The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 19, 2007

Press Briefing on the President's Conservation Announcements by Jim Connaughton, Chairman, Council on Environmental Quality
Via Teleconference


3:51 P.M. EDT

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Thanks, everybody. This is Jim Connaughton. Let me quickly review.

Tomorrow, the President is going to travel to Patuxent Research Refuge in Patuxent, Maryland, and then he will go on and visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael's, Maryland, where he'll be outlining two sets of policy initiatives: one related to improving habitat for our nation's migratory birds; and the second to guard against over-fishing through cooperative conservation. And he'll be signing a new executive order in relation to further conservation measures, especially as it relates to important recreational fishing species. So let me give you a little bit of information on each.

First, the President will be addressing the very real problem that expanding development is making it harder for migratory birds to find what is referred to as stopover habitat. This is the habitat they rely on when they make the long journey from the north to the south and vice versa. Each year, about 800 species fly thousands of miles in migration. And what the President is laying out is a set of policies that's going to help enhance and expand this stopover habitat.

So first, the President is going to announce a new policy that will allow what is called recovery credit trading. This is where a private landowner who improves habitat for birds and other species can earn what are called recovery credits that they can sell to others who are seeking to take care of mitigation. So if somebody else is having to move into the habitat, or some other habitat gets harmed, this is an opportunity for a private landowner to make up for that and receive an incentive to do so.

And the Fish and Wildlife Service is going to organize a pilot project using this approach specifically for the conservation of warblers and vireos in Texas -- vireos is v-i-r-e-o-s, in Texas. And we're going to have a formal policy on this.

Second, the President is going to call on Congress to pass a very important request in his 2008 budget proposal that will provide conservation tax incentives that will reward landowners who donate conservation -- (drop in feed.) These tax incentives are very important, and they go to landowners who may be land-rich, but cash-poor. These are people who may have a lot of land, but very low income, and therefore do not benefit from the programs -- the tax incentives that go to people who have a very high income. And so this is a way to allow more people into the program for incentives.

Secondly, the President is going to ask Secretary Kempthorne -- I guess, thirdly -- Secretary Kempthorne to produce a new State of the Birds report by 2009. And then in conjunction with that, we're going to be working on some -- improving, improvement of the status of five migratory bird species. (Drop in feed) -- we have a focal area of more than 30 species that have been suffering a lot of loss of habitat, and we have already made some good progress on five of them, and we're now going to move to the next five as we work our way through improving the status of all of these species.

And then there will also be a new set of activities with five of our cities across the country to implement stopover habitat initiatives in urban environments.

So this is the overview. We have a few other pieces that will flow from this for birds. There has been an expansion of national wildlife refuges and the creation of 10 new ones. The President will be talking about that a little bit.

We have other activities underway that you may be familiar with, which is, the new National Parks Centennial Initiative will include raising funds that will help create and restore wildlife habitat, including for birds. We have a joint ventures program for waterfowl that we'll be announcing the addition of three more. We have 18 right now, we'll add three more to help conserve birds in the Rio Grande and in the Appalachian Mountains and the Northern Great Plains.

And then the new farm bill that is pending in the Congress also will provide substantial additional incentives for bird habitats for farmers. And the President's '08 budget has already allocated more than $500 million to this effort, and we hope the Congress will provide that.

Finally, (inaudible) on birds, let me mention, international. Some of you covered the President's visit down to Mexico earlier this year. As an outcome of that discussion between the leaders, we have now identified five priority habitats in Mexico where we're going to support conservation initiatives. Of course, you know, it does us no good to improve habitat here if it's not being improved in Mexico as well. And so we've got five areas designated for that. If you'd like the information on that, that'll be on the fact sheet we provide. And then that'll be funded with about $4 million in funds from this year in '07, and we're hoping to provide another $4 million in the '08 budget to accomplish that objective.

There's one other international component. The President will direct the Secretaries of State and Interior to increase our participation in an international agreement on the conservation of albatrosses in Petrels. And Petrels is P-e-t-r-e-l-s; you know, two seabirds. So that's birds.

All right, finally, fish. The President is going to issue an executive order that will set a policy to conserve white bass and red drum fish for the recreational, economic and environmental benefit of present and future generations of Americans. The executive order will move to prohibit the sale of striped bass and red drum caught in federal waters. I'll explain that in a little bit. Right now, in federal waters there are limitations on catching striped bass and red drum fish because of significant population decline. So currently there's a ban on catching them.

If and when those prohibitions are removed, the executive order would ensure that striped bass and red drum are reserved for recreational catch as a conservation measure. The executive order, then secondly, would promote the development of more accurate scientific records about fish population levels. The new Magnuson-Stevens fishing bill has created a partnership with the recreational fishing industry to get better information about -- (drop in feed) -- and the President will be encouraging more activity in that area. It's called the Recreational Saltwater Registry, is what it's called, and the President will be talking about that a little bit.

And then the third component of the executive order is to help the federal government work with state and local officials to find innovative ways to conserve these species.

Now, the executive order respects the ability of the states to set their own policies in this area. Some states have prohibitions, some states allow only recreational fishing, some states allow a mix of recreational and commercial fishing. The President has made clear we'll work with all states in the conservation of these species. But it is, you know, still within the legal authority of states to manage their own stocks.

This is a executive order and this focus on the recreational fishing community is another step in our implementation of the 2004 Ocean Action Plan, and the President in his remarks will be highlighting a number of our accomplishments and upcoming initiatives consistent with what the Ocean Action Plan laid out.

