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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Steve Williams
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director
October 25, 2004

Good Morning. Thanks to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams for answering questions today. Let's get started.....

Steve Williams

Daniel, from Missouri writes:
When an animal is labeled as "endangered", exactly what happens?

Steve Williams
The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to protect endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems on which they depend, and to take steps to recovery these species as key components of American's heritage. To implement the ESA, we work in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - Fisheries, other Federal, State, Tribal and local agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private landowners.

Before a plant or animal species can receive the protection provided by the ESA, it must first be added to the Federal lists of threatened and endangered wildlife and plants. The List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, 50 CFR 17.11, and the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants, 50 CFR 17.12, contain the names of all species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, insects, plants and other creatures that have been determined by us and NOAA -- Fisheries (for most marine life) to be in the greatest need of Federal protection.

A species is listed under one of two categories, endangered or threatened, depending on its status and the degree of threats it faces. An "endangered" species is one that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A "threatened" species is one that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

Once we add an animal or plant to the List, all protective measures authorized by the ESA apply to the species and its habitat. Such measures include protection for adverse effects Federal activities (through consultation under section 7 of the ESA; restrictions on taking, transporting, or selling a species; authority for us to working with all stakeholders to develop and carry out recovery plans; authority to purchase important habitats; and ability to provide Federal aid to States and Commonwealth wildlife agencies that have cooperative agreements with us. These efforts contribute to species survival and assist us in achieving ESA's ultimate goals -- to maintain the natural diversity of plants and animals and the ecosystems upon which they depend and to restore listed species to a level where protection is no longer required (to recovery species).

For more information, visit

Linda, from Crawford writes:
Dear Director Williams What Government Agency is the Fish and Wildlife Service part of? (EPA or Department of Agriculture?) ThanksLinda

Steve Williams
Linda, thanks for your question. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service is an agency of the Department of the Interior. The mission of the Fish and Wildlife Service is, "working with others, to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people".

Randi, from Lafayette writes:
As an avid hunter, I'd like to know what you are doing with waterfowl conservation efforts

Steve Williams
Randi, thanks for your question. Waterfowl conservation continues to be a priority for the Fish and Wildlife Service. We work closely each year with our counterparts in state fish and wildlife agencies to assess waterfowl populations and set annual waterfowl hunting seasons that provide opportunity for America's waterfowl hunters while maintaining healthy waterfowl populations.

Let me highlight five major initiatives in this area. First, Secretary Norton recently signed the update to the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. This very successful plan has helped protect, restore and improve waterfowl habitat across North America. The plan was created in response to declining duck populations in the 1980's.

Second, in order to implement this plan, President Bush has requested an additional $16 million for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which helps implement the goals of the plan by protecting and restoring wetlands across North America.

Third, this year on Earth Day, the President announced a goal of protecting, restoring and enhancing an additional 3 million acres of wetlands over the next five years.

Fourth, we are continuing to purchase important waterfowl habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System using proceeds raised by the sale of Duck Stamps. This program has generate over $700 million dollars since 1934 which have been used to protect over 5 million acres of waterfowl habitat. And fifth, the Fish and Wildlife Service recently released the Migratory Bird strategic plan in collaboration with state fish and wildlife agencies and the bird conservation community. This plan will help us ensure we focus our resources on effective migratory bird management. You might be interested to know that next year the Service will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the waterfowl survey program. This program is the largest wildlife survey in the world. Date collected through the survey enables the Service to set the annual hunting season frameworks.

Talia, from Oshkosh writes:
Why aren't you doing more to restore prairie habitat in the north-central U.S.?

Steve Williams
Talia. Great question. We are actually doing quite a bit to restore prairie habitat in the U.S.

In fact, two weeks ago, Secretary of Interior Norton announced the establishment of the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in northwestern Minnesota.

When this refuge is complete, it will represent the largest grassland and wetland restoration effort in U.S history with 12,000 acres of restored wetlands and 14,000 acres of restored prairie habitat. In 2004, the Fish and Wildlife Service worked with our partners to restore over 180,000 acres of prairie habitat in the north central U.S.

