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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
Regional Director Remarks for "Meeting of the Waters" Conference
Region 9, May 10, 2007

Speech for Regional Director Robyn Thorson

Meeting of the Waters

May 10, 2007, 8:30 a.m.

J.C. Penney Conference Center, University of Missouri

St. Louis, Mo.

 

CONSERVATION AT THE CONFLUENCE

Can the Confluence be a National Treasure?

 

(Slide 1: opening slide)

·                    Good morning.  I am honored to be here to help open this important gathering about one of the Midwest’s natural treasures – the “confluence” of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

 

·                    This is a place with so much cultural, historical and natural significance.  The Fish and Wildlife Service enjoys partnerships with some of the organizations and individuals here today as we work toward a common goal: conserving these lands and waters, and the wildlife they support, for future generations to enjoy.

 

(Slide 2: Lewis and Clark, Meachum underground railroad site, Mississippi Flyway map, aerial shot of the confluence)

·                    The history of the Confluence is so entwined with our nation’s development.

 

·                    The famed Corps of Discovery set out from here in 1804 to describe the interior of the continent of North America.  They camped on an island within the Fort Belle Fontaine compound near Coldwater Creek in the Confluence. 

 

·                    During their travels from St. Louis to St. Charles, both Lewis and Clark described the landscape: prairies, woodlands, and fertile ground, interspersed along the floodplain and on the bluffs.

 

·                    The Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing was dedicated in 2001 -- the first site in Missouri to be accepted in the National Park Service's National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

 

And significantly for the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Mississippi Flyway Council was organized here in St. Louis in 1952 specifically to address the management of waterfowl throughout the 14 states that border the Mississippi River.

 

(Slide 3: Upper Miss, Big Muddy, Great River NWRs)

·                    The Fish and Wildlife Service has made the Missouri and Mississippi rivers a focus of our conservation efforts. 

 

·                    Upper Mississippi… Big Muddy… Great River…: these national wildlife refuges are part of a 96-million acre network of special places across the nation whose primary goal is conserving wildlife and habitat.

 

·                    The Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge was established in 1924 and spans 261 miles – it is the nation’s longest national wildlife refuge.   

 

·                    In the 1930s, the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge was formed along the Missouri River as a result of partnerships with the Army Corps of Engineers during lock and dam construction on the river. 

 

·                    And more recently, in 1994, the Service began purchasing lands from willing sellers for Big Muddy National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, protecting fish and wildlife resources between the Kansas River and the Confluence in Missouri.

 

(Slide 4: bald eagle, pallid sturgeon, decurrent false aster, mussels)

·                    And I should mention that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s other offices in this area also contribute significantly to wildlife and habitat conservation in the Confluence

 

·                    This area provides habitat for at least more than 30 species that are listed as endangered or are considered species of concern by the state of Missouri.  Five of those are listed by the Fish and Wildlife Service as endangered or threatened, or are candidates for listing. 

 

·                    Our Ecological Services Field Office in Columbia conserves wildlife and habitat from the Ozarks to the Confluence and around Missouri through partnerships and collaboration.

 

·                    Our Fishery Resources Office in Columbia is in the vanguard when it comes to protecting our native fish species and restore aquatic habitat in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers area.  The Columbia FRO and Neosho National Fish Hatchery are leading the Service’s efforts raise and stock pallid sturgeon to help recover this endangered fish. Most recently, as part of the restoration plan, 165 hatchery-raised pallid sturgeon were stocked in the Missouri River.

 

·                    Recognized for its numerous wetland and backwater habitat restoration opportunities, the Confluence has been the focus of many federal, state, and local agencies; numerous local and national level NGOs and grass-roots efforts are also making great strides in preserving the rich cultural and natural values that make up the heritage of the Confluence.

 

(Slide 5: mallard, least tern, king rail, geese at sunset)

·                    Because of its prime location in the Mississippi Flyway, the Confluence supports countless numbers of ducks, geese, shorebirds, songbirds and other avian life during their migration along the longest and most traversed migratory route in the northern hemisphere.

 

·                    It is estimated that more than 5 million ducks and 50,000 geese alone normally navigate the Mississippi flyway.  With changing landscapes and reduction in habitat, the opportunities for birds to rest, forage, breed, and winter have diminished in the Confluence Area. 

 

·                    The Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners are working to keep birds healthy and bird habitat abundant.

 

(Slide 6: NAWMP logo, Upper Miss-GL JV map, pintail, bird release by hunter)

·                    Twenty-one years ago, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan became the foundation for bird conservation based on landscape scale conservation.  The plan sets goals for restoring and enhancing wetland habitat for waterfowl and wetland dependent wildlife, looking at habitat needs for all birds on the landscape.

 

·                    The Confluence is located in the Plan’s Upper Mississippi-Great Lakes Joint Venture, one of 14 such public-private partnerships around the nation that carry out the plan’s goals.  In Missouri alone, the partners in this joint venture have protected, restored and enhanced more than 95,000 acres of prime wetland habitat.

 

(Slide 7: Audubon Missouri and BirdLife International logos; wood duck banding; prothonotary warbler)

·                    The Confluence is also a designated “Important Bird Area”. The IBA program is a worldwide conservation program designed to identify, monitor and protect those areas most important to birds. 

 

·                    It encourages private landowners to become stewards of wildlife and relies on participation by volunteer citizen scientists in bird monitoring programs, providing the Service with much-needed data on bird numbers, trends and responses to habitat management.

 

·                    More than 40 locations in Missouri have been designated as Important Bird Areas through the IBA program run here by Audubon Missouri and BirdLife International.

