Prepared Statement of Daniel M. Ashe
With your indulgence, I would like to begin with a short, personal introduction to provide some context for how I came to be here today.
I was born, and spent my childhood, in Atlanta, Georgia, where my father began what was to be a 37-year career with the Service. His is a far more interesting story than mine. Born into the industrial poverty of Connecticut’s Naugatuck River Valley and educated with the aid of the GI bill, he and my mother moved to Atlanta so he could take a job with the Service. There, he advanced through a series of positions in what was then the Branch of Lands, later the Division of Realty, and ultimately rose to be Deputy Regional Director in the Service’s Northeast Region. Some of my earliest and fondest childhood memories are accompanying my father to national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries in the Southeast – such as Okefenokee, Blackbeard Island, and Chattahoochee Forest – where I learned to band birds, fish, hunt, hike, and most importantly, to simply enjoy the outdoors. I saw Service employees in action, doing their jobs with commitment and camaraderie, something I recognized but could not put into words as a kid. I met people who would become Service legends, like Jack Watson, the colorful manager of National Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge, and former Directors John Gottschalk and Lynn Greenwalt, whose leadership and vision made distinctive contributions to the Service.
My parents did not actively encourage me to go into the conservation profession; they did not have to. They simply opened the door to the endless fascination of wild things and wild places and to the passion of those working to conserve our outdoor heritage. These early experiences gave me a deeply rooted appreciation for the work that the Service and its partner organizations do and a desire to play a part in it.
My journey to the Nation’s capital began when I was awarded a National Sea Grant Congressional Fellowship in 1982. For the next 13 years, I served as a member of the professional staff of the former Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, in the U.S. House of Representatives. During my time on Capitol Hill, I advised the Committee’s Chairmen and Members on a wide range of environmental policy issues, including endangered species and biodiversity conservation, ocean and coastal resources protection, the National Wildlife Refuge System, the National Marine Sanctuaries Program, the Clean Water Act, wetlands conservation, fisheries management and conservation, and offshore oil and gas development – all issues of direct concern to the agency I am nominated to lead. My experience on the Hill gave me invaluable insight into Congressional operations and the work ethic of Members and staff, as well as an understanding and respect for the craft of policymaking that has served me well in my own work with the Service.
Track Record and Experience
From 1998 to 2003, I served as the Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, directing operation and management of the then 93 million-acre Refuge System and the Service’s land acquisition program. During those five years, the Refuge System developed a promising vision, expanded its commitment to partnership, volunteerism, and “friends” organizations, and set the stage for sustained success. As a result, the System received vastly expanded public visibility, partner and community involvement, and strong support within the Administration and Congress. Today, the Refuge System stands at more than 150 million acres, 553 units, and 38 wetland management districts. I believe it is the world’s finest collection of public lands and waters dedicated to fish and wildlife conservation.
Throughout much of its history, the Service has set the standard for science-based wildlife management, and, in my view, the best science must inform and underpin everything we do as an agency. I am proud to have contributed to a renaissance of science and professionalism within the Service during the six years I served as Science Advisor to the Director before becoming Deputy Director in 2009. In this capacity, I had broad responsibility to provide leadership on science policy and scientific applications to resource management. During my tenure, the Service began developing and implementing an agenda for change toward a science-driven, landscape conservation business model designed to respond to broad threats such as habitat loss and fragmentation, illegal trade in wildlife, invasive species, growing water scarcity, wildlife disease, and global climate change. I also led efforts to reemphasize the importance of scientific research and professionalism and worked to build stronger relationships with the U.S. Geological Survey and scientific professional societies.
The Service makes decisions every day that are important to the American people. The actions we take to ensure the sustainability of our nation’s fish and wildlife resources affect both public and private lands and impact the quality of life, the economic well-being, and the recreational and aesthetic enjoyment of our citizens. Our decisions and actions have both immediate and long-term implications: as public servants entrusted by the American people with stewardship responsibilities for America’s wildlife resources, we act on behalf of both present and future generations. Public service, social responsibility, respect for all stakeholders, and scientific integrity, are core values that serve as foundations of the professionalism upon which those that came before me built this agency. My highest aspiration as Director, if confirmed, is to strengthen those foundational core values so that this commitment to the American public can be realized and the trust placed in the agency to provide leadership in stewardship of our nation’s wildlife resources can be fulfilled.
Philosophy, Priorities and Vision
Unity of Purpose
Unity of purpose within what we collectively call the “conservation community” is also an essential ingredient to success. Historically, this community has run the gamut from the most traditional sporting organizations to the most progressive environmental groups. The Service has often been a place where these interests come together, and that was certainly an ingredient in my successful tenure as National Wildlife Refuge System Chief. I supported, and benefitted from, the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement , or CARE. This group includes a cast of organizations with very diverse missions, from the National Rifle Association to the Defenders of Wildlife, working together to support the National Wildlife Refuge System. If confirmed, you have my commitment that I will foster this type of unity as a means of strengthening natural resource conservation. I believe that no single entity, whether federal, state, tribal or private, can independently address the conservation challenges of the 21st century. We must adopt a philosophy of interdependence, which requires relationships founded in respect and trust, and I would make this a priority during my tenure as Service Director.
