I would like to thank Senator Cardin and Senator Sessions for holding this hearing on a number of important wildlife conservation bills.
I would especially like to welcome Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Director Ashe traveled to my home state late last year to hear from Oklahomans about how devastating a listing of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken would be for Oklahoma's economy: this listing would significantly harm agriculture, the construction of highway infrastructure, and energy development, including numerous wind development projects in the Woodward area. But of course, a listing isn't the only option, and it certainly isn't the best. While in Oklahoma, Director Ashe also had the chance to hear about how Oklahomans have invested millions of dollars and a great deal of time in significant voluntary efforts which are increasing the number of Lesser Prairie-Chickens without harming our economy. I continue to call for the Fish and Wildlife Service to allow these voluntary efforts to achieve results before going through with a listing decision. Recently there has been talk of a possibility of a six month delay to continue studying the biology of the species, which would be most welcome, as it would give Oklahomans more time to continue this important work.
Today's hearing is a great opportunity to put the spotlight on voluntary efforts, as time and time again, they prove to be the best methods of achieving land and species conservation goals without destroying jobs and hurting our economy. One such example can be found in a bipartisan bill I am sponsoring with my good friends Senators Boxer and Vitter: the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act of 2012 (S.2282) (NAWCA). This program has such a good track record for conservation precisely because it is a voluntary effort; it incentivizes non-federal funds for wetland wildlife habitat conservation. On average, each federal dollar is match by $3.20 of non-federal contributions.
In my state of Oklahoma, NAWCA currently has 12 projects either completed or underway. These projects have conserved 26,869 acres of wildlife habitat and leveraged $11.3 million in partner contributions from $4.9 million in NAWCA funding. The Hackberry Flat project, in Tillman County, has led to the restoration of wetland habitat and the area is now open for hunting waterfowl, dove, quail, rabbit, and sandhill cranes. When you compare the success of NAWCA with federal mandates which most often do not achieve conservation goals but give states unnecessary economic pain, it's clear that the voluntary programs should be at the center of all conservation efforts.
In addition to NAWCA, we will be discussing several conservation bills today, including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Reauthorization Act (S. 1494), which is another promising voluntary effort. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is doing important work protecting the Lesser Prairie-Chicken in order to help prevent its listing under the Endangered Species Act. Most importantly, this bill reduces the authorization level by $5 million while still giving the foundation the ability to leverage funds for conservation projects.
I also support Sen. Wicker's bill, S. 2071, the Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act of 2012, which, as stated in the title, allows the purchase of Electronic Duck Stamps for waterfowl hunters across all 50 states. Migratory waterfowl hunters are required to purchase a Federal Duck Stamp from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the stamp grants them access to Federal Wildlife Refuges without any additional fees. This bill follows a successful pilot program by eight states that allowed the purchase of the Federal Duck Stamp online. Additionally, this bill comes at no cost to taxpayers.
One bill, though, that I cannot support in its current form is S. 810, the Great Apes Protection Act. While we certainly want to treat animals as humanely as possible, this bill goes too far with an outright ban on chimpanzee research. Recently, the National Academies' Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report regarding the use of chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research. The IOM report states, "The committee's report, does not endorse an outright ban on chimpanzee research" and warns "how disruptive an immediate outright ban would be, affecting animal care and potentially causing unacceptable losses to the public's health." It continues to state that "chimpanzees may prove uniquely important to unraveling the mystery of diseases that are unknown today."
Chimpanzee research has led to the development of vaccines for hepatitis A and B and has helped gain important insight into diseases such as hepatitis C, malaria, HIV, and cancer. An outright ban would be very shortsighted and may endanger public health.
I would like to thank all the witnesses for being here today, especially Greg Schildwachter, a former staff director of this subcommittee who now works at Watershed Results, LLC. With his background, he will be able to provide valuable insight on the effectiveness of these bills. I look forward to having an important dialogue about how best to achieve conservation goals without causing more pain in tough economic times. Thank you.