As I look over my first year as Director, I can’t believe just how much groundbreaking conservation work the Fish and Wildlife Service accomplished. I tried to put together a top 10 list of conservation activities. But this year was so amazing I took a tip from the classic film This is Spinal Tap. In the movie, the guitarist turns his amps to 11. I went one better and made the list go to 12. I stopped there, although I could have easily made it a top 40.
Here they are (in chronological order):
- July 12 – The National Wildlife Refuge System holds its history-making Conserving the Future Conference, setting a vision and plan that will drive the refuge system into the future. When we held the Refuge System's first-ever vision conference, in Keystone, CO, I was Refuge Chief. To attend the Madison conference, as Director, was an exceptional honor.
- August 2 – The Service reaches an agreement with Wyoming, revising the state’s management plan for the gray wolf and paving the way for the removal of wolves in Wyoming from the Endangered Species List. It follows wolf delisting agreements with Montana and Idaho. Wolves in the western Great Lakes are delisted a few months later. Mollie Beattie was Director when I joined the Service. She'd be proud of how this organization has led recovery of this iconic species.
- September 9 – Historic agreements were approved by a judge that will allow the Service to more effectively focus efforts on providing the benefits of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to imperiled species most in need of protection. A multi-year listing work plan will enable the agency over a period of six years, to review and address the needs of more than 250 species on the list of candidates for protection under the ESA. As a result of these commitments, deadline litigation has declined significantly, and will allow the Service to prioritize its workload based on science. The work plan provides predictability and certainty to landowners and state and local governments, catalyzing partnership-driven efforts to reduce threats and protect habitat for many of these species. These partnerships will continue to develop, driving and expanding conservation actions throughout the process.
- September 20 – The Save Vanishing Species semipostal stamp goes on sale. Featuring the image of an Amur tiger cub, the stamps cost just slightly more than first-class postage and the extra goes to international conservation. By the end of May, 12.6 million stamps had been sold, raising $1,347,714.63.
- December 16 – An independent Scientific Integrity review refutes allegations made by a retiring federal judge that a Service biologist provided false and misleading testimony during litigation on the Delta smelt. This process and finding is a victory for scientific integrity and the protection of our people from unfounded and politically motivated accusations.
- January 18 –Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and I celebrate the establishment of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, the newest in a new generation of landscape conservation leadership from the Service. We’re embracing locally supported, partnership-driven conservation efforts and working together with private landowners to conserve the land’s natural heritage.
Evidence seized by Service special agents during searches related to Los Angeles defendants in Operation Crash. Credit: USFWS
- February 23 – A massive crackdown on illegal rhinoceros trade results in arrests and the execution of search warrants in five states. Agents involved in Operation Crash seize 37 rhinoceros horns and much more, putting the Service at the cutting-edge of a global crisis in poaching that threatens decades of conservation progress.
- February 28 – The Service releases a revised critical habitat proposal for the northern spotted owl that recommends conserving the remaining old growth forests while using active management and ecological forestry principles to restore the health of Northwest forests. Release of the critical habitat proposal is accompanied by an Economic Impact Statement evaluating potential experimental removal of the encroaching barred owl from certain areas. Both actions support the 2010 revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl.
- March 1 - Secretary Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announce the creation of the Working Lands for Wildlife initiative, a partnership between the Service and the NRCS that will help maintain longstanding ranching, farming, and forest management traditions on working landscapes across the country, while addressing the needs of several declining wildlife species.
- March 2 – The Service and Ducks Unlimited announce that they will work together with the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission to put more resources into the Prairie Pothole Region. This increased allocation means that the Service will be able to use nearly $30 million this year to put conservation easements in place on tens of thousands of additional acres, helping to stem the loss of important habitats in an area known as “America’s Duck Factory.”
- March 23 – The Department of the Interior releases Voluntary Wind Energy Guidelines to help wind energy project developers avoid and minimize impacts of land-based wind projects on wildlife and their habitats.
- June 13 – The Service determines that the dunes sagebrush lizard does not warrant protection under the ESA. An unprecedented effort to secure commitments to voluntary conservation agreements in New Mexico and Texas provides for the long-term conservation of the lizard, greatly reducing the impact of oil and gas development across 88 percent of the lizard’s habitat. It shows that species conservation can coexist with energy and economic development, when our nation is willing to make some relatively modest sacrifices.
There’s my list. I am sure I left something out. What do you think? I've certainly neglected to mention many wonderful days in the field, and while they haven't been earth-shattering conservation achievements, they have left me with heartfelt memories. Like a night on the South Dakota plains, reintroducing black-footed ferrets. Or walking, quite literally, among thousands of nesting Laysan albatross at Midway Atoll. Or tagging along with our incredible wildlife inspectors at Los Angeles International Airport …