Nov 24, 2008

Chairman Nick Rahall: Committee Agenda for the 111th Congress

Congressman Nick RahallLast week, the House Democratic Caucus re-elected Congressman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) as Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources for the 111th Congress. Rahall issued a statement, as well as an agenda, related to the committee’s goals for the next two years. The agenda is titled “America the Beautiful – Our People, Our Natural Resources – Fulfilling Stewardship and Trust Responsibilities.”

Rahall’s statement and agenda made several references to issues related to the National Wildlife Refuge System, which falls under the jurisdiction of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

From his statement:

In these troubled times, as Americans curtail long-distance travel, many continue to find solace in our National Parks, wilderness areas, and wildlife refuges. This is no time to shirk our responsibility to be good stewards of our Nation’s rich and diverse natural resource heritage. I intend to continue to work toward building a stronger National Park Service as we draw closer to the 100th Anniversary of this American innovation, to make further progress in achieving the goals of the Wilderness Act and to nurture hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreational activities on our federal lands.

And from his agenda:

Ensuring a Legacy of Abundant Fish and Wildlife

Americans are blessed to have inherited from our forebears an abundance of diverse and healthy populations of fish and wildlife. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Related Recreation, an estimated 71 million Americans spent over $45 billion on some form of fish and wildlife recreation in that year. Yet, several factors, notably habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species, inadequate water quality and availability, and the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products threaten our wildlife legacy, not only in the United States but also around the globe. We have a responsibility as stewards of these resources to ensure that we maintain the ecological integrity and health of fish and wildlife habitats, especially those found within our National Wildlife Refuge System. In addition, as the Nation that serves as the global standard in wildlife conservation, we must direct our energies to develop and implement new policies and programs that improve the management of our fish and wildlife species, provide habitat protections they will need to adapt and thrive in the midst of a changing climate, protect against illegal trade, and promote international conservation efforts. Through these efforts we can ensure that our fish and wildlife heritage remains accessible and available to future generations of birders, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Planning for the Effects of Climate Change on Land and Water Resources

Climate change is altering our natural landscape and affecting our water, land, and biological resources. For example, changing precipitation patterns related to climate change affect the ability of our water delivery infrastructure to capture and provide water in traditional ways. Further, both aquatic and terrestrial species that rely on water for survival are adversely impacted by critically dry times. The distribution of these species and their habitats is projected to shift in response to changes in ecological processes. At the same time, coastal and marine habitats and species will be impacted by sea level rise and increased ocean acidification. It is critical that we better understand how climate change will affect the hydrologic cycle as well as our water, land, and biological resources and ensure that federal agencies and states are preparing to address how climate change affects their programs and management decisions. The Committee will continue its efforts to bring together scientists and the managers of our water, land, and biological resources to discuss the federal role in identifying the effects of climate change and to promote problem-solving strategies to sustain our natural resources and the ecosystems upon which they depend.

Redefining the Value of Wilderness

The Wilderness Act does not envision changing land into wilderness. Rather, the Act establishes the identification and preservation of existing wilderness areas as central goals of federal land management. Successful wilderness proposals grow out of consensus and need not be controversial. The Congress has the opportunity to make significant progress in achieving the goals of the Wilderness Act, once they are properly understood. Every American deserves the chance to view this land the way the first Americans did and to feel, even if just for a moment, as if they are the first people to behold the American wilderness.

Protecting the Public’s Right to Know

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires the federal government to think before it acts with regard to our environment by requiring solicitation of public comment and consideration of reasonable alternatives. Efforts to undermine or evade these basic tenets of the law are not in the public interest. Enthusiastic and energetic engagement in the NEPA process leads to better decision-making and, thus, should be viewed as an opportunity, not a barrier. By rejecting legislative and regulatory efforts intended to weaken the application of NEPA, the 111th Congress can ensure that the public continues to play a meaningful role in managing our public lands, fresh and marine waters, and fish and wildlife.

Recovering Endangered Species

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) serves as the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation in the United States. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has spent the past eight years trying to undermine the fundamental tenets of the ESA and the species protections that it provides. Continuing the Chairman’s commitment to the conservation of endangered species, the Committee will work with the new Administration to explore innovative measures to recover endangered populations of fish, wildlife, and plants in an era of limited budgets. Using the findings of the Government Accountability Office and promoting the use of the best available science, we will seek collaborative solutions to improve the management of the endangered species programs at the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. By encouraging the issuance of appropriate guidance, regulations, and federal/non-federal partnerships, the Committee will play a leadership role in endangered species conservation.

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