Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, it is a great honor for me to be nominated by President Bush to be Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I am also honored to be here today before this Committee as it considers my nomination to lead the nation’s premier fish and wildlife conservation agency. If confirmed, I pledge to respectfully and responsibly preserve and promote our nation’s fish and wildlife conservation heritage.
I am a 27-year career employee of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Since 2001, I have been the Director of the Service’s southwest region which includes the States of Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. During my career with the Fish and Wildlife Service, I have worked all over the United States, in different regions, with state game and fish agencies, Tribes and non-governmental organizations on a myriad of issues. The partnerships and relationships that I have forged over the years have resulted in the support of my nomination by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
Given my background, I bring certain qualifications, insights, and perspective to this position that I believe will benefit both the American public and the resources we are charged with conserving.
I have a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, with a minor in chemistry, from Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Kentucky, and a Master of Science degree in Fisheries Science from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As a native of Harlan County, Kentucky, I grew up wrapped in the arms of the Cumberland Plateau of the Appalachian Mountains in a culture that both respected and loved the natural resources and bountiful riches it provides for its people. Because of this, hunting and fishing have always been an important part of my life, not simply recreational pursuits. In my community, much of our food came from the fish and wildlife that lived in and around the Cumberland River. This culture instilled in me an understanding that the Creator gave us the gifts necessary to sustain our lives, but also the responsibility to ensure the care and stewardship of those gifts.
During my career, I have had the good fortune to work in the Lower Mississippi Valley on bottomland hardwood and floodplain conservation, in the Pacific west on the Northwest Forest Plan and California Bay/Delta partnerships, on Everglades restoration
efforts, finding solutions to water management in the Rio Grande Valley, and in moving efforts forward toward the restoration and management of the Missouri River. Through my work, the most important lesson I have learned is that long-standing solutions to natural resource problems are not found in the exercise of governmental power alone. Rather, long term solutions must always have a foundation built on collaboration with all interested constituents. Those interests are almost always diverse and that diversity can sometimes create significant challenges to finding a sustainable resolution. However, it has been my experience that when these challenges are approached with respect for all views, and a willingness to listen to the fears and concerns of others, positive outcomes result. I have found that the public truly cares about fish and wildlife resources and will develop and implement creative solutions to problems. However, this can only happen when we, as regulators, understand that we do not possess all the answers. I believe in the old adage that says “real power can only be realized when it is shared and allowed to grow.” By sharing power with our citizens, the future success of our nation’s fish and wildlife resources is without limit.
My career has afforded me the opportunity to work on the ground with fish culture on private facilities and in policy development for the Service’s National Fish Hatcheries, and with our State and Tribal partners in the management of those fisheries. For example, I was intimately involved with a Louisiana Parish Police Jury in the establishment of the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge, and as Deputy Regional Director and Regional Director with such exceptional groups as the Friends of Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the Friends of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. I was also actively involved in acquiring project lands for the restoration of the Everglades and worked with partners at the South Florida Water Management District. My involvement in the resolution of the California Bay/Delta Accord allowed active and frequent interaction with agricultural, environmental, hunting and urban interests in pursuit of a long term solution to Central Valley water management. These experiences have allowed me to participate in and understand the work of the Service at all levels of the organization, and to work with a variety of interests in natural resource management.
For the last fourteen years, I have been extensively involved in the implementation of the Endangered Species Act. The onslaught of lawsuits and procedural actions, rather than the direction of all available resources to management and improvement of habitat, has been a significant obstacle to achievement of the stated purposes of the Endangered Species Act. If confirmed, I will devote significant energy to addressing much needed policy direction and partnerships with other Federal land management agencies, States, Tribes, private land owners and non-governmental organizations.
I cannot overstate the important role of regulation in the conservation of species and their habitats. However, I believe we should also maintain flexibility in our regulatory scheme as we commit to work with our partners to further the country’s conservation goals while respecting individual rights. Too frequently, command and control regulation is invoked, which is often the result of a heavy litigation workload. However, we must continue our efforts to find the higher plane of cooperative partnership.
I believe that one of the least recognized partners throughout our history has been the sportsmen and women of the United States. These passionate stewards have always been willing to “foot the bill” to ensure that we have healthy populations of game species, beginning with their role in waterfowl stamps, Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration Acts in which they advocated a tax on themselves, and, currently, with our “waterfowl” joint ventures. Another steadfast partner in conservation has been the private land owner. Approximately 70% of all fish and wildlife habitat in the United States is in private hands. If we are to leave a legacy of conservation for future generations, we must engage these land owner stewards, the hunting and fishing community, Tribes, and others. Through this approach, I am extremely optimistic about the future of our natural resources.
Finally, we must understand that the future of this nation’s natural treasures resides with our most important asset: the youth of America. We have significant opportunities to reach out to schools to educate young people about their natural resource heritage. My first exposure to natural resource management was as a 7th grader in Harlan County, Kentucky, when a Kentucky “Conservation Officer” visited our school and talked to us about our natural resource heritage. Until then, I had no idea that such a heritage existed. I am committed to increasing classroom visits to our National Wildlife Refuges, while working with our partners to find innovative means to bring the excitement of nature to our children. With the help of this Administration, the Congress, our State Game and Fish agency partners, and, most important, our citizen stewards, I believe a bright future awaits.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee for considering my qualifications for this position. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.