Goal 1. Sustainability of Fish and Wildlife Populations
Migratory birds, endangered fish, wildlife, and plant species, interjurisdictional fish, marine mammals, and species of international concern are conserved, protected, enhanced, or restored. The Service participates in conservation of other species when its expertise, facilities or lands can enhance state, tribal, local or other efforts.
While States are responsible for managing all species occurring within their borders, many species are important nationally as well as locally. Effective conservation requires cooperation across state, tribal, and international boundaries. Beginning with fish in 1871 and migratory birds in 1885, the Federal government, through what is now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, established programs to work with its partners in conservation to ensure that Americans could continue to enjoy fish and wildlife which defined the spirit of their communities. These programs, and laws like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that establish them, have evolved over the years, meeting the changing needs and concerns of millions of hunters, anglers, wildlife watchers and other members of the American public who care about our nation's natural heritage. They help to ensure that future generations of Americans will witness the spring and fall migrations of colorful ducks and geese, experience the thrill of landing a native trout or salmon, or find renewal in the song of a wren.
What began as a group of laws which sought to manage migratory game species evolved into a wider net of protection statutes based on the realization that fish and wildlife frequently defined the spirit of the varied ecosystems that Americans called home. The Endangered Species Act provides protection to well-known animals like our national symbol, the bald eagle, as well as to little known and often underappreciated plants and animals, like the little-wing pearly mussel. Many protected species serve as living barometers of the health of our land and waters. As the lead U.S. agency implementing CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the Fish and Wildlife Service helps conserve beloved and valuable plant and animal communities throughout the world.
The challenges of ensuring sustainable ecosystems energize dedicated
citizens who recognize the vital links between the health and safety of
human populations and the health and safety of fish and wildlife communities,
as they rely on the same shared natural resources. The men and women of
the Fish and Wildlife Service play major roles, working with their partners,
in national and international programs to ensure that America's natural
resource heritage is conserved and the world's fish and wildlife resources
are protected for future generations.
1.1 Migratory Birds
By 2003, 20% of regional migratory bird populations demonstrate improvements in their population status because of management actions that have either increased their numbers or, in some cases, reduced the number of conflicts due to overabundance.
The list of migratory birds includes more than 800 species, representing every bird native to the United States, with the exception of the order of birds which includes grouse and turkey. American laws implementing international agreements with Canada, Mexico, Russia, and Japan designate migratory birds as trust species, which requires the Service to conserve them as sustainable resources. This commitment can be fulfilled only through a collaborative approach among federal agencies with the cooperation of international, state, private, and other partners.
The American people clearly recognize and benefit from the enormous value of healthy migratory bird populations. From an ecological perspective, migratory birds offer natural control of crop-damaging insects that artificial control measures could never duplicate; and birds eat insects in our own backyards. The birds themselves are also major recreational resources, contributing millions of dollars annually into national and local economies. More than 52 million Americans feed wild birds; nearly 18 million take trips each year to observe birds; and another 3 million adults enjoy migratory bird hunting. These recreational pursuits generate more than $20 billion in sales each year, and provide jobs for 200,000 Americans.
Because of their different life histories, conservation status, and recreational importance, migratory birds are categorized and managed in different ways by the Service and its partners. For example, the Service closely tracks population changes in species which are hunted, because of the need for the Service and states to establish hunting seasons and limits each year. Some non-game birds also require careful monitoring. The Service monitors populations of the 124 Migratory Non-game Birds of Management Concern to take management actions that ensure they do not decline to the point where they need to be protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Unfortunately, for many species of migratory birds, our understanding of their population health falls into one of two categories: either the population is clearly declining or we do not have a firm understanding of the population status because of lack of sound scientific information. This long-term goal focuses on reversing declining population trends and preventing future population losses of species whose individual status is either currently considered healthy or difficult to ascertain. More than 70 species of grassland and shrub land dwelling migratory birds are in decline. Fifty-five percent of all migratory birds whose populations spend the winter in the southern United States have decreased in the past 30 years. The American woodcock, a prized hunted species, has dropped by more than 2.5% per year since the 1960s. Atlantic and Mississippi Flyway populations of American black ducks have been cut in half since 1955.
The Service will take a variety of actions, as appropriate for the geographic areas and species of concern, to maintain or increase trends of stable or increasing populations and to reverse the trends of declining populations. We will continue to conduct population surveys and censuses, band waterfowl and other birds, and control predators. We will continue to support investigations that increase our understanding of limiting factors and habitat requirements for migratory birds. We will develop and implement monitoring programs to better track the status of populations and their responses to management actions, and continue education and outreach efforts to enhance the public's awareness and support for migratory bird conservation. The Service will continue to use the valuable tool of law enforcement to support our migratory bird goal. Enforcing federal laws protecting migratory birds has contributed to changing the manufacture and use of toxic pesticides and the implementation of protective measures by the petroleum and mining industries.