Vision, Determination and Optimism
We once again witnessed this vision, determination and optimism on the part of the federal government, the Service, the states, and our many conservation partners during the recent Gulf oil spill crisis. As Deputy Director during this crisis, I was proud to play a role in helping orchestrate the Service’s response, but our Service employees were the real heroes. Nearly 2,000 of them – approximately 25 percent of the Service’s workforce – worked directly on the spill, with more than 1,500 actually deploying to the Gulf Region to assist in the response after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank on the night of April 19, 2010. Service employees from all programs and pay grades cleaned tar balls off beaches; worked long hours behind the scenes hunched over laptops in Incident Command Centers; surveyed bird colonies and habitats by plane, helicopter, boat and on foot; rescued oiled birds and brought them in for cleaning; saved baby sea turtles who might otherwise have died; and volunteered for second, and third, and fourth deployments in response to the need for their services. Most important, the Service’s men and women integrated smoothly into the largest, most complex, and successful Incident Command Structure ever assembled outside of a war zone.
The work performed by the Service and its federal and State partners has been critical to the overall response effort. We are proud to be playing a key role today, working in partnership with the States, private citizens, and the conservation community in restoring one of the most incredible ecosystems on the planet. This task will not be easy, and it won’t be accomplished quickly. We are in it for the long haul. Nothing less than success is acceptable, and continuing our all-out support for Gulf Coast restoration will be among my top priorities as Director, should I be confirmed.
We are living in an era of monumental conservation challenges, including the loss and fragmentation of habitats, genetic isolation, invasive species, water scarcity, and illegal wildlife trade. We know these challenges will be compounded by continued growth, and growing affluence in human populations and the associated demands on land and water resources. We know they will be magnified by the effects of a changing climate. All of these stressors work in concert – 24 hours a day and 7 days a week – cumulatively challenging our efforts to sustain healthy, vibrant ecosystems, particularly in regard to those species already recognized as endangered, threatened, or imperiled. Our vision and our determination must be equal to these challenges.
Now more than ever our conservation work must be science-driven, and the activities we undertake for species on the ground, at individual project sites, must strategically support achievement of our conservation goals at broader scales, across entire species’ ranges, or what we would call “landscapes.” A more holistic conservation approach is particularly critical in understanding and responding to nationwide resource threats, such as the spread of white-nose syndrome (WNS) in bats – animals essential in our ecosystems as pollinators, seed dispersers, and providers of natural pest control. Named for the white fungus that appears on the muzzle and other body parts of hibernating bats, WNS has spread rapidly across the eastern United States, killing more than 1 million bats. The fungus has been detected as far west as Oklahoma, and is expected to continue spreading.
Vision in the area of scientific capacity, capability, and excellence would also continue to be a priority for me as Director, if confirmed, as it has been in my role as Deputy Director. Science is, I believe, the key to conservation success on the ground. From the creation of the world's most comprehensive waterfowl surveys to the pioneering work on the effects of DDT on migratory birds, the Service has built a reputation for science excellence that spans decades. In recent years, we have renewed our commitment to science within the agency, taking a number of key steps including the development of the Service’s first ever Scientific Code of Professional Conduct and two peer-review journals to support the work of our scientists and provide our employees with the best tools available to accomplish our conservation mission.
Through careful consultation with its partners and employees, the Service will identify additional priorities for conservation science and develop additional capacity and partnerships to develop, acquire and apply science with unsurpassed excellence. I will aspire to continue strengthening the culture and capacities for scientific excellence as Service Director, should I be confirmed.
At the same time, we are investing in technological tools – a valuable payoff in times of tight budgets and smaller staffs. The use of Geographic Information Systems, for example, is transforming the way that our field personnel are capturing, analyzing, and managing habitat data; they are able to do in hours what otherwise would have taken months to accomplish. Our efforts to make this and other tools more widely available will have both immediate and long-term benefits. If confirmed as Director, I aspire to continue working for gains in science and technology that are reshaping the way the Service does business in the 21st Century and equipping our workforce with the necessary tools to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats – trust responsibilities that are unwavering even as our world continues to change.
In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by a nearly unanimous vote to protect those species in danger of extinction or under threat of becoming endangered. The Service is, in large measure, the agency entrusted with administering the Act. I believe that as a country, we can take great pride in the fact that this legislation has been a success story and has prevented the loss of hundreds of species, including the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon.
In implementing the ESA, we will identify opportunities to more fully engage states and tribes as partners in managing threatened and endangered species and their habitats as we operate within our limited resources and ever-increasing workload. More energy and attention should be focused on species recovery – the ultimate goal of the Act. If confirmed, I would work closely with the Committee on this issue.
