corroborated by the USFWS in a paper delivered last year at the 2nd International Symposium on the Trade of Bear Parts, in which Dr. Gnam and Dr. Lieberman of the Office of Management Authority conclude that the FWS "Division of Law Enforcement has determined that the poaching of American black bear for their gall bladders and other parts to supply the demands of the Asian market for these products is not a significant problem and does not occur on any large scale."

The Association believes, therefore, that the application of the Lacey Act to all US domestic commerce in bear viscera, whether it is legal in a state or not, as proposed in S. 263 is unnecessary for bear resource protection, and is an inappropriate federal intrusion into state management authorities and prerogatives. If enacted, enforcement of this law would divert wildlife law enforcement conservation efforts away from higher priority issues as commercial trade and trafficking of wildlife, particularly foreign species. Mr. Chairman, it is not as easy to poach bear unobtrusively as it is to take a few squirrels or rabbits out of season. The states spend tens of millions of dollars each year in wildlife law enforcement and I assure you would be aware of any significant poaching of domestic bear populations. The several States' record on conservation law enforcement speaks for itself and there is no substantiated evidence that would compel federal intervention. The State fish and wildlife agencies are prepared to respond to any increase in poaching of bears.

Mr. Chairman, our state-based system of fish and wildlife conservation in the United States is justifiably the envy of the rest of the world. Let me suggest that, rather than the creation of additional federal statutory authority as contemplated in S. 263, especially where it preempts state management prerogatives, the provision of additional resources to the USFWS -- Division of Law Enforcement would be a more appropriate and effective means of affecting Asian bear populations by the regulation of illegal trade in their parts or products. As I indicated earlier, there is little data to substantiate if U.S. bear gall is contributing to a market demand for Asian bear gall and thus affecting the Asian bear parts trade, and consequently, the Asian bear population. The Association would thus encourage additional support to the USFWS-LE to answer this question also. Finally, as I indicated earlier, we would be happy to work with the bill sponsors and USFWS on a more narrowly focused import-export bill that could address some legal deficiencies in CITES that might exist now.

However, the Association believes S. 263 as introduced is both unnecessary and inappropriately expansive in its reach to domestic bear species, and unnecessarily intrudes into state conservation and management prerogatives for wildlife. We therefore cannot support S. 263 as introduced.

Let me now turn to S. 659, the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. In general while the Association can support the bill from a perspective that it could facilitate more effective cooperation between the federal, state and tribal entities relative to fisheries restoration, we would question whether this legislation is necessary to accomplish that objective. Further, we wish to express our interest in the use of the authorized money for on-the-ground fisheries conservation and restoration efforts, rather than for USFWS facilities and administrative infrastructure.

Mr. Chairman, we certainly recognize the ecological value of the Great Lakes and the need for close cooperation among the many jurisdictional entities in restoration of this system to its former health. Our state fish and wildlife agencies work closely with our federal U.S. and Canadian partners, provincial partners, and tribal partners toward this objective. The role of the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lake Fishery Commission have also been instrumental in focusing and facilitating coordinated efforts to meeting this objective of restored health to the Great Lakes ecosystem. And there is no question that we are making significant progress toward that objective. However, while we don't want to minimize the importance of Congressional direction toward this effort as reflected in S. 659, we question whether this legislative action is necessary. The FWS already has the necessary authority to implement its role in carrying out the recommendations of the Great Lakes Fishery Restoration Study, and this bill appropriately gives them no additional authority. Whether or not the statutory establishment of another committee is necessary to consider funding for proposals to implement the study is also subject to question. The Association also believes that the FWS can and should (if appropriate) increase its budget request to fulfill its role and obligations in the Great Lakes fishery efforts regardless of whether S. 659 is enacted into law. As I mentioned earlier, we are also interested in ensuring that any additional authorization under S. 659 is directed at on the ground efforts in fishery restoration, and not towards furthering USFWS offices, facilities or administrative infrastructure. We realize that the Appropriations Committee may be the more germane focus of our concerns, but we also wanted you to be aware of these concerns. Having said all of this, I can share with you the support of the Association for S. 659, but should also let you know that the enthusiasm of this support among the eight Great Lakes State fish and wildlife agencies varies widely.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, let me briefly comment on S. 1970, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. The Association has long played an active role in migratory bird conservation, from the negotiation and ratification of the Migratory Bird Treaty in 1916 and passage of the MBTA in 1918, to the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, currently before this Congress for reauthorization. The Association has also given the highest priority to securing the necessary funding to enable our State fish and wildlife agencies to address the conservation needs of the so called nongame wildlife species (such as Neotropical migratory birds) and their habitats before they reach a point where the application of the Endangered Species Act is necessary. I know that you are familiar with our "Teaming with Wildlife" proposal, Mr. Chairman, to accomplish that objective. The Association and our member State fish and wildlife agencies are also very active in Partners-in-Flight, the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Program, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, and other international endeavors to conserve migratory birds throughout their range. The Association therefore supports S. 1970 as another measure to facilitate the conservation of migratory birds, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Most of our member State fish and wildlife agencies participating in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan are currently sending matching funds to both Canada and Mexico to facilitate the conservation objectives of this plan. Our agencies in the border States of California, Arizona and Texas are already engaged in conservation efforts in Mexico and other Latin American countries to restore indigenous fauna. We anticipate that our State fish and wildlife agencies would likewise participate in the matching fund protocol that S. 1970 would establish for neotropical migratory bird species conservation in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Mr. Chairman, as you are well aware, our habitat conservation efforts in the United States encompassing the breeding range of these species will be successful only if the habitat in their winter range is likewise secured. The Association believes that S. 1970 establishes a protocol to facilitate that, and therefore supports this measure.

Thank you for the opportunity to share the Association's perspectives of these bills, and I would be pleased to answer any questions.