 

·                    The Great Rivers Confluence IBA encompasses such places as B.K. Leach Conservation Area, Edward “Ted” and Pat Jones - Confluence Point State Park, Columbia Bottoms Conservation Area, Cuivre (pronounced quiver) Island Conservation Area, and Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area.

 

·                    These areas protect such hallmark species as the bald eagle, king rail and least tern.  They are also largely open to public access, so residents can experience nature close to home.

 

·                    Partners on the landscape of the Confluence have accomplished so much when it comes to protecting natural resources.

 

·                    Partners also helped to sign a landmark conservation agreement protecting birds in our urban areas. 

 

·                    St. Louis’s Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory birds was signed in 2004.  Among other projects, the Service has been helping to enhance warbler habitat in Kennedy Woods near the St. Louis zoo; replace trees blown in Tower Grove Park; and carry out habitat projects around Creve Coeur (creeve core) Lake and Forest Park.

 

(Slide 8: PFW logo, MDC-FWS partners project, prairie bird survey)

·                    Our work with private landowners here in the Confluence and across the Midwest is something I am particularly proud of.

 

·                    The Service is committed to landscape-level conservation within the Confluence.  But we—and our partners--recognize that we cannot always preserve and protect wildlife and habitat through land acquisition.

 

·                    Through our Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, the Service has worked with willing landowners to put hundreds of acres in the Confluence watershed into conservation easements and restore habitat. 

 

·                    We often work with state and nongovernment organizations on these projects.  But our most valuable partners are the landowners who voluntarily participate in the Partners program.  They want to make their land more hospitable to wild creatures.

 

·                    The Service offers landowners assistance and cost-share dollars to accomplish these projects. 

 

·                    Since 2004 the Service has been working with local entities in St. Louis and St. Charles counties to restore wet prairie and wetland habitat.  To date, about 700 acres of native prairie and wetland habitat has been restored in the Confluence watershed through the Partners program, benefiting migratory birds and local wildlife populations.

 

·                    In its Comprehensive Wildlife Strategy, the Missouri Department of Conservation designated the Confluence as a Conservation Opportunity Area.  This means conservation for wildlife is a priority and there is a focus for conservation efforts for the enjoyment of people from St. Louis and the surrounding communities and for the forest, fish and wildlife resources of the state.  The Service is working side-by-side with Missouri and its partners in implementing the wildlife strategy.

 

(Slide 9: birding; pelicans; egret)

·                    And through the Missouri/Mississippi River Confluence Partnership, local planning efforts are underway to protect and restore up to 50,000 acres of habitat on the Confluence that will benefit the myriad birds that traverse the Mississippi Flyway each year to and from breeding and wintering grounds. 

 

·                    Clearly, birds are important to the people of St. Louis for many reasons: the traditions of a great hunt with family and friends; the opportunities to see and hear hundreds of different species of neotropical migrants as they travel through during spring and fall; or the view of a great egret jabbing its beak in the cool waters of a misty morning. 

 

·                    All of these opportunities move our spirits and give us pause that life is much bigger than we are.

 

(Slide 10: Cairncross quote)

 

·                    But we all know that protecting the resources of the Confluence is not just benefiting wildlife.  There are real material benefits to conservation that residents of this area feel.

 

·                    In her book “Costing the Earth: The Challenges for Government and Opportunities for Business,” author and editor for The Economist, Francis Cairncross wrote, “In a world where money counts, the land needs value to give it a voice.”

 

·                    Stated more bluntly: money talks.   Carincross message to us is that when we speak of setting aside special places to hunt, to fish, to observe and photograph wildlife, to introduce our next urban generation to wildlife conservation and our valuable outdoor traditions, the actual real values of these places and activities are difficult to express.

 

·                    The message isn’t always received.  It seems like something nice to do…but it is more than that.  It is important.  It is good business.  And it’s even good for our human health.

 

·                    From the halls of Congress to boardrooms of Corporate America, the key to making good decisions is to weigh the balance:  costs and benefits; rights and liabilities; return on investment.  How do we apply that to “the outdoors?”  It helps to place a dollar value on it, to better understand the equation.

 

(Slide 11: Big Business: “Outdoors Incorporated”)

·                    By any measure, the value of America’s Great Outdoors is impressive.  From the Service’s 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, we confirmed what most of us already knew:  Outdoor recreation in America is a multi-billion dollar business.  For example, if hunting, fishing and wildlife watching were a corporation, its $108 billion in annual revenues would make it the seventh largest corporation in America. 

 

(Slide 12: Outdoors Incorporated: Big Employer)

·                    This “outdoors corporation” would employ more than 2.6 million people, nearly as many as are employed by the computer industry in the United States.

 

(Slide 13: Region 3 in US Map with figures on outdoor spending)

·                    Let’s talk about the Midwest

 

·                    In our region, 27.5 million people participate in wildlife associated recreation, that’s 47 percent of the population of our 8 states.  More than $17 billion is spent here to hunt, fish and observe wildlife.

 

(Slide 14: Missouri percentages)

·                    And now let’s talk about the state of Missouri.

 

·                    1.4 million Missouri residents enjoy bird watching and 8 out of 10 Missourians feed birds and wildlife at home.

 

·                    406 species of birds have been recorded in Missouri, many of which pass through the Confluence area both to and from breeding grounds.

 

·                    $448.8 million is generated by wildlife watchers in Missouri.

 

·                    There is $937.8 million in total business-generated activity by Missouri wildlife watchers which support 7,850 jobs and create $22.1 million in sales tax revenue in the state.

 

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No contact information available. Please contact Charles Traxler, 612-713-5313, charles_traxler@fws.gov