Mr. Chairman, and members of the subcommittee, I am Matt Hogan, Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). I appreciate this opportunity to provide the Administration’s views on four bills before the Committee, the proposed expansion of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex and Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, the proposed expansion of Blackwater NWR, the revocation of land from Cibola NWR, and the Nutria Eradication and Control Act.
H.R. 289 authorizes expansion of the Ottawa NWR Complex and the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. As discussed more fully below, the Administration cannot support this legislation. I would like to begin by giving you a brief summary of Service involvement in the Lake Erie region. Coastal wetlands within the western basin of Lake Erie are of significant importance to fish and wildlife trust resources. These wetlands provide spawning, nursery and rearing habitat for some 43 wetland-dependent fish species, 26 of which have significant recreational, commercial or prey value. More than 325 species of birds can be found in the western Lake Erie basin, and the area annually attracts hundreds of thousands of migrating waterfowl. The area is also an important staging area for migrating songbirds. Recognizing these important resources, the State of Ohio established numerous State Wildlife Areas, Nature Preserves, and Parks in this region.
The Service is active in efforts to protect and restore coastal wetlands within this geographic area and we realize the economic, public use and environmental benefits of protecting and restoring the coastal wetlands of Lake Erie. In fact, we have four existing refuges in the area. These refuges are the Cedar Point NWR, Ottawa NWR, West Sister Island NWR, and the recently established Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 requires the Service to develop a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for each refuge in the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS). The CCP describes the desired future conditions of a refuge and provides long-range guidance and management direction to achieve refuge purposes. It is during this process that expansion of a refuge is considered and recommended if increasing the size will help fulfill the purpose for which the refuge was established. Development of a CCP provides a forum for meaningful public participation and improved coordination with the states and local communities. It also affords local citizens an opportunity to help shape future management of a refuge, recognizing the important role of refuges in nearby communities. We are preparing a draft CCP for the newly established Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, which will include review of the Michigan portion of the proposed expansion outlined in H.R. 289. The public will have the opportunity to comment on this draft once it becomes available for review.
In 1994 we proposed an expansion for the Ottawa NWR Complex, which includes Cedar Point, Ottawa and West Sister Island. After public review and comment, we adopted an increase in the size of the complex totaling 5,000 acres, by including high-priority wetland habitat areas in Lucas, Sandusky, Ottawa and Erie Counties, the same general geographic area as the Ohio portion of the proposed expansion for the Ottawa NWR. To date, we have purchased 552 acres in the approved expansion area at a cost of $1,306,200
In 2000, we completed a CCP for the Ottawa NWR Complex. After extensive public review and comment, this CCP did not propose an expansion for the Complex beyond the 5,000 acres previously approved.
In contrast to the 5,000-acre expansion included in the CCP, H.R. 289 would commit the Service to a massive expansion of the Refuge System in the same area. The geographic scope of the proposal includes over 80 miles of coastline covering forty-thousand acres or more.
The Administration is committed to taking better care of what we have, while ensuring that new acquisitions truly meet strategic needs of the Refuge System. This includes purchasing in-holdings within currently approved refuge boundaries. There must be a balance between acquiring new lands and meeting the operational, maintenance and restoration requirements for the resources already in public ownership. Towards this end, the Service is currently developing a plan to guide future growth and land acquisition for the Refuge System.
Establishing new refuges or significantly expanding existing ones compromises our ability to address needs at existing refuges.
The Service is currently conducting condition assessments at all of its refuges facilities. Condition assessments have been completed at 40 percent of refuge facilities and the Service expects the remaining 60 percent to be assessed by the end of 2005.
In addition to the national priorities and funding constraints discussed above, we have already evaluated a major portion of this area, and are in the process of evaluating the remainder. After a careful review of the Ohio portion of the land covered by this bill, we have concluded, after two different public comment periods several years apart, that a 5,000-acre expansion of Refuge System holdings is all that is needed. We are now conducting such a review of the Michigan lands covered by this legislation through the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge CCP.
We appreciate that Representative Kaptur and her constituents seek to have the Fish and Wildlife Service expand its role in the Ottawa NWR and the Detroit River International National Wildlife Refuge. Given that we concluded less than two years ago that such a large-scale expansion in this area was not needed, we cannot support it now.
