(Remarks as Prepared for Delivery)
I want to welcome my colleagues and our witnesses to today’s important legislative hearing that will look at nine critical wildlife bills that have been referred to this committee.
Habitat loss and invasive species are two of the largest threats to biodiversity in the United States. We lose an estimated 6,000 acres of open space each day in this country, a problem for wildlife habitat that is only compounded by other sources of stress like climate change and invasive species.
We have a responsibility to preserve wildlife and their habitat as part of being good stewards of the earth. But we have an economic responsibility as well that gains more importance in these difficult times.
According to the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, 87.5 million U.S. residents fished, hunted, or watched wildlife in 2006. They spent over $122 billion pursuing their recreational activities, contributing to millions of jobs in industries and businesses that support wildlife-related recreation.
Today we will look at two very important habitat conservation bills, H.R. 2188, Joint Ventures in Bird Habitat Conservation Act of 2009 that was introduced in the House of Representatives by my friend from Maryland, Congressman Frank Kratovil and S. 1214, the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act introduced by Senator Lieberman.
We will look today at three pieces of legislation that are intended to address threats to our wetlands:
• S. 1519, the Nutria Eradication and Control Act of 2009,
• S. 1965, the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program Act of 2009, and
• H.R. 3433, a bill that would amend the North American Wetlands Conservation Act to make its funding mechanism more flexible.
We know that our wetlands are important natural resources that provide numerous values to society, including fish and wildlife habitat, flood protection, erosion control and water quality preservation. Maryland provides a good case in point for how our nation’s wetlands are threatened by invasive species and habitat loss.
For nearly six decades at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland, nutria have been killing wetland grasses that provide vital habitat for native shorebirds, muskrats and blue crabs not to mention the role these grasses play in maintaining water quality.
Nutria are responsible for the loss of more than 5,000 acres of wetlands in Blackwater refuge alone. The loss of these wetlands, that are vital to the fishery, was estimated to cost Maryland’s economy nearly $4 million dollars annually.
In 2000, Congress established a federal funding source to develop a successful public-private partnership program to address nutria in Maryland. Healthy wetlands are returning to places where nutria have been removed both in Maryland and in Louisiana. But the job is not yet done.
That is why I have introduced the Nutria Eradication and Control Act of 2009 that would continue and improve the successful nutria eradication program in Maryland and Louisiana and expand it to other impacted states including Oregon and Washington.
Senator Landrieu has introduced S. 1965 to implement a pilot program to control feral swine which are reversing the progress made in Louisiana’s wetlands as a result of nutria eradication.
We will also look today at two bills to control the import of deadly constrictor snakes and Asian Carp into the United States. We heard dramatic testimony from Senator Nelson in front of this subcommittee this past July on the number of invasive constrictor snakes in Florida and the dangers these snakes pose to humans and to the environment.
I am especially interested in acting on this issue. USGS projections show that, with climate change, the eastern shore of Maryland could become a suitable home to these deadly snakes! Meanwhile, Asian Carp are becoming an ever increasing threat to biodiversity in the Great Lakes.
We will consider H.R. 509, the Marine Turtle Conservation Reauthorization Act of 2009 which reauthorizes this critical program.
Last we will look at H.R. 3537, Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program Reauthorization Act of 2009. This bill would reauthorize the oldest youth-focused conservation program run by the federal government.
I ask unanimous consent that statements from the sponsors of the bills that we will consider here today be entered into the record.
I want to thank our Agency and expert witnesses for coming before this subcommittee. Our panelists have been on the front lines of preserving our wildlife habitat and conserving our native species.
You are the ones doing the research and implementing programs on the ground to address these problems. You know what works and what does not work when it comes to stopping the loss of habitat and the spread of invasive species. I look forward to hearing your views on the bills we are examining here today.