Of equal importance is the need to address a continuing and alarming downward trend in our Nation’s fish species resulting from loss in the amount and quality of freshwater, estuarine, and marine habitats. America’s fisheries have sustained our people since our earliest history, and today a multi-billion-dollar industry in commercial and recreational fishing helps to support our economy. For more than 100 years, the Service’s hatchery program has worked to facilitate recreational fishing and aquatic habitat restoration through partnerships with states and tribes that benefit local communities. If confirmed one of my priorities will be ensuring that our Nation's fish and aquatic communities are receiving the attention and resources necessary, including through voluntary partnerships and other capacity-building endeavors, to successfully foster fish habitat conservation and provide benefits to the American people.
Last March Secretary Salazar released The State of the Birds 2010 Report, which assessed the vulnerability of nearly 800 bird species to climate change and indicated that climate change will have an increasingly disruptive effect on bird species in all habitats. The Report noted that all 67 oceanic bird species, including petrels and albatrosses, are among the most vulnerable birds in the United States to climate change. For bird species that are already of conservation concern, such as the golden-cheeked warbler and the whooping crane, the added vulnerability to climate change may hasten declines or prevent recovery. Key to addressing this challenge is continued strong support and growth of partnership conservation initiatives such as Joint Ventures – self-directed, regional partnerships that deliver science-based, on-the-ground conservation.
Contributing to these conservation successes is the Service’s Law Enforcement program, whose efforts I am committed to strengthening. Our Office of Law Enforcement investigates wildlife crimes, helps Americans understand and obey wildlife protections laws, works in partnership with international, state, and tribal counterparts to conserve wildlife resources and regulate wildlife trade. I am particularly concerned with bolstering those activities that combat the unlawful take and commercialization of our rarest wildlife species and address other critical threats to wildlife conservation. The Office’s special agents, who pursue crimes that range from wildlife profiteering to habitat destruction, and wildlife inspectors, who provide the Nation's front-line defense against wildlife smuggling, work on more than 13,000 investigations each year. The success of this work is even more critical now as wildlife resources face new pressures from climate change and habitat transformation.
Our National Wildlife Refuge System will be front and center in this effort, as well as in the Service’s climate adaptation and landscape-scale conservation strategies. If I am confirmed, I look forward to working with Secretary Salazar, in close collaboration with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee, to strengthen the integrity of the National Wildlife Refuge System and chart a clear course for the System as a crucial element in shaping the Nation’s environmental future.
Just as the Fish and Wildlife Service works to preserve the diversity of America's natural resources, we are also following the Department of the Interior’s lead in building a workforce that reflects the diversity of the American people. My father is proud of the fact that he hired the first modern-era female refuge manager at Canaan National Wildlife Refuge in West Virginia in the mid-1970s – not very long ago. Today, the Service’s workforce is strengthened by a growing gender, racial, and ethnic diversity, but we still have a long way to go.
Diversity is a long-term, ongoing commitment. If confirmed, I will commit to an increased focus on this important effort. This is not just the right thing to do for people; it is also a smart way to carry out conservation. Unity of purpose requires that the makeup of our organization be reflective of American society as a whole. We will work as an executive team to set and accomplish diversity goals, and managers and supervisors will be held accountable for achieving measurable, meaningful, and lasting results in this area. We are committed to doing a better job of marketing the Service to nontraditional audiences, committing resources, training our managers and supervisors, developing our employees, and recognizing those who have taken personal responsibility for organizational change.
And that brings me to the final, and most important reason, I would be honored to serve: the people who make up the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Our employees give everything they have to the mission out of their passion for America’s fish, wildlife and plant resources and the incredible diversity of landscapes and water bodies that support them. These employees do not need anyone to “motivate” them—they are driven by their deep-seated desire to ensure the legacy of wild places and wild things for this and future generations. What those inside the Service know is that when it comes to leadership, it is strong at every level of the organization. We are led both top down and bottom up. Some of the most exciting innovations we have undertaken, including carbon sequestration to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases and strategic habitat conservation, were ideas that began at the field level, where most of our workforce is employed. My job as Director, if confirmed, would be to nurture, foster, and guide that indomitable spirit of innovation, remove obstacles to our success, and lead us forward in pursuing the relationships and the organizational and scientific excellence that will be required to achieve the Service’s and the Nation’s conservation mission.
I am extraordinarily grateful that President Obama and Secretary Salazar have placed their trust in me as the nominee to serve as Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. If confirmed, I can assure you that I will work in a spirit of collaboration with Congress, state, tribal and federal agencies, and all stakeholders in pursuing what I know to be our mutual interests in securing the health and well-being of our Nation’s fish and wildlife resources and their habitats for the benefit of the American people. I am honored and humbled at the opportunity to appear before you and happy to answer any questions you may have concerning my qualifications and willingness to lead what I believe to be the finest organization of fish and wildlife conservation professionals in the world.