We note that other opportunities and tools exist for protecting resources in Lake Erie’s Western Basin besides including lands in the Refuge System. Service programs such as Partners for Fish and Wildlife, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Landowner Incentive Program, and Private Stewardship Grants can be used in cooperation with State, local and private partners to restore and protect natural resources. The States of Ohio and Michigan also receive funds through the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration, Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration, and state wildlife grants.
H.R.274 – Blackwater NWR – Garrett Island
H.R. 274 authorizes the expansion of the Blackwater NWR to include Garrett Island in the NWRS. As discussed more fully below, the Administration cannot support this legislation. This undeveloped island, located in Cecil County, Maryland, has generated protection and acquisition interest from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Cecil County Land Trust, a local environmental interest group. In an attempt to explain our position, I would like to give you a brief summary of Service involvement in the Blackwater NWR, our activities in proximity to Garrett Island, and what we currently know about the natural resources associated with the island.
The Chesapeake Marshlands NWR Complex includes Blackwater NWR, Martin NWR, and Susquehanna NWR. Blackwater NWR was initially established to protect and manage habitat for migratory birds, and is designated as an International Birding Area and a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.
Garrett Island is located in the Susquehanna River, approximately five miles north of what remains of the Susquehanna NWR, which is one hundred miles north of the Complex office. At the request of the Subcommittee in June 2002, Service biologists reviewed wetlands and wildlife habitat types occurring on the island, through an analysis of maps, aerial photographs, soil surveys, biological data collected by various agencies, and a field inspection on August 8, 2002. The Service provided the report to the Chairman on September 11, 2002.
The island is approximately 180 acres in size, slightly less than a mile long (north-south) and about one-half mile in width. It exhibits a great deal of topographic relief, with the highest and steepest west-central section reaching approximately 100 feet above sea level. The shoreline is rocky along the upper end and along the western sides. A sandy shoreline predominates the lower portion, especially along the eastern side where some accretion has occurred. In general, the majority of the island consists of forested upland habitat, with limited tracts of wetland in the center and along the eastern shoreline. Portions of the island were once farmed and/or pastured, resulting in the forest re-growth present today. Human activity and disturbance are evident on some parts of the island, such as along the Railroad and Route 40 rights-of-way that directly traverse the island and the old quarry site in the west-center of the island. A forested/shrub wetland, approximately 20 acres in size, is located between the bridges on soils mapped as tidal marsh. This area is subject to fresh tidal flooding during the highest tides.
The Service’s Maryland Fisheries Resource Office has sampled the river in the Garrett Island vicinity and report a typical assemblage of fish species for the area. The Service’s Division of Ecological Services has no records of federally-listed threatened or endangered species in the area. The Maryland Department of Natural Resource’s Heritage Program has no records of state threatened or endangered species.
Garrett Island does have archaeological and historic importance based on several factors: its environmental setting in the extreme upper portion of Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of the Susquehanna River; its witness of the majority of regional human history; and its association with important persons and events in state, regional, and national history, particularly in early colonial years. At least one known site is likely to have high archaeological research value, and more sites with high information potential are likely to be uncovered in the future. Ownership by Maryland’s State Historic Preservation Office, a non-government organization focused on archaeological preservation, or a federal agency focused on cultural resource management may be more appropriate to protect these archaeological sites.
The Service has limited funds with which to purchase lands and acquire easements to provide protection and management to trust resources following purchase. Therefore, the Service must be strategic in identifying lands for inclusion in the NWR System, and must set priorities for purchase. The Service recognizes that one of the most important challenges in the land acquisition process is the development of integrated national and regional wildlife habitat goals and objectives. When planning acquisitions and setting priorities, the Service considers known sites of threatened or endangered species and communities; areas important to the ecological health of lands already owned (e.g., areas that protect the quality and quantity of water for wetlands, provide habitat corridors between existing conservation lands, or are of sufficient size of contiguous lands to protect viable populations); and, areas important for priority wildlife species (e.g., critical stopover habitat for migrating birds). Other factors considered include the size of the proposal, the relationship to existing refuges, potential operations and maintenance costs, and the relationship to habitat and species conservation plans. These acquisition priorities must also be juxtaposed with the Service’s ability to provide resources requisite for adequate administration of potential new refuge lands.
