Good afternoon. I want to welcome our witnesses representing each corner of the State and thank them for their testimony. I would also like to thank Mr. Jontie Aldrich, Director of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program here in Tulsa, for his help in coordinating today’s hearing.
Today’s field hearing concerns my legislation S.260, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act that I have sponsored along with Senator Jeffords, the Ranking Member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Senator Cochran, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Today is the 35th Anniversary of Earth Day which has become in many parts of the country a day for extremist environmental organizations to tell us what is all wrong with the world. However, the truth is much different. For instance, over the last 30 years, our Nation has made great progress in providing for a better environment and improving public health. Between 1970 and 2003, gross domestic product increased 176 percent, vehicle miles traveled increased 155 percent, energy consumption increased 45 percent, and U.S. population grew by 39 percent. During the same time period, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants dropped by 51 percent. So this hearing is especially appropriate to be held today because it concerns a program demonstrating actual environmental results in full voluntary cooperation with private landowners.
On August 26, 2004, President Bush signed Executive Order 13352 to ensure that federal agencies pursue new cooperative conservation actions designed to involve private landowners rather than simply making mandates which private landowners must fulfill.
As Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, a new approach to conservation is especially important to me. All conservation programs should create positive incentives to protect species and, above all, should hold the rights of private landowners sacred.
A positive step toward those aims is authorization of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program which has already proven to be an effective habitat conservation program that leverages federal funds and utilizes voluntary private landowner participation. Since 1987, the Partners Program has been a successful voluntary partnership program that helps private landowners restore habitat. Through over 35,000 agreements nation-wide with private landowners, the Partners Program has accomplished the restoration of over 700,000 acres of wetlands, 1.5 million acres of prairie and native grasslands, and nearly 6,000 miles of riparian and in-stream habitat. Partners Program agreements are funded through contributions from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and cash and in-kind contributions from participating private landowners.
Since 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided $3,511,121 and private landowners have contributed $12,638,272 to restore 124,285 acres of habitat in Oklahoma through 700 individual voluntary agreements with private landowners. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service District Office in Tulsa currently reports that at least another 100 private landowners are waiting to enter into Partner's projects as soon as funds become available.
Currently, the Partners Program operates only as a line item in annual appropriation bills and is subject to funding redistribution to other programs. My legislation provides specific authorization with funding to allow the program to operate and grow in the future. To date, the Partners Program has received little attention. My bill will build on this successful program to provide additional funding and added stability.
Prior to hearing testimony from our first panel, I would like to show a short part of an ESPN program sponsored by the National Rifle Association supporting the Partners Program and highlighting participating landowners in Oklahoma. The landowners featured in the video, Mr. Jeff Neal and Mr. Verline Chervenka, are here to testify this afternoon.
I will also submit for the record a statement from Mr. Andy McDaniels with the Oklahoma Wildlife Federation, and I would like to thank Mr. McDaniels for his help in bringing attention to today’s hearing.
I will now call up our first panel from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Regional Director Dale Hall.