Many of those concerned with Nevada's natural heritage have come to recognize that the critical environmental legislation of the 1970's - - including the Clean Water Act, the National Forest Management Act, the Endangered Species Act, among others - - has the potential of becoming a collection of unfunded mandates unless the federal government can deliver support for much needed management efforts. Funding for endangered species in particular has been woefully inadequate. As more species have been listed and the need for conservation responses grow in turn, appropriations have limped along. In the middle of 1990's, the United States spent more money on military bands than on species at risk. During the same period more money was spent on Domino's Pizza deliveries inside the Beltway than on imperiled species programs nationwide. The message is straightforward. The federal government must support programs that are necessary to conserve listed species, and must aggressively pursue prelisting agreements and efforts to conserve species before they become listed.
Despite a starvation budget for species protection, conservation successes in Nevada have been many. The threatened desert tortoise survives across much of the southern state despite explosive land development and severe drought. Ash Meadows, described by Harvard University's E.O. Wilson as a sacred American landmark, "the equivalent of Independence Hall or Gettysburg," now has protection and work moves forward in earnest to conserve the many imperiled species that reside there and to control invasive, weedy species that threaten their habitat. The Spring Mountains Natural Recreation Area harbors more endemic species than any comparable location in the country and nearly all seem to be doing well despite rapidly increasing recreational visits.
But many challenges still face our land and resource managers. The sage grouse and its habitats have precipitously declined across much of the north of the state. No fewer than 14 imperiled butterfly subspecies are known from just a few dozen wetland acres across the dry middle of Nevada; each one at more risk of disappearance than any of the currently listed butterfly species found elsewhere in the western states. Once the most abundant amphibian in the state, the northern leopard frog now exists in just three of the more than one hundred sites from which it was historically recorded on museum specimens. Our most widespread frog may be just a few years away from disappearing from Nevada.
What these species have in common beyond their imperilment is that they live on a shared landscape - on both lands public and private. They live on public lands with a very long history of resource use and private stewardship. One conservation reality is apparent; that is, that saving species and the habitats that support them is a shared responsibility and will demand in coming years unprecedented cooperation. That cooperation must include federal land and resource managers, state fish and wildlife staff, private stakeholders, and scientists. Recognizing our long history of landscape mismanagement and the twin threats from wildfire and invasive plant species, we have a great opportunity to fail the sage grouse. Certainly money alone cannot save the grouse. Federal and state managers must coordinate to find a common ground between the prohibitive policy that comes with listings under the federal Endangered Species Act, and the state's management of fish and wildlife for consumption. Although we all agree that we must save sage grouse, we must ask whether we want to save them as part of our state's rich natural heritage, or so that we can have a season on them.
Any new funding must look to recipients beyond the federal and state families. The shared landscape of the Intermountain West is not equally shared. Private interests have long controlled the most limiting resource - - water. And, although the desert tortoise and sage grouse conservation challenges in this state are not solely driven by water allocation conflicts, most other species challenges are. It is not a coincidence that pupfish, frogs and toads, spring snails, and butterflies present land managers with the most immediate species challenges. The springs, seeps, and riparian areas that support those organisms have long been exploited and often overused. Where dollars can buy water for fish and wildlife, and where private interests have the desire to contribute to saving species our efforts will be rewarded. A federal listing of the 14 butterflies I mentioned can be obviated with just a small redirection of waters and some three-strand fencing. It is that simple to save uniquely Nevada butterflies in Carson Valley, Big Smoky Valley, Railroad Valley, Steptoe Valley and points in between.
Finally, cooperation must extend to information gathering and sharing. We have to recognize we know woefully little about how our wildlands serve both common species and rare ones. Our best intended land management actions have often failed to achieve the desired results and frequently have had adverse effects on species of concern.
In Nevada we have come a long way towards a remedy. For seven years the state has benefited from the Nevada Biodiversity Initiative, a cooperative effort joining federal and state land and resource managers with university scientists to meet the goal of saving biodiversity in the face of human population growth and diverse land uses. In continuous communication, managers and scientists direct funds to species and habitats at greatest risk, work together to study biological systems that are poorly understood, and prioritize future conservation actions. The Biodiversity Initiative cannot take all the credit, but it is certainly not coincidence that although Nevada was fourth in the nation in candidates species for federal protection in 1993, not one new species was listed in the state until forces in Elko County caused the recent listing of the bull trout. Very unfortunately, the Nevada Biodiversity Initiative's funding has been removed by this administration from the federal budget.
In Nevada we have a unique level of communication, cooperation, and collegiality on resource issues. That foundation has fostered the largest Habitat Conservation Plan in the country, five and a half million acres in Clark County, covering nearly ninety species of plants and animals, most not yet listed. In cooperation with California, Nevada is involved in one to the nation's most visible and ambitious restoration efforts to save the fabled clarity of Lake Tahoe's waters. And, now we are embarking on perhaps the biggest conservation challenge yet - - to sustain and restore the most Nevadan of all habitats, the sagebrush ecosystem. Neglected, abused, and under incalculable threats, we frankly have no available technology to reverse the decline of our sagebrush. But federal funding of a cooperative effort involving agencies and stakeholders, founded on reliable experimental science offers our best hope.
Senator Reid, I encourage you and the Committee on Environment and Public Works to fund cooperative efforts to bring more effective species conservation to our state and our neighbors.