The Service has an extensive list of possible acquisitions within the Northeast Region. Within the Chesapeake Bay, our highest priority is the Blackwater NWR in Maryland. We are currently developing a Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Blackwater refuge that will include consideration of whether to recommend enlargement of the boundary of the refuge. We are working in close cooperation with State and local governments and partners in that process. Continued efforts in the Blackwater area will allow us to link important habitats providing valuable wildlife corridors.
This Administration is committed to taking care of what we have, while ensuring that new acquisitions truly meet strategic needs of the Refuge System. As I mentioned earlier, this includes purchasing in-holdings within currently approved refuge boundaries. There must be a balance between acquiring new lands and meeting the operational, maintenance and restoration requirements for the resources already in public ownership. Towards this end, the Service is currently developing a plan to guide future growth and land acquisition for the Refuge System.
Establishing new refuges or significantly expanding existing ones compromises our ability to address needs at existing refuges. The Service is currently conducting condition assessments at all of its refuges facilities. Condition assessments have been completed at 40 percent of refuge facilities and the Service expects the remaining 60 percent to be assessed by the end of 2005.
We are appreciative that you and your constituents would turn to the Fish and Wildlife Service as custodians of Garrett Island. However, given our priorities and funding constraints, we cannot support H.R. 274. Nevertheless, the Service is willing to provide technical assistance to help you and your constituents through current Service programs such as Partners for Fish and Wildlife, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Landowner Incentive Program, and Private Stewardship Grants which can be used in cooperation with State, local and private partners to restore and protect natural resources.
H.R. 417 – Cibola NWR
I appreciate the opportunity to testify today in support of H.R. 417, which will revoke a small portion of Public Land Order 3442, dated August 21, 1964. This Public Land Order withdrew approximately 16,600 acres of public domain lands along the Colorado River in California and Arizona for the Cibola NWR. The withdrawal erroneously included a small area of approximately 140 acres in Imperial County at the southern boundary of the California portion of the refuge. A similar bill, H.R. 3937, was passed by the House last year, but was not acted upon by the Senate.
Prior to 1964, this property fell under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and, beginning in 1962, the BLM issued a permit for a public recreation concession on the lands now in question. Because neither the Service nor the BLM recognized the mistake in legal descriptions on the ground, the BLM continued to renew the original permit and the recreational concession use has continued, unbroken, to the present time, although the BLM lease did expire in April 2002. The concession and location are commonly know as "Walter's Camp," which consists of a recreational vehicle park, a small marina, and a store, and the BLM estimates that Walter's Camp receives 11,000 visitors per year.
The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, as amended, (Act) requires that all uses of refuge lands be compatible with the purpose for which the refuge was established. Section 4(a) of the Act and section 204(j) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act both prohibit the Secretary of the Interior from revoking withdrawals of land within NWRs. For this reason, Congressional action is required to remove these lands from the Refuge System.
Since the inclusion of these lands in the Public Land Order was certainly a mistake, due to the prior existence of the concession, we believe the most equitable solution is removal of the lands from the refuge. There are no listed species inhabiting the 140 acres and the area in question is, at best, marginal wildlife habitat. Removal of the 140 acres of land from the refuge would free-up the area necessary for the continuation of the recreational concession, while still affording more than adequate protection for the nearest significant wildlife habitat feature, Three Fingers Lake.
We believe that withdrawal of these lands will benefit all parties involved — the concessionaire, the Service, the BLM and, ultimately, the public. For this reason, we support the bill and urge prompt action on enactment of H.R. 417.
H.R. 273 – Nutria Eradication
The Service commends the Chairman and the Committee for recognizing the significant threat posed by nutria to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and to the economy and culture of the Bay area communities. The Service has a long history of commitment to protecting and enhancing the fish and wildlife resources of the Bay area through our cooperative efforts with the States, private landowners, and through the habitat management work conducted on NWRs such as Blackwater NWR. We recognize that Federal land management agencies like the Service play a key role in managing invasive species, particularly at the local level, where communities are struggling to find support for protection of the environment, sustainable agriculture, and economic stability.
Nutria are an exotic invasive rodent, native to South America, that have been introduced in 22 states nationwide, and affect over 1 million acres of the NWRS. Nutria have become one of the most destructive invasive mammals infesting every refuge along the Gulf of Mexico, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas, as well as the refuges in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia. Nutria destroy important freshwater marsh habitats and contribute significantly to erosion and the deterioration of water control levees and other structures. The effective control of this animal is critical for refuges to meet their wetland wildlife habitat management objectives.
