Missouri River Operation and Management Issues

David P. Smith

Testimony of David P. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Department of the Interior, before the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, Water and Power Subcommittee, regarding Missouri River Operation and Management Issues

July 10, 2002

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I am David P. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior. I appreciate this opportunity to present testimony on behalf of the Department concerning the current and future management of the Missouri River and the relationship of that management to the Endangered Species Act..

Under the ESA, Federal agencies are directed to use their authorities to conserve endangered and threatened species. The Missouri River is home to three of these species: the endangered pallid sturgeon and least tern, and the threatened piping plover.

The Fish and Wildlife Service assists other Federal agencies to ensure that their actions do not jeopardize the continued existence of these species. For the last 12 years, the Service has worked with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to address management of the Missouri River so as to help conserve and recover these species while still providing for the many beneficial economic and recreational uses of the river.

Given the complexity of the system, management of the Missouri River has never been a simple issue. The Missouri River is the longest river in the United States and the third longest river system in the world, flowing 2,565 miles from its source in the Rocky Mountains to its convergence with the Mississippi River. The river system encompasses 529,350 square miles and drains approximately 1/6 of the land mass of the United States.

The river is of aesthetic, ecological, educational, commercial, recreational, and scientific value to our Nation, and to its people. The river's natural heritage, as well as its role in human history, are part of our heritage in all of the states through which it flows, including North Dakota, and for the Nation as a whole. The Missouri River basin is home to about 10 million people in 10 states, and 28 Native American Tribes. The challenge is to balance the needs of the many communities in this basin while conserving the listed species. We believe compliance with the ESA on the Missouri River can be accomplished in a manner that benefits both wildlife and people.

At present, the Corps and the Service have entered into informal consultation and are working at multiple levels to address issues related to ongoing operations of the Missouri River system. The Service's Denver Regional Office is working with General Fastabend and the Corps' staff in Omaha, and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Williams has met repeatedly with General Griffin here in Washington.

We are working towards a consultation agreement which will address how best to proceed from here. Considering all of the conservation tools available to us, we are committed to exploring a variety of approaches towards meeting our obligations to conserve the listed species and provide for beneficial economic and recreational uses of the river. These discussions are continuing regularly, but we are not yet at a point where we have reached an actual agreement on how to proceed.

Mr. Chairman, we appreciate your interest in the management of the Missouri River and the efforts by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Corps of Engineers to jointly protect the river's diverse natural resources and economic values. We will keep you and the other interested Members of Congress advised of progress on this issue.

This concludes my prepared remarks. 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.