[/av_textblock] [av_textblock size=” font_color=” color=” custom_class=”] By RICHARD POWELSON
June 25, 2003
WASHINGTON – Two Bald Eagles from Pigeon Forge were carried to congressional offices Monday and Tuesday to build good will for a big increase in federal funding for the states’ fish and wildlife protection programs.
“In every office we visited, everybody’s face lit up like a light bulb,” said Al Cecere, president of the American Eagle Foundation, which is based at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. “People just love the eagle.”
The budget for the states’ wildlife protection programs, which has helped pay to restore some Tennessee habitats for specific bird and turtle species and boosted the population of mussels and sturgeon, was cut from $85 million last fiscal year to $65 million this year.
Teaming With Wildlife, a coalition of more than 3,000 groups, is urging Congress to provide $125 million for next fiscal year.
The eagle foundation, which treats injured eagles and releases able-bodied eagles into the wild, gets no federal or state funding, relying on donations from individuals and corporations. But Cecere said that federal and state improvements in habitat for fish and wildlife also would benefit eagles.
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, a Chattanooga Republican and member of the Appropriations Committee, said the House appears likely to increase the funding for 2004 by $10 million over this year’s level. “I certainly support the program and I hope they can get more money” in later House-Senate negotiations, Wamp said.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has signed a letter with 31 other senators to committee leaders urging “more robust funding” for the program. He believes that “protecting wildlife is important and should be a part of our overall conservation efforts,” aide Alexia Poe said.
Dolly Parton has given her full support to the eagle foundation, Cecere said. Alexander called Parton “a terrific supporter” of eagle protection and other worthy causes.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., supports the states’ wildlife programs as “very important,” aide Nick Smith said, but has not taken a position on funding.
However, four Tennessee House members are backing the full $125 million being proposed: Bill Jenkins, a Rogersville Republican and former state commissioner of conservation; Lincoln Davis, a Pall Mall Democrat and former state senator; and Democratic Reps. Bart Gordon of Murfreesboro and Harold Ford Jr. of Memphis.
Naomi Edelson, a spokeswoman for the wildlife coalition, said the country could save money in the long run by working regularly and adequately to protect and repair fish and wildlife habitats.
“It is much more costly to mount a restoration effort” for endangered species, she said.
Wildlife generally is not allowed inside the congressional buildings, and security has been extra tough at federal buildings since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But the eagle foundation’s two well-trained, white-headed eagles, Challenger and America, got through Senate and House security quickly thanks to early preparations by Frist’s staff and that of U.S. Rep. John Tanner of Union City.
Richard Powelson may be contacted at 202-408-2727.
Copyright 2003, Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.