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Western Hemisphere Migratory Birds Conference

John F. Turner
Assistant Secretary
Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Opening statement
Termas de Puyehue, Chile
October 6, 2003

Thank you. It's an honor and a privilege to welcome you here. I'm very excited about this historic meeting -- the first gathering of Western Hemisphere countries to focus on cooperative efforts to conserve migratory wildlife.

It is a pleasure for the U.S. Department of State to be able to join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in co-hosting this event. I am also pleased to recognize other important collaborators and partners from the United States who are here to participate. These include the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Smithsonian Institution, International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, and representatives from our Embassies in Chile and Brazil. I am also pleased to be able to conduct our discussions in parallel with the meetings of the Neotropical Ornithological Congress. We can benefit greatly from their dedication and expertise.

We have an opportunity and a charge here given to us by leaders of the Western Hemisphere in 2001, when they met in Canada and called for the development of a strategy for the Hemisphere to support the conservation of migratory wildlife throughout the Americas. Birds are our starting point in this discussion, because birds connect us as neighbors here in the Americas. Also we realize that many species of migratory birds are in trouble and declining. Finally, bird conservation has significant public constituencies, with many model efforts underway.

These are foundations on which we can build as a community. One example is the habitat set-asides of the North American Migratory Waterfowl Management Plan. Other examples with United States involvement are the Neotropical Bird Conservation Act and the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

Here in the Western Hemisphere, migratory birds remind us that we are neighbors. These living resources speak to us of our shared environment, economies, and culture. They challenge us all to become better stewards of the natural resources on which we all depend. Perhaps if we take better care of migratory birds, we can also take care of other species of wildlife, our watersheds, forests, and other habitats.

During the next few days, I hope we can get to know each other better, share our concerns, take stock of our collective ideas, and put together the building blocks of a process for the future. I challenge you to do your best here at this historic beginning for conservation in our Hemisphere. We have the opportunity to mold a richer legacy of living resources for current and future generations.

I'm reminded of a trip this summer to the northern island of Svalbard, Norway. I encountered a protective and feisty arctic tern defending her nest. She was gallantly trying to remove a chunk of my bald scalp. Think of the remarkable commitment of this species to its migratory route spanning thousands of miles, reaching the extremes of North and South. We owe it to this arctic tern to exhibit similar dedication, perseverance, and boldness in working to become better stewards of our environment.

Thank you again for coming -- to begin building a path that will ultimately benefit migratory species, and, in turn, benefit ourselves.

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October 12, 2003

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