H.R. 39 Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act

Dr. John G. Rogers


FEBRUARY 11, 1999

I am pleased to be here to comment on H.R. 39, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, which will aid in the international conservation and management of neotropical migratory birds by supporting conservation programs and providing financial resources. The Administration supports the legislation, as it provides a mechanism for coordination and funding to promote the conservation of neotropical migratory birds and their habitats throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and North America. We acknowledge that other House members have introduced another bill. In addition, the Senate has their own version of this legislation which we could also support. We will be happy to work with the Subcommittee, other House members and the Senate to resolve the differences in the bills and to ensure that the final legislation serves the needs of neotropical migratory birds with the best program possible.

We would like to thank Chairman Saxton of the Subcommittee and Chairman Young and Ranking Member Miller of the full Committee for co-sponsoring this important legislation. H.R. 39 incorporates many of the comments and suggestions the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and Administration had provided to the Subcommittee last year.

H.R. 39 establishes a grants program to provide financial assistance to Federal, State, local and Latin American/Caribbean government agencies, non-profit and international organizations, and others to fund projects for the conservation of neotropical migratory birds. The legislation recognizes the need for international cooperation for these conservation efforts and establishes a grant selection process to ensure that projects focus on long term sustainability of local conservation efforts. The bill establishes a Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Account in the Multinational Species Conservation Fund and limits the Federal cost-share of the projects to 33 percent. We are pleased with the flexibility this legislation provides and with the increase in authorization of appropriations to $8 million per year through fiscal year 2004 to enable the Service to increase the size and scope of the program during the next 4 years.

The Service -- through four bilateral treaties -- has responsibility for maintaining healthy populations of some 778 species of migratory nongame birds and 58 species of migratory game birds, approximately 350 species of which (the so-called "neotropical migrants") migrate between the Caribbean/Latin America and North America. Migratory birds continue to face enormous and increasing challenges. Thus, the Service has identified migratory bird conservation as one of our four highest priorities for the coming year.

Despite our best efforts to date, many populations of migratory birds continue to decline, some quite markedly. For example, 124 species of migratory birds are currently on the Service's List of Migratory Nongame Birds of Management Concern. If population trends of these birds continue on their present downward course, the next place for these species may be on the List of Endangered Species. Ninety species of North American birds currently are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Mexico presently lists some 390 bird species as endangered, threatened, vulnerable, or rare. These current and projected future losses have far-reaching implications: economic, social, ecological, and recreational.

Birds are important to us for many reasons -- whether we reside in North America, Latin America, or the Caribbean. Birdwatching and other forms of bird-related recreation are highly valued pastimes in North America, with a growing interest in the Caribbean and Latin American countries. Nearly 70 million Americans spend approximately $20 billion each year participating in bird-related recreation. Birdwatching is America's fastest growing major form of outdoor recreation. Additionally, birds prevent billions of dollars of economic losses each year by eating crop-damaging insect pests and weed seeds in North and Latin America and the Caribbean. They are important pollinators of many commercially valuable plants. Neotropical migratory birds are thus an important component of biological diversity in the Western Hemisphere.

Neotropical migratory birds spend approximately five months of the year at Caribbean and Latin American wintering sites, four months at North American breeding sites, and three months en-route to these areas during spring and autumn migrations. The nature of this "shared trust" resource makes migratory bird management a true international challenge. Our greatest challenge is to halt the precipitous declines of many of these species -- due in major part to habitat destruction and degradation. H.R. 39 is a major step in the right direction in helping to reverse these detrimental trends. Severely declining bird species are causing grave concerns among natural resource managers and the public in both Caribbean and Latin American countries and in North America. H.R. 39 will help the U.S. and our international partners reverse species declines, conserving bird populations before they reach the point of requiring protection under the ESA. Equally as important, the legislation will help keep our "common" birds common, minimizing the expenditure of tax dollars and precluding the legal and public relations battles that have been known to surround endangered species listing issues.

Furthermore, H.R. 39 does much to promote the effective conservation and management of neotropical migratory birds by supporting conservation programs and providing financial resources. H.R. 39 would require the Secretary of the Interior to develop and enter into agreements with other Federal agencies. The Department of the Interior is committed to coordinating with other agencies, including the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in efforts to conserve neotropical migratory birds. USAID manages large ongoing programs in conserving neotropical migratory birds as well as habitats in general.

We support this legislation because it will provide conservation benefits to all of our migratory birds, from shorebirds to raptors, marine birds and grassland birds. This visionary act will help to unite all of the Americas in a coordinated effort to protect a vital component of our shared biological diversity. In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, we look forward to working with the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction throughout the legislative process to ensure that we develop a strong program for the conservation of birds throughout the Western Hemisphere. Again, thank you for the opportunity to provide our views on this important legislation.

Disclaimer: All statements are not the opinions or position of those testifying, rather they are the official positions taken by the Administration.