It is a real pleasure to be here today to represent the new team at the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management at this important conference. It is a personal pleasure too, because a decade ago, I had the rare privilege of working briefly with Archie and Tom Carr on my Masters thesis regarding the biology and conservation of hawksbill turtles in Mona Island, Puerto Rico.
Since that time, I have followed with distress the precipitous demise of herpetological fauna throughout the world. According to E. O. Wilson, there are approximately 6,300 described reptile species. He has estimated their present rate of extinction at 1,00010,000 times the extinction rate before the intervention of humans.
This is a matter of grave urgency, and a matter that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, Bureau of Land Management Director Jim Baca, and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Mollie Beattie understand is deadly serious. Their priorities for the Department are to make ecosystem management the guiding principle for public lands and all fish and wildlife management. In addition, Secretary Babbitt has established a National Biological Survey to avoid what I believe has been the monumental mismanagement of our endangered species in the past. Internationally, they recognize the importance of U.S. leadership in CITES and the Biological Diversity Treaty. The Secretary and the Director are committed to:
- Implementing effective recovery programs for endangered species,
- Greatly improving our scientific knowledge of the species we deal with,
- Using science and scientists to develop these recovery efforts, and
- Ensuring the long-term productivity of the public lands.
These lands, their resources, and our ability to sustain this diversity and productivity, are key in maintaining the Earths quality of life.
The Bureau of Land Management is the Nations steward for 270 million acres of public lands representing a variety of ecosystems, from the deserts of the arid Southwest to the forests of the Pacific Northwest to the tundra of Alaska. Under the leadership of the BLMs recently confirmed Director, Jim Baca of New Mexico, the BLM is now preparing to take a much more active role in the conservation of the resources that depend upon the public lands. It is our intention to use management practices that will address ecosystem and landscape-level issues to ensure more efficient management.
The BLM public lands provide habitat for a wide diversity of fish, wildlife, and plant communities. A significant part of these lands are in the arid regions of the southwest and provides habitat for approximately 70 percent of the remaining habitat of the desert tortoiseone of the most politically sensitive animals with which federal agencies are concerned.
More than 20 years ago the BLM became aware of desert tortoise population declines, and scientists were employed to evaluate populations and determine what management efforts would be required to reverse these declines. Since then, thanks to the tenacity of some of our employees, the BLM has conducted and funded extensive research, and our scientists have been recognized for these important efforts.
Research has involved many aspects of tortoise biology, habitat requirements, the effects of various land uses, and habitat management. The results of these research efforts were, in fact, the primary source of information used by the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the desert tortoise as Threatened, providing the species protection under the Endangered Species Act.
During this conference you have heard reports on several of these research findings: Mary Christopher on health profiles, Hal Avery on the effects of cattle grazing on desert tortoises habitat, Bryan Jennings on implications of exotic vegetation, Bill Boarman on effects of roads on desert tortoises and on predation by subsidized predators, Elliot Jacobson on diseases in tortoises, Isabella Schumacher on serologic tests to monitor desert tortoise populations for disease, and Kristin Berry on demographic consequences of diseases in desert tortoise populations. These are but a few of the important contributions of our scientists.
Many of the problems associated with turtle and tortoise conservation are common throughout the world. These problems cannot be addressed unilaterally. We need to cooperate in these efforts and make the best use of the available scientific resources and information. The BLM would like to make our scientific resources available to the other countries struggling to save populations of tortoises and turtles and establish international partnerships to enhance hemispheric conservation programs for these animals. However, we need all of you vigorously involved in public policy, in education, and in conservationor it will never happen.
I know that the Secretary of the Interior and the directors of the BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service are eager to develop international partnerships.
We can do this by facilitating and funding programs to (1) bring students/trainees to work with our scientists on tortoise and turtle research, and (2) make our scientists available to other countries to assist them in designing research and management prescriptions. We can assign scientists to help coordinate these efforts and to ensure that the latest research findings are available.
The BLM is ready to participate in the development of an international, interagency effort to further the exchange of scientists in order to develop and coordinate solutions to common problems. This commitment includes funding, personnel, training, scientific research, and the development of successful land management techniques.
If the turtles and tortoises of the world are to be saved from extinction, we must work together as partners, sharing the best information and scientists available. We must ensure that an aggressive program of training scientists and conducting research is continued.
Turtles have survived 200 million years on Earth; some of their species face possible extinction before the end of this century. The BLM challenges other agencies and countries to join this committed, cooperative venture to protect them.
Postscript June 1997:
The greatest champion of endangered species was lost to all of us when Mollie Beattie succumbed to cancer last year. The Department of the Interior also lost the important contributions of Jim Baca when he returned to New Mexico. As a result of these developments, progress has been slow.
The question we must consider is, Are we doing enough today to ensure the survival of these magnificent creatures? Ultimately, it is not just the survival of endangered species, but our own that is in the balance.