We are here today to consider the nomination of Dan Ashe for Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In this capacity, he would be responsible for overseeing many programs of great importance within this Committee’s jurisdiction, such as the Endangered Species Act and the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.
Mr. Ashe has spent the majority of his career with the Service; and, I would note, he also spent much of his childhood on wildlife refuges, helping his father who also worked with the Service.
I met with Mr. Ashe in my office last month, and we had a very honest discussion about the direction of the Fish and Wildlife Service. I shared my concerns about recent decisions made by the Service that in my view put politics before sound science and the welfare of species. I asked him to commit to me that he would make decisions based on the best available science, and avoid using the Endangered Species Act as a tool to regulate global warming.
On that point, I will ask Mr. Ashe about the Service’s recently issued climate change strategic plan, which states, among other things, that the “future of fish and wildlife and people hangs in the balance.” It also calls on the Service to transform its basic mission, stating that it should “examine everything we do, every decision we make, and every dollar we spend through the lens of climate change.” This is troubling to say the least, and I hope, Mr. Ashe, you can explain what it means.
Your interpretation of that document is important. And it leads to my next point. I would like your assurance today that, as Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, you will continue in the tradition of former directors, Dale Hall and the recently deceased Sam Hamilton. They were admirable in that they reasonably and objectively considered the best science available. They were able to put politics aside and bring a good measure of balance to their decision making.
Now some of my colleagues have concerns about your nomination based primarily on your level of involvement in recent controversial listing decisions made by the Fish and Wildlife Service. I will certainly listen to those concerns, and I will also give you the opportunity to address them. As with any nomination, there is a process, a back-and-forth between the nominee and senators. I will do what I can to facilitate that process.
As I’m sure you know, Mr. Ashe, the decision to designate a species and its habitat as threatened or endangered should not be taking lightly. As head of the Service, you would be under constant legal pressure from environmental groups to list as many species as possible, but I ask for your assurance that, if you are confirmed, you will always keep in mind the impacts on local communities, land use, jobs, and our economy that result from these decisions.
Despite controversies over listing decisions, I believe the Fish and Wildlife Service does a great deal of good—especially when it uses collaborative approaches between the federal government and private land owners, instead of punitive mandates. The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program is a great example of what collaboration can achieve. This program conserves habitats by leveraging federal funds through voluntary private landowner participation. As you know, I do have some concerns about how these designated funds have been used.
This is a very important position, one that requires decision making on issues that have profound impacts on the wildlife that we all treasure, but also on our local communities and the jobs that support them. I look forward to your testimony, and hope that we can address senators’ concerns about the ESA and some of the decisions you made during your tenure at the Service.