So I think I'll stop there. Thank you.

Q I have a question about the first thing you mentioned, the recovery credit trading. Is that a nationwide program or is that the pilot project in Texas?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, actually, we are proposing to make this a national policy. It will start -- I'm sorry, it's already started in Texas. What we're going to be doing is broadening it to be a national program.

Q And how do you decide, like, where that -- do you then designate habitat areas and does it have to do with endangered species at all, or are these common birds?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: It's going to help us actually advance the -- the systems for measuring habitat improvement as it relates to migratory birds. So if people are looking for mitigation, right, if somebody has impacted migratory bird habitat, this will help (inaudible) the technical process for giving appropriate credit for compensatory habitat, if you will.

But let me explain it a little differently. Typically today, if you harm habitat or otherwise eliminate habitat, you have to go out and search for a new habitat. This will help accelerate that process because there are incentives for people to create habitat now -- if you will, creating a better banking system and hopefully we can see lots of people being incentivized to do so.

Q Mr. Connaughton, isn't that something -- there are already conservation banks out there, there are wetlands mitigation banks. Isn't this the kind of thing that should be left to the free market?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, actually this is what will help facilitate the free market in mitigation, and especially as we look to more of this under the Endangered Species Act. It's very well evolved in the wetlands world, although I would note we still do not have a real national system of wetlands banking. So there's a great opportunity here to not just address wetlands, but also address specific measures that will be beneficial to migratory birds.

Q This is a fish question. Is there any recognition on the administration's part that there is serious opposition to new game fish status from the commercial fishing industry?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: I want to differentiate -- the executive order deals with federal waters where these fish -- where the catch of these fish is already banned and we're talking about a conservation management measure as we move forward. There is substantial commercial fishing of these species in state waters, and the executive order does not affect the decisions of states in terms of the management of these species and their waters.

So to the extent you may hear things from the commercial fishing industry, this does not change their status with respect to any particular state.

Q With regards to red drum, I guess, there's pretty much an outright ban right now in federal waters on the commercial and recreational side. But in order for that ban to be lifted, you've got to go through the council process and through the National Marine Fisheries Service, and get rules published. So would this executive order circumvent that in any way, or is it just basically saying do this faster? What exactly is this going to do?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: This executive order would further inform and guide those decision-making processes which I think your question correctly implies. We have seen recovery of these species in federal waters. The specific status of each species -- of the two species is variable, depending on what region you're in. And so this is an effort to make sure, as we move from the complete ban to some access, that we do so in a sensible, conservation-minded way.

Q Let me follow up on that, please. Does the White House believe the ban -- right now, does the White House believe that ban should be lifted in some areas?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: There's actually a process underway in each of the relevant fish councils to examine that. And as I've indicated, the status of the species in different regions is different. And so we don't have a -- we can't have a belief one way or another. There is a scientific process by which those decisions are made, and this provides some further information and guidance as those decisions are made in the event the ban is lifted.

Q Do you anticipate any lifting in the near future?


Q What role did the Coastal Conservation Association and other sport -- recreational fishing groups play in the drafting of this executive order?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: We had heard over the course of the last couple of years from a number of recreational fishing interests about the importance of sound conservation management of species, and in particular, these two species, the stripers and the red fish -- they're very popular recreational species -- but not limited to that. We've been doing a lot of work with them on this new program, for example, on monitoring of catch -- salt water catch. And we've been working with them on other species such as the red snapper, which is a very, very popular recreational and commercial fishing species that will be subject to a new fish quota system down in the Gulf, for example.

So we have lots of ongoing conversations. This is just one aspect of a fairly regular interface with the recreational fishing community.

Q Exactly what scientific data do you have to say that these two fish species are being over-fished?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, actually there was a pretty solid basis of science that led to the ban on these fish in federal waters. Beginning in the late '70s and early (inaudible) there was a very significant population decline, and again, depending on where you are in the nation's waters, there have been variable recovery rates of these species. And so there's an ongoing process in each of the relevant regions of scientific assessment of the populations, calibrated against the information that's being gleaned in the state waters with respect to these (inaudible.)

Q So the idea of this ban is essentially if the limitations in federal waters are lifted in the future, it would mean that these two species would remain unavailable to commercial fishermen and would essentially be for recreational fishermen only; is that correct?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: It would be for recreational fishermen and, again, not for commercial sale. So it would be for fishermen who wish to catch and consume their fish, but not to create a business enterprise out of the consumption of the fish.

So for a father and his son to go out in federal saltwater and catch a fish, that's okay, but not creating -- at this point, not creating -- sort of completely reopening it to full, unimpeded (inaudible).

Q But I imagine there would have to be concurrent strict regulations on the recreational catch, given that the recreational industry is growing at a pretty rapid pace.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Yes, and that will -- that gets worked out in each of the regional fish plans. All of this fishing activity, whether it's in federal or state waters, is subject to the decisions of those fish councils. And it's highly variable -- it's highly variable from one region to another.

Q Moving back to the birds, if I could, briefly. On the mitigation banking, this isn't under the Endangered Species Act. Who's in the market for buying these credits that would be developed? Are you complying with some law?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: It is primarily under the Endangered Species Act, actually.

Q Okay. That's why they -- that's what they call recovery credit?

(Interruption to feed.)

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: And one of the largest participants would be federal agencies.

(Interruption to feed.)

END 4:12 P.M. EDT


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