Good morning and welcome. This morning's hearing was delayed by one hour; I apologize for any inconvenience that may have caused. For those Members of the Subcommittee who could not make it because of the delay, we will be sure to submit their statements for the record and provide the Fish and Wildlife Service with any written questions the Subcommittee Members would like included in the record.
Today, the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water will hear testimony from Steven A. Williams, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This Subcommittee is long overdue in its oversight of the Service's budget. The Budget Justifications that each agency publishes are very useful tools for understanding the request levels, priorities, and policy direction.
I would note that these documents that are so critical to examining the agencies spending plans and priorities were extremely late in being delivered to the Committee. Without the Budget Justifications, it is nearly impossible for Members and Staff to prepare for a budget hearing. Most Members received the "green books" late last Friday afternoon. I would expect that, in the future, we would not face a situation in which a document of several hundred pages is provided to us late Friday before a Tuesday hearing.
For several years now, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been forced to dedicate a significant portion of its Endangered Species Act related budget to resolving court orders and court approved deadlines as a result of litigation. The vast majority of this litigation is aimed at procedural aspects of the Endangered Species Act and not substantive protections or recovery efforts.
If preventing extinction and recovering species is truly the goal of this law, then we have our work cut out for us because the Fish and Wildlife Service has very little in the way of discretionary funds to prioritize species with the greatest need or those that would benefit most from conservation actions. Instead, the courts rather than biologists drive which species receive attention.
It has been a long time since we have had a serious discussion with respect to Endangered Species Act reform. For far too long, the ESA has been inefficient in its implementation and ineffective at accomplishing its objectives, but there simply has not been the political will to see it changed.
Whether it is the designation of critical habitat, the section 7 consultation process, or habitat conservation planning, there are many components of the Act that were good ideas in theory, but just haven't worked in practice. It is appropriate to hold this Subcommittee's first hearing on the budget, because the budget priorities do reflect the failures of the Act.
Although I am a critic with regard to much of the Endangered Species Act, I certainly recognize the many successful programs that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service carries out, including the National Wildlife Refuge System. Just last Friday, the Refuge System celebrated its 100th anniversary at the place where it started - Pelican Island, Florida. The Refuge System has been enormously successful in conserving wildlife and habitat in this country.
We need to find solutions that will make the recovery of threatened and endangered species a success story just as the Wildlife Refuge System has been for so many years.
I intend to ask pragmatic questions about the Endangered Species Act and introduce legislation to foster debate during this Congress. The only way to sustain our nation's fish, wildlife, and plants is to make the ESA work better for species AND people. It is my hope that this Committee will address the failures of the Endangered Species Act through the practical reforms I will undertake.
Director Williams, thank you for joining us today. Please begin when you are ready.