Ally, from Texas writes:
Is there any wild life parks in Washington D.C.

Steve Williams
While there are no national wildlife refuges in the District of Columbia, there are several nearby. The Patuxent Research Refuge in nearby Laurel, Maryland was established in 1936 by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Patuxent Research Refuge is the nation's only national wildlife refuge established to support wildlife research. The refuge includes 12,750 acres of land surrounding the Patuxent and Little Patuxent Rivers between Washington and Baltimore.

Patuxent Research Refuge supports a wide diversity of wildlife in forest, meadow, and wetland habitats. The land is managed to maintain biological diversity and to protect and benefit native and migratory bird species. During the fall and spring migrations, many waterfowl species stop to rest and feed. Over 270 species of birds occur on the Refuge. A nesting pair of bald eagles has used the North Tract of the Refuge since 1989.

Just across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Eastern Neck Refuge is a 2286-acre island located at the confluence of the Chester River and the Chesapeake Bay. Established in 1962 as a sanctuary for migratory birds, Eastern Neck Refuge provides natural habitat for over 240 bird species - including American bald eagles and transitory peregrine falcons - and is a major staging site for tundra swans.

To the south, near Lorton, Virginia is Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge was established in 1969 for the protection of nesting, feeding, and roosting habitat for the bald eagles. It was the first federal refuge established specifically for the bald eagle.

Mason Neck Refuge is situated along the Potomac River on the Mason Neck peninsula and consists of 2277 acres of oak-hickory forest, freshwater marshes, and has 4.4 miles of shoreline. The refuge has the largest fresh water marsh in Northern Virginia, the largest Great Blue heron rookery in the Mid-Atlantic region (over 1400 nests), and hosts over 200 species of birds, 31 species of mammals, and 44 species of reptiles and amphibians.

If you want to drive a little further, Bombay Hook Refuge in Delaware, Chincoteague Refuge along the eastern Shore of Virginia, and Blackwater Refuge along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland are crown jewels of the Refuge System.

Caitlin, from Bethesda, MD writes:
What the Administration doing to ensure effective wildlife and habitat conservation in the face of severe budget shortfalls and increasing pressures (such as population growth and human development) on our natural resources?

Steve Williams
Thanks for your question Caitlin. President Bush has made working in voluntary partnership with states, local communities, tribes, private landowners and others the gold standard for our conservation efforts. He believes that the most effective conservation projects are the ones that are conceived and carried out at the local level, by the people who live and work on the land. President Bush requested substantial funding increases for these programs in his 2005 budget. Among the increases:

  • $20.4 million for a total of $50 million for Landowner Incentive Grants that provide state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies grant funds needed to establish or expand habitat protection and restoration programs on private land for "at risk" species.
  • An increase of $2.6 million for a total of $10 million for Private Stewardship Grant programs that provide cost-share grants to landowners for wildlife conservation.
  • An increase of $10.9 million for a total of $80 million for the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Fund that aids wildlife conservation on State and Tribal lands.
  • An increase of $16.5 million for a total of $54 million for the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund that provides matching grants to private or public organizations and individuals to carry out wetlands conservation projects in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
  • Increases of $8.4 million for a total of $90 million for the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund that helps states increase participation in a wide array of voluntary conservation projects for candidate, proposed and listed species. The states award these funds to private landowners and groups for conservation projects.
  • Increases of $2.2 million for a total of $12 million for the National Wildlife Refuge System's Challenge Cost Share program that provides grants that match federal and private funds for conservation projects on refuges.
  • An increase of $2.9 million for a total of $13.1 million for Coastal Programs grants for on-the-ground conservation of wetlands and tidal lands. Controlling invasive species will be a significant focus of this program in 2005.
In addition, over two years, the Fish and Wildlife Service has received an increase of over $80 million for operation and maintenance of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Dan, from Great Falls writes:
Have you made any progress on stopping, treating whirling disease?

