H.R. 4807 Susquehanna Expansion Act

Nancy Gloman


June 12, 2002

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I am Nancy Gloman, Chief of the Division of Conservation Planning and Policy for the National Wildlife Refuge System. I appreciate the opportunity to provide views and comments on H.R. 4807, on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). H.R. 4807, authorizes the expansion of the Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuge to include Garrett Island in the National Wildlife Refuge System. 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. Before stating our views on this legislation, I would like to give you a brief summary of Service involvement in the Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuge, our activities in proximity to Garrett Island, and what we currently know about the natural resources associated with the island.

The Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex includes Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Martin National Wildlife Refuge, and Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuge. Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuge is located approximately 100 miles north of the administrative office for the Complex, which is located in Cambridge, MD. The refuge was initially established as a Migratory Bird Waterfowl Closed Area because of its outstanding submerged aquatic vegetation habitat, which concentrated large numbers of diving ducks, primarily canvasbacks.

With the disappearance of the expansive submerged grass beds in the 1970s, the Presidential Order creating the Waterfowl Closed Area was rescinded in 1978. This rulemaking left only Battery Island as the refuge. Battery Island has since eroded to approximately 1.5 acres in size, with little habitat value for Service trust resources. Consequently, Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuge has not been a protection priority since 1978, is rarely visited by Service personnel, and in fact, has been considered for excess by the Service, or transfer to a non-government conservation organization.

Garrett Island is located in the Susquehanna River, approximately 5 miles north of what remains of the Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuge. We found most of the information the Service has on the island regarding natural attributes and potential trust resources in the Findings section of this bill. These findings describe the island as "a microcosm of geology and geography of the region"; "the only rocky island in the tidal waters of the Chesapeake"; "high quality habitat for bird and fish species"; and, containing "significant archeological sites."

The Service has not conducted an on-site visit to Garrett Island to assess fish and wildlife resource values. However, Service personnel have viewed the island from the water and noted a mature, predominately hardwood forest. The shoreline is predominately rocky. 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. The Maryland Department of Natural Resource's Heritage Program has no records of state threatened or endangered species.

The Service has limited funds with which to purchase lands and to provide protection and management to trust resources following purchase. Therefore, the Service must be strategic in identifying lands for inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge 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 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 backlog of priority acquisition needs within the Northeast Region. Within the Chesapeake Bay, our highest priority is the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge 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.

Presently, there are 35 deferred maintenance projects in the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, at a cost of $1.7 million. There are 71 projects on the operations needs list at a cost of $10.2 million. Thus, the operation and maintenance backlog for the Complex totals $12,010,000.

We are appreciative that you and your constituents would turn to the Fish and Wildlife Service as custodians of Garrett Island. Unfortunately, given our funding constraints, management limitations, and priorities, we cannot support H.R. 4807. However, we will be very willing to work actively with you and your constituents towards protection of the island through other means.

The there are a wide range of conservation tools potentially available, including conservation easements, purchase of development rights, and technical and financial assistance to landowners that could contribute to the conservation of Garrett Island. The Secretary's Cooperative Conservation Initiative, if funded by Congress, will provide additional tools and funding which could be brought to bear on this project. Both the Service and other elements of the Department of the Interior are willing to join with State and local governments and private conservation organizations towards this end.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I will be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.

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