Hearings - Statement
 
Statement of David Vitter
Hearing: Subcommittee on Fisheries Wildlife and Water
Endangered Species Act and Incentives for Private Landowners
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing today on the Endangered Species Act and landowner incentive-based approaches for protecting listed species. I also want to thank our witnesses for coming to testify about this very important issue. I am interested in hearing what the witnesses have to say about improving the use of incentives to recover endangered species.

In Louisiana, landowners play a vital role in the conservation of endangered and threatened species because much of the habitat is found on private land. Landowners should not have to pay all the expenses of species recovery. Most landowners who are willing can not always afford to pay the costs associated with managing their land to improve protection of endangered species. Providing landowners with incentives is a better way to encourage conservation rather than discourage landowners with penalties and burdensome regulations for disrupting an endangered species residing on their land.

Only 10 of the 1264 species listed in North America have been recovered in the 30 years since the Endangered Species Act was enacted. That is a recovery rate of less than 1%. The time has come to strengthen and improve the Endangered Species Act to do a better job of recovering endangered species.

Louisiana is home to the threatened Louisiana black bear and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The Black Bear Conservation Committee is a good example of a Landowner Incentive Assistance Program. The Louisiana Black Bear relies on the bottomland forests for its habitat. 90% of bottomland forests are on private lands. Therefore, it is necessary to involve private landowners in recovery efforts.

Another good example of a landowner incentive program working in Louisiana to conserve the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker is a Safe Harbor agreement between the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and US Fish and Wildlife Service. The agreement gives both agencies flexibility to provide landowners protection when they agree to voluntarily manage their property to conserve red-cockaded woodpecker.

I am excited by the recent reappearance in Arkansas of the Ivory-billed woodpecker. Until the recent rediscovery, the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana was the last documented home of the ivory-billed woodpecker that was thought to be extinct. I look forward to its full recovery.

The key to achieving success in recovering endangered and threatened species is through incentive-based programs and building partnerships. We should continue to examine ways to improve incentives for species recovery at the local and private landholder levels. Landowners need the encouragement, financing and support of the government to work to restore endangered species.

Another concern I have about the Endangered Species Act is species can be listed based solely on a single petition if it is deemed to be the best scientific data available. In January 2005, a petition was filed as an effort to place the Eastern Oyster, native to the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay, on the endangered species list. While supplies of the Eastern Oyster may be dwindling in the Chesapeake Bay, those in the Gulf of Mexico are plentiful. If listed as endangered, it could halt oyster harvesting and cause great harm to Louisiana’s oyster industry, fishermen and Louisiana’s economy. The listing of endangered or threatened species needs to be based on real science.

The Louisiana oyster industry has an economic impact of $286 million, according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The state harvests 250 million pounds of the 750 million pounds of oysters harvested nationally each year. In 2003, Louisiana ranked number 1 in the nation, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about the use of landowner incentive programs to protect and prevent the extinction of species. Once again, thank you, Mr. Chairman for your efforts to organize this hearing.

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