Steve Williams
Since 1996, the Service has supported whirling disease research activities. Funds have been matched two-fold by in-kind contributions from states, non-governmental organizations, and universities. These funds supported development of a large, diverse, talented, and coordinated consortium finding ways to control whirling disease. Combined efforts have expanded the knowledge of the disease, how it is caused and what its effects on trout populations. They have also helped increase angler's awareness of the problem, and involved them in solving it. The Service will continue it's leadership role in addressing this disease because we recognize and value the role of recreational fishing in America.

Mike, from Pennsylvania writes:
Steve: Can you tell me about the steps you have taken to fight Chronic Wasting Disease...this is a direct threat to our deer herds and deer season here in PA. My buddies and me also hunt in Ohio and West Virginia.

Thanks, Mike

Steve Williams
Mike -- excellent question. The Fish and Wildlife Service and nine other federal agencies developed a comprehensive plan to assist the states in management of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in free-ranging deer and elk. This plan includes disease surveillance, control, and diagnosis, as well as information and education outreach.

Although states have primary authority over resident species such as deer and elk, as federal land managers, we are prepared to assist states in addressing CWD outbreaks. The Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has established more than two dozen labs across the country to assist states in monitoring the presence of CWD in deer and elk harvested by hunters.

For the most up to date information on CWD, visit, and

patrick, from lorain ohio writes:
five years ago in lake eire,there was four big schools of walleye now there is one,ever sence they let the nets back in the lake,is there anybody keep tabs on the net boats,avery time they go out and come back in the river i have never seen them get checked

Steve Williams
Thanks for your question Patrick. There are many populations of walleye in Lake Erie. Some spawn on shoals in the western part of the Lake, some come from spawning stocks in the Maumee River, the Sandusky River, and other locations. Production of young walleye has been good during recent years.

There is a sport fishery for walleye in Lake Erie but no commercial fishery in U.S. waters. Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York conduct assessment netting in Lake Erie to collect the information needed to maintain healthy fisheries. For more information you could contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Sandusky Fisheries Station, 305 E. Shoreline Drive, Sandusky, Ohio, 44870 (419-625-8062).

Rev., from California writes:
This is a recommendation not a question. Respectfully recommend enlisting the support of volunteers to clean up our creeks, streams, and forests nationwide. In my home state of Missouri, the Missouri Conversationist magazine clearly demonstrated the success of such volunteer efforts. Thank you for your service to our Nation.

Steve Williams
Thanks Rev. In April, 2003, Secretary Norton launched Take Pride in America to empower volunteers from all 50 States to improve our national refuges, fish hatcheries, parks, recreation areas, and cultural and historical sites. Several hundred charter partners including the American Sportfishing Association, Bowhunting Preservation Alliance, Izaak Walton League of America, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Pheasants Forever, and the National Wildlife Refuge Association have signed on to help Take Pride. Part of the President's USA Freedom Corps call to service, Take Pride is an excellent opportunity for citizens and communities to demonstrate local pride, initiative and stewardship. To find out about volunteer opportunities in your area, visit

Sara, from St. Loius writes:
How does the president influence the environment?

Steve Williams
Under the leadership of President Bush and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, there is a strong commitment to cooperative conservation that benefits resources on both public and private lands. The Interior Department alone has provided $1.3 billion in grants to States, private landowners, hunting and fishing groups, and conservation groups to protect and preserve habitat for wildlife and natural resources. Such funding and partnerships produce results one acre, one stream, one project at a time. Cumulatively, these projects are building blocks for national conservation achievements.

A key element of the Bush Administration's land management efforts is improving the health of forests, woodlands, and rangelands. Since 2001, nearly 11 million acres have been treated by the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. Such efforts have reduced the threat of catastrophic fires while improving habitat for elk, deer, antelope, turkey, and grouse.

