TESTIMONY OF PAUL SCHMIDT, DEPUTY ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, REFUGES AND WILDLIFE, UNITED STATES FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES, WILDLIFE CONSERVATION AND OCEANS OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES REGARDING H.R. 4286, TO AUTHORIZE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CAHABA RIVER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE IN ALABAMA
JUNE 8, 2000
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate this opportunity to present the Administration's views on H.R. 4286, a bill to authorize the establishment of the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Bibb County, Alabama. We greatly appreciate the support shown by Representative Bachus and many residents of Alabama for this refuge proposal.
The Administration recognizes the significant fish, wildlife and plant resources of the Cahaba River area, and is actively considering adesignation in this area to conserve, manage and restore these resources. The Fish and Wildlife Service has been working with interested parties to determine whether its wildlife and habitat resources are of sufficient national significance to warrant inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge System. However, we have not completed the necessary assessment to make a final decision. Accordingly, we ask for an opportunity to continue our review of this proposal, and advise the Committee of our conclusions, before this legislation is acted upon.
H.R. 4286 would authorize the establishment of the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Bibb County, Alabama. The Cahaba River is Alabama's longest free-flowing stream and one of the longest in the nation. This river provides diverse habitat for fish and other aquatic life due to a wide variety of geological substrates including sandstone, limestone, shale, dolomite, and chalk. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) ranks the Cahaba River as one of their highest priorities for protection because of its globally significant biodiversity. Some significant facts about the Cahaba River include:
- 64 rare and imperiled species
- 12 fish and mussel species that are federally listed
- 131 species of fish, more than any other river its size in North America
- supports largest known population of shoals lily in the world
For several years, TNC has been developing partnerships with corporations, local communities, and other conservation groups to protect the Cahaba River and its unique natural resources. A key partner in these efforts has been U.S. Alliance Coosa Pines Corporation, a major landowner in the Cahaba River Watershed. TNC and U.S. Alliance made history in Alabama by becoming the first conservation group and timber company to jointly own and manage lands (Bibb County Glades) for both biodiversity and timber production.
One tract of 2,500 acres owned by U.S. Alliance lies upstream from the confluence of the Cahaba River and Little Cahaba River. This section of the river contains an extensive series of shoals vegetated with the Cahaba lily and waterwillow, and both sides of the river are forested with loblolly, longleaf pine, and upland hardwoods. Federally listed species within this stream segment include the Cahaba shiner (Notropis cahabae), goldline darter (Percina aurolina), round rocksnail (Leptoxis ampla), and one plant species of concern - Aster georgianus. This section would be the core area for the proposed refuge.
In addition to the aquatic species, this area supports good populations of white-tailed deer, turkey, gray squirrels, and wood ducks. Bald eagles and ospreys are commonly seen along the river and the adjacent wooded tracts provide habitat for neotropical migratory songbirds. Oakmulgee Division of the Talladega National Forest, which is 6-10 miles to the south, contains several colonies of red-cockaded woodpeckers.
Public use on this section of the river is very high at certain times of the year, particularly from mid-May to mid-June. An unimproved county road parallels the river on the west side and camping, fishing, swimming, etc. are common. Canoeing is also a popular recreational pursuit. During the Festival of the Lily, many people drive to the river to view the lilies that bloom on the extensive shoals.
Along with hunting and fishing, the proposed refuge would also have outstanding potential for research, bird watching, nature photography, wildlife interpretation, and environmental education. Because of its proximity to Birmingham, school groups and visitors would have easy access to the refuge. We believe there are excellent opportunities to partner with local communities and state/federal agencies to awareness of our wildlife resources.
With respect to the language in the bill itself, we have concerns over some wording of the proposed refuge purposes in section 3. It provides that compatible opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation are purposes of the refuge.
The Service strongly supports compatible wildlife-dependent recreation within the refuge system. They are legitimate and appropriate uses of many refuges. However, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 provides that the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is wildlife conservation, and that the six uses cited in paragraph 4 of section 3 - hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation - were to henceforth be the priority public uses of refuges. We believe the bill should be revised to reflect this policy, and would be glad to work with the Subcommittee and Representative Bachus to accomplish this.
This concludes my prepared statement, and I would be pleased to respond to any questions.
Disclaimer: All statements are not the opinions or position of those testifying, rather they are the official positions taken by the Administration.