The lower Eastern shore of Maryland, including Blackwater NWR, is one of the areas with high nutria populations. Blackwater NWR has lost over 7,000 acres of marsh since 1933, and the rate of marsh loss has accelerated in recent years to approximately 200 acres per year. Although there are many contributing factors (e.g., sea level rise, land subsidence), nutria are a catalyst of marsh loss because they forage on the below-ground portions of marsh plants. This activity compromises the integrity of the marsh root mat, facilitating erosion and leading to permanent marsh loss.
Nutria are one of thousands of invasive species impacting the NWRS, as well as other Federal, State, and private lands. The degradation of native fish and wildlife habitats and the functional disruption of entire ecosystems due to invasive species is overwhelming.
In an effort to make the best use of our abilities and resources, the Service cooperates with numerous partners, including the U.S. Geological Survey, within the Department, and the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services, to identify priorities for nutria prevention and control work. The Service fully realizes the threat posed by nutria to the integrity and function of the Chesapeake Bay and other ecosystems, and we remain fully committed to cooperative nutria eradication on refuges and adjacent non-federal lands.
In light of the significant ecological degradation caused by nutria, the Service joined forces with partners in Federal and State government and the private sector in 1997 to identify appropriate methods for controlling nutria and restoring degraded marsh habitat in the Chesapeake Bay. The partnership prepared a 3-year pilot program proposal, which was subsequently approved by Congress, including authorization for the Secretary of the Interior to spend up to $2.9 million over 3 years beginning in fiscal year 2000 (Public Law 105-322). The partnership successfully leveraged commitments of over $1.5 million in non-Federal funds and services for the initiative.
In fiscal years 2000 and 2001, $500,000 of Service funds were earmarked for initiation and implementation of the pilot study in and around Blackwater NWR as authorized by P.L. 105-322. The Service identified approximately $199,000 from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program and approximately $299,000 from Refuge Operations funding to meet our study obligations. In fiscal year 2002, the Service received an earmark for an additional $550,000 for the nutria project through an addition to the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program budget that increased the available funds from that program for the nutria project to $749,000. This, plus the Refuge Operation funding, provided a total of $1.048 million for 2002. The Service received $991,000 — $694,000 from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program and $297,000 from Refuge Operations funding — to meet our project obligations for 2003, $493,000 above the Service’s request.
The President’s 2004 budget request includes $699,000 from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program and $799,000 from Refuge Operations funding to meet our nutria control project obligations for fiscal year 2004, an increase of $1.0 million above the 2003 request. The $1.0 million increase for Partners and refuges will treat approximately 50,000 infested acres. The Refuge Operations request would split the funding between the Chesapeake Bay and Louisiana ecosystems. Of the funds requested for nutria control on refuges, $300,000 would provide for nutria control operations, research strategies, and marsh habitat restoration at Blackwater NWR in Maryland and Eastern Neck NWR in Virginia. The remaining funds, $200,000, would support efforts within the Southeastern Louisiana NWR Complex, Delta NWR and Sabine NWR in Louisiana
During the past year the nutria program completed the testing of various trapping strategies in the original study site locations on approximately 3,600 acres. All animals trapped in this area were removed. Based on this success, the program will move ahead and include the entire acreage of Blackwater NWR, Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area and Tudor Farms in Dorchester County in 40 acre plots. Trapping strategies on these plots are being further refined and these eradication strategies are being applied to the population of nutria throughout the study sites using a team of 12 trappers through USDA’s Wildlife Services.
We are encouraged by H.R. 273, and other bills introduced in Congress, which address invasive species problems. While there are aspects of the bill that cause concern, including the need for a new grant program to specifically address nutria, and a provision to significantly limit application of the funding to real administrative costs, the Service appreciates the Committee’s efforts at controlling and eradicating invasive species, particularly nutria, and we stand ready to work with the Committee toward that end.
We recognize the need to continue cooperative efforts to eradicate nutria in the Chesapeake Bay region and will continue its commitment as a key Federal member of the nutria eradication partnership and we plan to continue nutria project funding amounts within the priorities identified in the President’s budget.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I will be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.