Just this past Earth Day, the President promised to protect, restore and enhance 3 million acres of wetlands and in August, signed and Executive Order on Cooperative Conservation that instructs federal departments and agencies such as the Interior Department to ensure that they carry out their statutory obligations in a "manner that promotes cooperative conservation, with an emphasis on appropriate inclusion of local participation in federal decision making." Conservation of our lands and wildlife is very important to our President.

Terry, from Sacramento writes:
Has progress been made on the California Condor?

Steve Williams
California condors were listed as an endangered species in 1967, under a law that predated the existing Endangered Species Act. Facing threats from habitat and food-source loss, and poisoning from lead and other toxins, the California condor population reached its lowest recorded level -- 22 birds. This prompted biologists to establish a captive breeding program: In 1992, the program began releasing California condors back into the wild. We are beginning to see some success in this program. This spring, three California condor chicks hatched in the back country of southern California in Ventura County. The first wild chick to survive past fledgling was hatched last year in Arizona. That chick is over a year old and beginning to integrate with the main flock. Two more condor chicks hatched in Arizona in late May. There are 99 condors now living in the wild in California, Arizona and Baja, Mexico and 145 in captivity at the Los Angeles Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park, the Oregon Zoo and the Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. The goal of the recovery plan established for the California condor is to establish two geographically separate populations -- one in California and the other in Arizona -- each with 150 birds and at least 15 breeding pairs.

Amy, from EU, England writes:
Dear Director WilliamsIn Your biography it's said "the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts". Could You please bring some examples how this is done? I ( and I'm sure all environmentalists I've ever got to know) would be very pleased to learn more on it Best regards, a EU-damaged environmentalist

Steve Williams
The Fish and Wildlife Service through the International Affairs Program, helps foreign governments by working with them, state and federal agencies, international nongovernmental organizations, and private citizens to promote an international strategy to protect, restore, and enhance the world's diverse wildlife and their habitats, with a focus on species of international concern.

Section 8 of the Endangered Species Act, other domestic wildlife laws, treaties, and bi-lateral and multi-national agreements allow the Service to provide foreign governments with financial assistance through grants and technical assistance.

Through the Multinational Species Conservation Acts the Service provides technical and cost-sharing grant assistance to range countries for conserving elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, great apes, neotropical birds, and their habitats.

For example, under the African Elephant Conservation Act more than 500 partners have worked with the Service on over 500 projects in 46 countries to protect and conserve this species. This program alone has leveraged more than $151,882,500 in matching and in-kind support since 1990. Funding supports projects related to improved law enforcement, understanding elephant-human conflicts, restoring habitats, and elephant research.

The Service also provides financial, technical, and conservation education assistance to foreign countries through its Wildlife Without Borders programs in Mexico, Latin America, the Caribbean, Russia, China, Africa, India, Vietnam, and Pakistan. These programs fund activities such as capacity building assistance for natural resource managers, ecosystem management training on sustainable resource use, information exchange to promote better management of species and habitats, building networks and partnerships for species conservation, and engaging informed citizen participation through workshops on natural resources issues.

Species that have benefited from U.S. assistance include monarch butterflies, the endangered short-tailed albatross, Kemp's ridley sea turtles, West Indian whistling duck, migratory bats and neotropical birds, Steineger lizard, polar bears, Siberian cranes, sea turtles, and numerous other species. Finally, the Service provides technical assistance and training to foreign governments through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

As requested, the Service responds to training requests from developing countries that join CITES but do no have the technical expertise, infrastructure, or national legislation to implement CITES requirements governing international wildlife trade.

The Service is also involved in exchanging information with CITES Parties on species management and law enforcement matters and in working with CITES Parties to develop strategies to more effectively implement species' listings and assess the status of species in trade.

Steve Williams
Thank you for your questions and your interest in the Fish and Wildlife Service. We value public involvement as we continue to conserve our nation's fish and wildlife resources. This public involvement in a cornerstone of the President Bush's vision of a nation of citizen conservationists. For more information about the Fish and Wildlife Service, please visit our website at

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