TESTIMONY OF TODD WILLENS, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR FISH AND WILDLIFE AND PARKS, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES, SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES, WILDLIFE AND OCEANS, REGARDING H.R. 1464,THE GREAT CATS AND RARE CANIDS CONSERVATION ACT OF 2007, H.R. 1913, THE GREAT CATS CONSERVATION ACT OF 2007 AND H.R. 1771, THE CRANE CONSERVATION ACT OF 2007
Madam Chairwoman, I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to discuss H.R. 1464, the Great Cats and Rare Canids Conservation Act of 2007, H.R. 1913, the Great Cats Conservation Act of 2007 and H.R. 1771, the Crane Conservation Act of 2007. We appreciate the Subcommittee’s continued support of the Multinational Species Conservation Acts and look forward to continuing to work with the Subcommittee to conserve rare and endangered species such as those being discussed today. We support the goals of these bills, but do have some concerns which I will discuss in my testimony.
The Multinational Species Conservation Acts encourage and assist efforts to conserve some of the world’s most ecologically and sociologically important wildlife species through on-the-ground actions and other related conservation measures. There are specific programs for:
The grant programs established by these Acts provide technical and cost-sharing grant assistance to countries for conservation of their species and habitats. The projects funded by these Acts represent cooperative efforts involving local CITES Management Authorities and their governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. These Acts reflect our strong national commitment to help support conservation programs of the target species in the wild. Significant funding from outside partners has greatly expanded the Service’s efforts to make these on-the-ground conservation programs successful.
H.R. 1771, the Crane Conservation Act of 2007
The Administration also objects to the language in Section 6 of H.R. 1771 that provides investment authority. In general, the Administration does not support legislative provisions that provide investment authority to fund program activities. Investment authority provides additional funds to a program that would otherwise accrue to the general Treasury, thus limiting the ability of the President and Congress to determine spending based on current priorities and budgets. The Administration strongly opposes this section and recommends it be deleted.
The Administration is also concerned that the definition of “conservation” under section 4 of H.R. 1771 includes the acquisition of habitat, including lands outside of the United States. Although habitat acquisition may assist the conservation of species, there may be significant risks and political ramifications associated with the acquisition of land outside of the United States. While not expressly prohibited under all of the Multinational Species Conservation Act, the Service has chosen to not fund habitat acquisition in foreign countries under these Acts. Having this policy in place has been a pillar to the success of the overall program.
The Administration also opposes the language in H.R. 1771 enabling the Secretary to spend up to 20 percent of the Fund on the two North American species, the Whooping crane and the Mississippi Sandhill crane. The Service already funds conservation and recovery program for these species through a number of Service programs, and we believe that including them in H.R. 1771 would be duplicative of the Service’s existing efforts.
As I mentioned above, we welcome the opportunity to discuss with the Subcommittee the concept of an Act that would cover a broader array of species that would allow us to bring focused assistance on the ground to a wide variety of species, some of which are perilously near extinction. We need to make certain that we prioritize funding based on biological, ecological, and conservation needs, looking at a landscape or ecosystem to see what yields the best conservation benefits and then prioritizing those needs in order to be the most effective with the limited resources available.
H.R. 1464, the Great Cats and Rare Canids Conservation Act of 2007 and H.R. 1913, the Great Cat Conservation Act of 2007
Wild felids and canids are essential to maintaining the diversity, stability, and integrity of their respective ecosystems. They help to ensure the ecological balance and health of their prey species. Removal of predators can have significant impacts on ecosystem processes and biodiversity. The absence of a top predator, such as a jaguar, may enhance the risk of a cascade of species losses, including plants and animals, throughout the ecosystem. For example, because predators mostly prey on herbivores, their elimination from natural communities may result in an increase of herbivores, which may in turn impact their forage species, thereby degrading habitat and negatively affecting yet other species. Without the natural complement of predators, an ecosystem is unhealthy, potentially unstable, and ultimately compromised.
H.R. 1464 and H.R. 1913 address some of the most urgent conservation issues regarding imperiled species of great cats. H.R. 1464 also addresses these issues for rare canids. All seven of the felid species (cheetah, clouded leopard, Iberian Lynx, jaguar, leopard, lion, snow leopard) and all six of the canid species identified in the bill (African wild dog, bush dog, dhole, Ethiopian wolf, European gray wolf, maned wolf) are listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA, CITES, and/or the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species. H.R. 1464 and H.R. 1913 authorize research, habitat conservation, law enforcement, capacity building and community outreach, and both bills prioritize long-term sustainability of conservation actions related to these species
The Administration has some concerns with both H.R. 1464 and H.R. 1913. Section 5 of H.R. 1464 would permit the Service to use up to 25% of the Act’s funding for canid and felid species that meet the criteria for need but are not specifically named in the legislation. While this flexible tool would assist in the conservation of other important but less studied species such as Darwin’s Fox, the Andean Cat, the extremely rare Flat-headed Cat, and the nearly extinct Bornean Bay Cat, we are concerned about the specific percentage amount. We would like to discuss with you further whether the percentage amount in the bill is the appropriate one.
As with H.R. 1771, the Administration objects to the language in Section 6 of H.R. 1464 and Section 6 of H.R. 1913 that provides investment authority. In general, the Administration does not support legislative provisions that provide investment authority to fund program activities. Investment authority provides additional funds to a program that would otherwise accrue to the general Treasury, thus limiting the ability of the President and Congress to determine spending based on current priorities and budgets. The Administration strongly opposes the investment authority and recommends it be deleted in both bills.
Our 17-year experience with the Multinational Species Conservation Acts has demonstrated the value of working closely with our international partners to address high-priority conservation issues. These Acts enable the Service to work with our partners to develop long-term, proactive strategies for conservation and management while being able to react quickly and efficiently to emerging issues. In the course of our work with these Acts, we have often been approached to support efforts to conserve species such as cheetahs, African wild dogs and the Amur leopard, which with less than forty left in the wild, is the most endangered large cat in the world.
In closing, the Administration would like to reiterate that we support the goals of H.R. 1464, H.R. 1913 and H.R. 1771, but do have the concerns addressed above. While these concerns are serious, they are not insurmountable. The Administration is interested in working with the Subcommittee to address these issues and others. Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be happy to answer any questions.