The Service will respond to disease outbreaks, provide nesting structures, and reintroduce species as necessary to assist in stabilizing populations. The Service will participate in regulatory and other guidance processes. We will continue to issue permits, and to assist in the issuance of permits, which allow appropriate sustainable uses of migratory birds.
Further, because migratory birds are mobile, habitat loss, degradation,
and fragmentation are key factors affecting migratory bird populations.
Service efforts will continue and expand, where appropriate, to protect,
restore and manage priority habitats in sufficient quantity and quality
to meet the needs of migratory birds. Habitat quantity and quality issues
are addressed in Mission Goal 2.
1.2 Imperiled Species
By 2003, 40% of endangered and threatened species populations listed a decade or more are stabilized or improved and 60 species in decline are precluded from the need for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Although the Fish and Wildlife Service is involved in a number of activities that contribute to the maintenance of fish and wildlife populations, these actions are not always enough to keep species from foreseeable extinction. When this occurs, species receive the protection of the Endangered Species Act and collaborative efforts to recover species begin. The Endangered Species Act provides "... a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species...".
The Endangered Species Act recognizes that plants and animals in peril reflect the condition and health of the ecosystem. They often indicate more serious problems. At the same time, many of these plants and animals themselves provide invaluable and irreplaceable benefits.
Although all Federal agencies are responsible for preventing endangerment and for recovering endangered species, the Service identifies imperiled species and focuses efforts on their recovery. As of July 31, 1998, 1,118 species of animals and plants native to the United States were officially listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Approximately 100 species are added to the list each year, most often as a result of habitat loss or degradation. The challenges of restoring these species and their habitats before they become extinct are enormous but not insurmountable. While the Endangered Species Act mandates the recovery of listed species, Congress and the Service encourage efforts to prevent species in decline from reaching the point where the Endangered Species Act's protections are necessary. While the Endangered Species Act offers no regulatory authority for protecting non-listed species, voluntary partnerships provide mechanisms to benefit unlisted but declining species in conjunction with the protection of listed species. The Service is committed to early identification and restoration of declining species to prevent the necessity of using the Endangered Species Act. This protection is most often accomplished through an ecosystem approach to wildlife and plant management.
The ecosystem approach focuses on groups of species which depend on the same ecosystem. The Service then develops and implements recovery plans for multiple species. Such recovery plans often include non-listed species that benefit from actions taken to conserve listed species.
The Service's "Safe Harbor" concept, another innovative, cooperative approach to endangered species conservation, encourages private landowners to conserve both listed and non-listed species. Landowners agree to protect habitat essential for the species for a set amount of time and, in turn, receive protection from additional regulatory requirements if the populations of endangered species on their property increase. Another cooperative mechanism, commonly known as the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) process, protects endangered plants and animals while allowing private economic development to proceed. The process promotes negotiated solutions to land use conflicts centered around endangered species. When a land owner or developer wishes to work with the Service to receive a permit for development, the Service analyzes listed and non-listed species at the request of the applicant.
The Service recognizes that delivery of this long-term goal will require the cooperative efforts of other Federal agencies, states, and other landowners. Population surveys and other investigations are needed to increase our understanding of limiting factors and habitat requirements for imperiled species and species in decline. Monitoring actions will be designed and implemented to better track the status of populations and their responses to management actions. Education, outreach and law enforcement will all play valuable roles in enhancing the public awareness of and support for recovery actions necessary to improve the populations of imperiled species and species in decline. Specific Service actions to deliver this goal include implementing and completing species recovery tasks identified in recovery plans and other conservation documents to stabilize or improve populations. As recovery is achieved, actions appropriate to upgrade species status and/or to delist species will be initiated. Also, the Service will monitor populations of species considered to be in decline to determine whether they warrant elevation to candidate status. Cooperative agreements that identify conservation actions to sustain populations of species that warrant listing will be encouraged and implemented, thus precluding species listings. Further, conservation plans and agreements will be developed to protect large numbers of species within an ecosystem.
1.3 Interjurisdictional Fish
By 2003, 100% of stable interjurisdictional fish populations remain at or above current levels and 3% of depressed populations are restored to self-sustaining or, where appropriate, harvestable levels.
Interjurisdictional fish are populations that are managed by two or more states, nations or Native American tribal governments because of their geographic distribution or migratory patterns. The size and complexity of interjurisdictional fish stocks pose some of America's most difficult natural resource management challenges. Most interjurisdictional fish species support critical recreational and commercial fisheries that are often hundreds of years old. Angling's popularity also supports local economies and fosters an appreciation for America's natural resources. In 1996 alone, striped bass were sought by 1.4 million anglers for 15 million fishing days, while 300 thousand anglers sought lake trout in the Great Lakes for a total of 2 million fishing days. With the average recreational angler spending $1,072 on fishing-related expenses in 1996, the nation's 35 million anglers spent $15.4 billion for fishing trips, $19.2 billion on equipment, and $3.8 billion for licenses, stamps, tags, and other items. Interjurisdictional fish also support a vast commercial fishery and declining populations illustrate how much economies depend on this resource. As an example, commercial harvest of Pacific salmon in Washington, Oregon, and California, valued at $200 million in 1980, dropped to only $120 million in 1990, and is well below that today. Before declining Atlantic Coast striped bass populations were restored, depressed fisheries cost an estimated 7,500 jobs and $220 million between 1974 and 1980.
