Testimony by James A. Mosher Ph.D., Conservation Director
Izaak Walton League of America
before the Committee on Environment and Public Works
U. S. Senate

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee: I am Jim Mosher, conservation director of the Izaak Walton League of America, and I am pleased to have this opportunity to talk with you about the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997.

The League is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, having originated just a few years after the birth of the refuge system. Our mission is to conserve, maintain, protect and restore the soil, forest, water and other natural resources of the United States and other lands and to promote means and opportunities for the education of the public with respect to such resources and their enjoyment and wholesome use.

Our support of the National Wildlife Refuge System is more than seven decades old. Following the League's first national convention in 1923, we became the principal driving in establishing the Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge which set aside 300,000 acres of bottomland and riparian habitat in the Upper Mississippi River basin. Subsequently, we played a substantial role in establishing and/or expanding the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah that I believe was the first refuge to specifically permit human recreational use of the area, setting aside 60% as sanctuary and allowing public hunting on the remaining 40%, the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge in Washington, Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota, Patoka National Wildlife Refuge in Indiana, and Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. We are now working to support the newest refuge the Grand Kankakee Marsh Wildlife Refuge, which lies on the Illinois and Indiana border and would restore a part of what originally was a 500,000 acre wetland. It is unlikely that over the past 75 years any other national conservation group has devoted a higher percentage of its energy and resources to the refuge system.

I am pleased to speak on behalf of our 50,000 members in support of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997. We believe this bill provides for reasonable and sound management of the National Wildlife Refuge System and balances multiple interests in a manner that protects the integrity of these valuable natural areas. The League believes refuges should be available to carefully controlled hunting, fishing and other compatible recreational uses to the extent these uses do not intrude upon environmental values or primary management purposes. This long established League policy is fully consistent with the President's March 1996 Executive Order 12996, and I believe the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 will implement the full intent of that order.

We believe it is important and long overdue that the refuge system be provided a legislatively established mission statement and that this mission statement recognize the overarching importance of the protection of wildlife and other natural resources. There also must be provisions for a process by which compatibility of uses can be determined with an opportunity for citizen input. It is important that a planning process be established that will identify the fiscal, staff and program needs of the Refuge System. This bill accomplishes these goals and does so in a manner that provides for an appropriate balance between protection and use.

This bill is the culmination of several years of debate and previously failed attempts to craft legislation that could garner consensus among many divergent interests. We urge the committee to move expeditiously to bring this bill to the full Senate for consideration. It is a good bill, and the time is right. Conservation of all our natural resources and especially our public lands may be the single most important issue by which future generations measure our success.

Lastly, I take this opportunity to thank Secretary Babbitt and his staff, members and staff of the House of Representatives and the environmental and conservation groups that participated in the difficult negotiations that produced this bill. Its nearly unanimous passage by the House is a measure of their success.

I thank the chairman and members of this committee again for the opportunity to share the Izaak Walton League's assessment of this bill and our views and support of the National Wildlife Refuge System.