I welcome the opportunity to stand before you this morning and I appreciate the tremendous commitment you have made to bring forth information to your colleagues in Congress regarding the status of the fisheries, wildlife and waters of the United States and beyond.
The tremendous bounty and natural beauty of our environment is a gift that has been bestowed upon us and has co-evolved with us over many millennia. Stewardship of and respect for our fellow inhabitants on this planet is a responsibility which was delivered to each of us by previous generations and which we have a responsibility to pass on to the next generations. In this regard, the Endangered Species Act is perhaps our most enlightened of all laws and exemplifies our commitment to protect and restore the most vulnerable of all creatures and their habitats.
After 32 years, the Act remains among the most popular and effective environmental laws of our country. I believe the public support for this law exists because it is viewed as a strong response to an unacceptable and most often an entirely avoidable loss of a species.
I come to you from the northeastern most hinterlands of our country, Washington County, “The Sunrise County” of Maine. This is a hardscrabble Yankee region now, most known for lobsters, lumber and leisure (for the tourists and summer people “from away”) – but is also known as the home to five of the eight remaining rivers in the United States with wild populations of Endangered Atlantic salmon.
Three other wild Atlantic salmon rivers in the United States designated under the ESA are also in ME, though historically the Atlantic salmon ranged throughout most of New England in numbers plentiful enough to have been, at one time, a source of fertilizer for farmers fields and even up until very recently a great recreational and economic resource in our very poor region. The wild Atlantic salmon is often referred to as “the King of Freshwater Game fish” and its loss to our region has meant the loss of millions of dollars in tourist and fisheries revenues. The Atlantic salmon is a fabled species that the European settlers were pleased to find in abundance upon arriving on this continent. In fact the earliest documented stone pictographs found throughout the British Isles are ornate carvings of Atlantic salmon. It is clear that both the Europeans and First Nation peoples of this continent possessed great reverence and placed high value upon salmon as a food source and symbol of life, vitality, abundance and perseverance. This reverence and symbolism persists, despite the atrocities dealt by our ignorance upon our fisheries and waters. The ESA and it’s implications for the restoration of this species – and many, many other species - illustrates that current generations understand the need to protect our heritage and our interconnectedness with the environment of our ancestors and of generations yet unborn.
And is the ESA protecting salmon? From direct experience on the ground working to protect and restore Atlantic salmon in Washington County and beyond for the past 22 years, I can tell you that the positive implications under the ESA for our salmon have been the difference between night and day in Sunrise County.
In 2000 the Atlantic Salmon “Distinct Population Segment”, encompassing at first seven and later eight rivers in ME was granted emergency Endangered Status under the ESA. Unfortunately, this designation was granted only after a lawsuit was threatened by several conservation organizations including Trout Unlimited and the Atlantic Salmon Federation - with whom my organization is affiliated. The bottom line at that time was that the State of Maine, under then Independent Governor Angus King, sought to circumvent the listing via implementation of a “State Recovery Plan” sanctioned and approved under the ESA 4-D rules. This approach was widely encouraged and endorsed by industry and economic development forces in the state. Many angler groups and other conservationists were drawn into the “state plan” because it promised a much greater level of industry cooperation and government interest and investment than the preceding decades – during which very little attention was paid to serious population enhancement efforts and habitat protection. However, when it became apparent that Governor King and his Salmon Task Force were more interested in maintaining the status quo than seriously retooling and applying needed resources to the situation, it was very fortunate that the federal services were standing by to pick up the pieces.
Provisions under ESA allowing for the states to manage species recovery under the 4-D rules should be examined very closely by your committee, particularly within the context of the Maine Atlantic salmon case study. Many believe that valuable time was lost for the Atlantic salmon while the state reacted to the interests of a few influential user groups.
Over two decades ago, our organization – the Downeast Salmon Federation - was formed by five separate “salmon clubs” in the eastern region now encompassed under the ESA salmon plan. In 1982 these clubs, representing several hundred members, recognized the problems facing the populations at risk and, in part, created the Federation to advocate for better management. Despite the fact that fishing for salmon is no longer allowed and to the surprise of many, our total number of supporters remains nearly the same or greater – even though it is no longer possible to buy a salmon license or to find a well stocked fly shop in our small towns.
The listing of the species and the greater attention drawn to the situation has, in the end, brought together the community and helped to build new local partnerships. This, combined with the additional funds and resources provided under the moderately heightened federal salmon programs, gives new hope that a dire situation will improve. This hope and optimism is what draws the private sector into the greater effort – again, despite the fact that fishing was ended several years ago.
Federal funds directed toward salmon recovery through “challenge grants” issued by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation are particularly effective in sustaining public investment and interest. In just the past three years, our organization has brought in an estimated 2 million dollars worth of private investment into salmon recovery in the poorest county in our state and one of the poorest in the nation. These numbers are phenomenal and have been largely attributable to small federal “seed” investments in our outreach efforts and all made possible because of the listing. While the numbers themselves are impressive, what is more impressive is the impact that a well orchestrated education and outreach effort can have on the “hearts and minds” of the communities in which an endangered species lives. Again, as in most situations, prevention is the most cost effective method of dealing with environmental degradation. By working closely with landowners and communities we have, at the very least, helped to prevent many habitat impacts and in reality also restored many sites that had been neglected or remained unidentified.
So are all things rosy with the implementation of the ESA in ME? Not quite. Let’s look at a few of the obstacles starting with the hearts and minds issue.
Any effort of the scale and magnitude of prevention of loss of a species – even one as widely charismatic as the salmon – requires a solid understanding on behalf of the public of the issues (preventable problems) affecting the declines of the species and a greater patience and compassion for the overall effort.
In my experience outreach to stakeholders requires a consistent message or series of messages delivered face to face, neighbor to neighbor or peer to peer at the local level. This can be best achieved by a local group, with a passion for the effort and with a true connection to the community(ies) involved. This cannot however, always be accomplished without federal investment. In the case of Atlantic salmon, federal dollars in the form of challenge grants or direct dedicated funding remains the single greatest source of support for our watershed councils and other local efforts. The community must be involved in a true partnership or “co-management” sense. In Maine, as in the Pacific Northwest, a local “watershed council” approach to achieving “buy in” for salmon restoration projects remains an enlightened and successful method of protecting and beginning recovery of endangered fisheries. Federal investments in local outreach initiatives must be an integral – and not an optional - part of the Act in years to come.
And finally, if I am to avoid being brined for lobster bait by my friends and colleagues back home, I will end with two points of common concern to so many involved in the Atlantic salmon restoration program:
First, of course, is the need for additional federal resources. A more equitable and consistent funding mechanism needs to be developed for all ESA listed species. The discrepancy between funding levels between Atlantic salmon and Pacific salmon should be addressed. The delays and uncertainties that developers struggle with under the ESA are the same conditions that stall our recovery actions. A well funded program will float all boats.
Lastly, in Maine, the Atlantic salmon listing has been a “Joint Listing” with USF&WS and NOAA both equally responsible. While there may be advantages in bringing the resources of the two agencies to bear upon the situation, this dual leadership can mean that action planning moves slowly with poor coordination. An examination of the provisions under the ESA that allow for this situation should be reviewed with a mind toward streamlining the bureaucracy without creating a net loss of federal resources.
I appreciate the time provided to me before you today and I thank you for your invitation.
Executive Director Downeast Salmon Federation / Downeast Rivers Land Trust