TESTIMONY BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
ON S. 1059, THE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE SYSTEM IMPROVEMENT ACT OF 1997
by Gary J. Taylor, Legislative Director
International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
July 30, 1997

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to share with you the perspectives of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA) on S. 1059. I am Gary Taylor, Legislative Director of the Association, and I bring to you today the enthusiastic and wholehearted support of the 50 State fish and wildlife agencies for S. 1059. Quite simply, we believe this bill provides a needed and sound underpinning in fish and wildlife conservation for the administration of the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) System. It is a bill that is good for fish and wildlife, good for the NWR System, and good for our citizens who appropriately use and enjoy our National Wildlife Refuges for compatible activities such as hunting, fishing, nature observation and photography, and conservation education. We applaud you and Senator Baucus for having a hearing on this landmark legislation and urge you to expeditiously report the bill to the Senate floor, assiduously protect it from other amendments and send it back to the House for concurrence and on to the President for signature.

The Association, 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.

Secretary Babbitt has shared with you the process which resulted in the consensus language in the House companion bill, H.R. 1420, and which the House sent to you with an overwhelming vote of 407 to l. We would like to again recognize and thank Secretary Babbitt and Congressmen Young, Dingell, Saxton and Miller for their leadership role in shaping this consensus. Secretary Babbitt's personal involvement in shepherding this bill is reflected in its success and reflects his personal commitment to ensuring the integrity of our National Wildlife Refuges for fish and wildlife conservation, a commitment our State fish and wildlife agencies also share. I would also like to recognize that the foundation for this bill was laid in the 103rd Congress in a bill from Senators Graham, Baucus and Chafee and we appreciate your pioneering efforts in this endeavor.

Let me now quickly summarize why the 50 State fish and wildlife agencies strongly support S. 1059 and H.R. 1420.

First, the bill establishes an overarching mission of the NWR System to conserve fish and wildlife and their habitats for the use and enjoyment of present and future citizens of the United States. It also gives the Secretary affirmative responsibilities to manage the System to meet this mission and protect the ecological integrity of the units within the System. We believe such an overarching objective in statute is necessary to give and ground direction for management of the many disparate units of the System in fish and wildlife conservation. NWRs aren't junior grade national parks nor glorified national recreation areas - they can and should represent the best examples of the science and practice of fish and wildlife management, where wildlife dependent recreational uses should be given priority public use considerations so our citizens can enjoy and learn about the bountiful fish and wildlife on these public lands.

Second, this bill give the Secretary the authority to permit compatible uses of NWRs only after and when the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) (through the Refuge Manager), exercising professional judgement consistent with principles of sound fish and wildlife management and available science and resources, finds that the use will not materially interfere with or detract from the fulfillment of the mission of the System or purposes of the individual refuge. This is the same standard for compatible use that the FWS policy has applied to this determination for years. The bill further goes on to require the Secretary to establish a process in regulation for compatibility determinations, including providing opportunity for public involvement.

In giving the Secretary the authority to permit compatible uses, the bill adopts in statute as a policy of the United States the provisions of the President's 1996 Executive Order which affirms the legitimacy of compatible wildlife dependent recreation as a priority general public use of the System. S. 1059 further directs the Secretary to facilitate that use, subject to necessary and appropriate restrictions. The bill does not change the standing of other uses under existing law and policy of the USFWS. Further, as you are aware, Mr. Chairman, the bill does not prohibit other uses, as long as they meet the compatibility standard, and in most cases compatible wildlife dependent recreational uses and other compatible uses can be accommodated, but if they are both equally compatible but can't be accommodated, the bill gives a priority to wildlife dependent recreational uses. The Association strongly and wholeheartedly endorses this perspective because wildlife dependent recreational uses derive from healthy and robust fish and wildlife populations, they are generally minimally intrusive, and provide opportunities for our citizens- birders, anglers, hunters, educators and students - to enjoy and learn about fish and wildlife conservation on lands dedicated to this purpose. As you are also aware, Mr. Chairman, sportsmen and women of this Nation have contributed significantly to the support of the NWR System through their purchase and use of federal waterfowl stamp funds, their support for the North American Wetland Conservation Act program (which as you know is funded in part from interest on Pittman-Robertson funds), and other federal-private cost share programs for acquisition of NWRs. This provision giving wildlife dependent recreational uses priority general public use consideration recognizes their contribution.

Third, S. 1059 recognizes that NWRs are important components of and contribute to the larger ecosystems in which they are found and as such should be managed with appropriate attention to the surrounding lands. The bill recognizes that State fish and wildlife agencies are the presumptive front line managers of fish and wildlife within their borders and have the statutory stewardship responsibility to ensure the vitality of fish and wildlife resources for their citizens. This bill further recognizes the need for, and directs cooperation with State fish and wildlife agencies, in meeting objectives for fish and wildlife conservation on the refuge, and in coordinating the role of the refuge in meeting statewide objectives for fish and wildlife. Most State fish and wildlife agencies have developed statewide comprehensive fish and wildlife resource and habitat conservation plans which can be helpful to the USFWS in meeting their refuge objectives. We also appreciate the Federal Advisory Committee Act exemption for the Secretary in coordinating conservation efforts with State agencies.

Finally, we fully support individual refuge conservation planning and involvement of the public, as provided for in the bill. We also appreciate the Act that the planning and compatibility processes are not so burdensome that the professionally trained refuge manager is not perpetually engaged in process, instead of accomplishing on the ground objectives for fish and wildlife conservation and their habitats, and providing appropriate opportunities for compatible wildlife dependent recreational uses. This is where the NWR managers should spend their time, not in onerous process, or in litigation. We believe that the bill strikes the necessary balance for planning and public involvement but without being burdensome or constraining the exercise and application of sound professional fish and wildlife science and management by the refuge manager.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the 50 State fish and wildlife agencies enthusiastically support S. 1059 and H.R. 1420, and again would like to recognize the efforts of Congressmen Young, Dingell, Saxton, Miller, Secretary Babbitt, Senators Chafee, Graham, Kempthorne, and Baucus for bringing us to this point. We urge expeditious Senate passage without further amendment and are hopeful for quick House concurrence and a Presidential signing ceremony this summer.

Thank you for the opportunity to share the Association's perspectives and I would be happy to address any questions you might have.