Protecting the living resources of the Nation's inland and coastal aquatic ecosystems has been a core responsibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its predecessor agencies for more than 120 years. Although the Service has directed great efforts toward this goal, the health and viability of many of the nation's aquatic ecosystems continues to deteriorate and nationally significant inland and coastal fishery resources are declining at an alarming rate. As an example, populations of more than 200 West Coast salmon, steelhead trout and other fish stocks are well below their long-term historical averages. Threats include introduction and spread of exotic species, increased demand for industrial and domestic water supply, commercial navigation, flow augmentation, hydro power development, habitat destruction or degradation, and over-harvest. These external pressures are particularly challenging because interjurisdictional fish depended on differing geographic ecosystems during different parts of their life history. Problems in one area are magnified throughout the species range.
The Service is strongly committed to conserving and restoring these species and protecting and rehabilitating their aquatic habitat. Specifically, 64 Fishery Resources Offices provide expertise and field assistance in monitoring, restoring, and managing interjurisdictional fish populations, with depleted species taking precedent. The Service will also focus its National Fish Hatchery system, technology development capability and fish health expertise on achieving this goal.
Service actions to deliver this long-term goal include continuing population surveys or censuses and supporting investigations that increase our understanding of interjurisdictional fish populations. These investigations will identify remnant populations of several species of concern and guide experimental stocking actions necessary to restore or stabilize populations of concern. The Service will continue to provide genetic and specialized health screening and analysis services on cultured and wild fish and establish refugia for species of concern.
Further, because fish are mobile, habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation are key factors affecting interjurisdictional fish populations. Service efforts will continue and expand, where appropriate, to protect, restore and manage priority habitats in sufficient quantity and quality to meet the needs of interjurisdictional fish. Habitat quantity and quality issues are addressed in Mission Goal 2.
1.4 Marine Mammals
By 2003, 100% of marine mammal populations over which the Service has jurisdiction will be at sustainable population levels or protected under conservation agreements.
The Service is responsible, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 for the conservation of walrus, polar bear, sea otter, dugong and manatee. The Service cooperates with states and with Alaska Natives and participates in international activities and agreements involving marine mammals. In addition, the Service maintains a close working relationship with the Marine Mammal Commission and its Committee of Scientific Advisors.
There are marine mammal populations, including those managed by other agencies, that are in severe decline, or are already listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. If populations can be protected or maintained at sustainable levels, potential regulations governing harvest or other human activities -- such as oil and gas development, commercial fishing and recreational boating -- could be less restrictive, benefiting both marine mammals and the American public.
Service actions to achieve this long-term goal focus on removing significant threats to marine mammals. Such threats include illegal hunting; negligence by motor boat operators, who killed sixty manatees in 1996; death due to oil and gas spills and exposure to other environmental contaminants; drowning of sea otters in fishery nets; and naturally occurring diseases. Service law enforcement agents and refuge officers will play an important role in educating the public to raise their awareness of the sensitivity of marine mammals to human activities and in protecting marine mammals. Also, enforcing regulations, educating the public on speed boat restrictions, establishing tagging requirements for marine mammal parts such as walrus ivory, and improving methods for setting fishing nets all play vital protective roles. Law enforcement measures, including inspections at the nation's ports, investigations of illegal hunting and enforcing boat speed restrictions will promote conservation actions necessary to achieve this goal.
Because polar bears and walrus are highly migratory, international agreements are important in their management. Conservation agreements lay out specific criteria for harvest and take of marine mammals while ensuring their long term survival. Thus, the Service will remain active in implementing existing cooperative agreements and encourage new cooperative agreements as necessary to sustain populations of marine mammals.
1.5 Species of International Concern
By 2003, 40% of transborder species of international concern over which the Service has jurisdiction will have improved conservation status or be included under a conservation project; and conservation projects for 40 additional priority species of international concern will be initiated.
The Service's international conservation program implements a number of international treaties which involve fish and wildlife conservation commitments, encourages the global conservation of wildlife species and their habitats and focuses on global resources which are of the greatest importance and benefit to the American people. The following lists why species of international concern need cooperative management agreements:
Global fish and wildlife conservation relies on international cooperation, education and enforcement. The most effective contribution the Service can make to deliver this goal is to share its expertise with countries that want to protect their fish and wildlife resources and meet their global obligations under CITES and other cooperative international conservation agreements. Successful conservation depends on local, regional, national, and international cooperation. The Service helps to build the united front needed to combat the illegal fish and wildlife trade, to form cooperative alliances among international partners, and to conserve species of international concern.
External Factors Affecting Mission Goal One
There are several key factors external to the Service and beyond its control that could significantly affect the achievement of this goal.
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