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TESTIMONY OF
STEVE THOMPSON,
MANAGER OF CALIFORNIA-NEVADA OPERATIONS OFFICE
FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
BEFORE
THE HOUSE RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON FORESTS
AND FOREST HEALTH

FEBRUARY 28, 2004
JACKSON, CALIFORNIA


Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, my name is Steve Thompson, and I am the Manager of California-Nevada Operations Office for the Fish and Wildlife Service (Fish and Wildlife Service). I appreciate the opportunity to attend today’s hearing of the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health. Maintaining healthy forests is a subject that is integral to the mission of the Service.

Commensurate with its mission to conserve wildlife, the Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for implementing the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and managing migratory bird programs, national wildlife refuges, and national fish hatcheries. While conserving America’s wildlife for the public is an important Fish and Wildlife Service responsibility, we are keenly aware of the need to assure balance between wildlife conservation, public safety, fire management, and healthy forests. However, the Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that public safety always comes first.

Recognizing the need to achieve this balance, the Fish and Wildlife Service understands the similar challenge that the U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service) faces in managing the Sierra Nevada forests. As a former National Wildlife Refuge manager, I also understand the practical realities and uncertainties of land management. The Forest Service is responsible for both conserving wildlife and addressing the risk of catastrophic wildfires. The Forest Service is attempting to balance, among other things, the needs for healthy wildlife populations and the potential impacts to human communities – a difficult balance to achieve, and one in which we are committed to being a positive and cooperative partner in the process of sorting out the many challenges this process entails.

Based on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s preliminary review of the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment (Plan), we believe that the Forest Service has struck a reasonable balance in meeting this challenge. The Fish and Wildlife Service understands and agrees with the important foci of the Plan, beyond addressing endangered and threatened species needs.

Particularly significant from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s perspective of the Plan is the strong commitment to adaptive management that provides a practical, science-based approach to meeting the multiple needs of the Sierra Nevada. Indeed, the reliance on sound science is a good foundation for all of our work. The monitoring and research activities that are currently taking place, and will take place in the future, will provide valuable information that will feed into the adaptive management process. This process will then respond with a different or more refined management direction, if necessary, in order to achieve the desired results – protecting communities, maintaining a healthy forest, and conserving the wildlife that exists within the Sierra Nevada. This adaptive approach will help balance the various risks that are inherent in the management of natural systems.

I also want to point out some examples of the cooperative approach the Forest Service is using, consistent with the Plan, to addressing existing wildlife management issues. For example, the Forest Service has committed to develop a conservation strategy for the Southwestern willow flycatcher, and there are provisions in the Plan to protect stream buffers. Because of commitments like these, we are optimistic that the Plan can meet the needs of the communities in the Sierra Nevada and protect and enhance habitat where threatened, endangered and special consideration species live. Finally, I note that the Plan’s provisions to achieve fuel load reductions can contribute to healthier forests, especially in old growth forests that are so important to species.
Pursuant to the consultation requirements under Section 7 of the ESA, the Fish and

Wildlife Service worked at great length with the Forest Service on the 2002 review of the Plan Amendment, and most recently on the development of the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), released this past January. The Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that alternative management activities in the Amendment to Plan and evaluated in the SEIS are “not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the threatened and endangered species” which occur in the national forests of the Sierra Nevada. However, our work is not complete. We continue to work closely and cooperatively with the Forest Service and the California Resources Agency to refine and implement the active, focused adaptive management approach described in the SEIS and the Record of Decision.

As part of this consultation, it should be noted that several species of concern in the Sierra Nevada were not addressed in the Biological Opinion, because they are not federally listed. The following forest-dependent species recently have been the subject of petitions to be listed: the California spotted owl, the fisher, the mountain yellow-legged frog and the Yosemite toad.

The condition of the California Spotted Owl was evaluated in a 12-month status review, the result of a court order. That status review was completed and the Fish and Wildlife Service announced just a year ago that the California spotted owl did not warrant protection under ESA at this time. Further, in response to another court order, the Fish and Wildlife Service completed a 90-day review of the status of the fisher last summer and began a more detailed 12-month status review of the species to determine if the petition to list the fisher as endangered is warranted. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding is due to be published in the Federal Register in April. In response to two other petitions for listing, the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded last year that the mountain yellow-legged frog and the Yosemite toad warrant protection under ESA, but those listings are precluded by the need to address other listing actions of a higher priority. The California spotted owl and the fisher were not analyzed within the Forest Service’s Biological Opinion; however, they were included in the SEIS.

As we continue to work cooperatively with the Forest Service in the implementation of the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan, we also look forward to working with our counterparts in meeting the objectives of the broader National Fire Plan. To this end, the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA-Fisheries, in cooperation with the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Park Service, issued the Joint Counterpart Endangered Species Act Section 7 Consultation Regulations to streamline consultation on proposed projects that support the National Fire Plan. Promulgated on December 8, 2003, these counterpart regulations were developed as part of the President’s Healthy Forests Initiative.

Mr. Chairman, in conclusion, the Fish and Wildlife Service shares the Forest Service’s goal of protecting the Sierra Nevada’s old growth forests, wildlife and communities against catastrophic fires. The Fish and Wildlife Service has a long history of working cooperatively with the Forest Service, and we will continue to give assistance to the Forest Service on wildlife conservation issues.

This concludes my prepared testimony. I appreciate the opportunity to report to the Committee and look forward to working with you in the future as the Fish and Wildlife Service works to fulfill the challenge of the Sierra Nevada.