Winds of Change: Opportunity for Gain?

Golden Eagle

Eagle take is strictly regulated under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1962

Opportunity Knocks
Donald J. Trump, whether you like him or not, is the new President of the United States. That could mean big changes for wildlife policy. During his address to the joint session of congress last week, Trump made it clear that the priorities of his Administration will be far different from those of his predecessor. While life under the Obama Administration proved difficult for many wildlife stakeholders, opportunities to influence future policy at the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), are within reach of those that seize the initiative.

After almost a decade under siege by powerful special interest groups and unfriendly government agencies, it will be interesting to see if stakeholders that were under the knife with Obama go on the offensive under Trump.

Change is in the Air
It’s no secret that agency culture at USDA and FWS became decidedly anti-business and anti-resource use under the Obama Administration. With Hilary Clinton the heir apparent as next in line for the Presidency, animal rights and environmentalist organizations were giddy with prospects for a further expansion of power and influence in a Clinton Administration. However, the unexpected victory of Donald Trump brought those aspirations to a screeching halt. In this new political climate, like their opposition before them, wildlife stakeholders stand to make significant gains of their own.

Unless there are significant economic implications, most wildlife issues will not be a priority for the new Administration. The President made it clear that his focus will be on replacing Obama-care, tax reform, energy production and infrastructure. Most of the administrative regulatory changes previously under review, will likely never see the light of day. But while that may be a relief to many, it is a double edged sword for those who are faced with trying to garner attention to a much needed roll-back of bad regulations already put in place by the outgoing Administration.

Damages Done
Particularly hard hit by rule changes were herpetoculture and antique ivory interests. The arbitrary nature of these rules from FWS have yielded damages to stakeholders that could measure upwards of $100 million in lost jobs, assets and income. The challenge then becomes, when the new Administration is focused on weighty issues like repealing Obama-care and tax reform, how to bring attention to issues like Lacey Act over-reach or the trade of certain rare antiquities?

Wildlife Rules Enacted Under Obama Administration

  • FWS — Injurious Wildlife Listing of 9 Constricting Snakes — Python Ban
  • FWS — Categorical Exemption from NEPA Requirements on Lacey Act listings — CatX
  • FWS — Injurious Wildlife Listing of 201 Salamander Species– Salamnder Ban
  • USDA/Aphis — Handling and Husbandry of Neonatal Nondomestic Cats
  • FWS — Rule for the African Elephant, Endangered Species Act — Ivory Ban

There are also questions of internal decisions at regional FWS offices regarding limits on the issuance of wildlife take permits for species that have already been approved for specific use. The decision making process appears to be colored by a culture that is decidedly anti-hunting. Mid-level agency administrators are making decisions that are contrary to approved FWS policy. But where there is minimal economic impact, it can be difficult to bring these injustices to the attention of policy makers.

Fear of Loss is a Greater Motivator than Opportunity for Gain
Some believe, contrary to the results they have been able to produce, that grass roots activism has a significant influence on policy direction. There is no doubt that grass roots can have its place, especially in the legislative arena. Ten years ago, when I was the CEO of a trade association, we mounted a massive grass roots campaign defeating HR 669 in the House Natural Resources Committee. Our 50,000 hand written letters had to be carted into committee, and gave members more than enough cover to kill HR 669. However, “fear of loss” motivated that unprecedented response at committee. We are now talking about “opportunity for gain.” If you have been unable to accomplish your agency goals, it is unlikely that writing more letters and making more calls will provide the political leverage needed to effect that change. It can help, but it won’t win the day.

You Need a Plan
Don’t get me wrong, grass roots activism can be very effective, but it works best when it is part and parcel of a comprehensive strategy, not the alpha and omega of your advocacy efforts. You must have a comprehensive plan that sets benchmarks and creates an integrated blueprint for business, communications, fundraising and government affairs. If you can’t clearly see how to reach your goals, the chances of realizing them are slim to none. One thing is for sure, if you continue to do what you have always done, you will continue to get what you have always gotten.

It would be a monumental waste for stakeholders not to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity for gains in the wildlife sector. Whether it’s making new law, roll-back of bad regulations, or holding agencies accountable, it won’t happen by itself. In order to realize positive change, you must be able to open doors and get your issues in front of those who can make a real difference. You need a plan. It’s not too late, but you have to be in the game to have a chance to win.


Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the benefits of professional advocacy?
  • Does grass roots advocacy really work?
  • How do I create a strategic business/government affairs plan? 
  • Is a communications strategy important?
  • What is the difference between a bill and a proposed rule?
  • How do we get a rule “rolled back?”
  • Can we get permitting expedited?
  • How can creating a caucus help?
  • What is an issue campaign?
  • How do we get more than “lip service” from my member of congress?
  • How do we get accountable answers from federal agencies?
  • Why don’t agency employees care what we want?
  • How can we raise funds to pay for advocacy/legal assistance?

Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs and policy consultant that works exclusively in the wildlife sector.

WyattP1“Wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in articulating clear policy ideas and getting them in front of key decision makers. Please follow ‘The Last Word on Wildlife’ for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of creating a comprehensive business/government affairs strategy, or a more targeted issue campaign, please call or email me.” ~ Andrew Wyatt


© Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Wrong Way to Protect Elephants

Reblogged from The New York Times.

Making legal trade illegal and turning good citizens into criminals will make it easier for FWS to make cases against Americans here at home, but it fails to address the hard work of catching poachers and real criminals that are determined to kill every living elephant. ~Andrew Wyatt

The New York Times | The Opinion Pages |OP-ED CONTRIBUTORS
By GODFREY HARRIS and DANIEL STILESMARCH | 26, 2014

27harris-master495THE year was 1862. Abraham Lincoln was in the White House. “Taps” was first sounded as a lights-out bugle call. And Steinway & Sons was building its first upright pianos in New York.

The space-saving design would help change the cultural face of America. After the Civil War, many middle-class families installed them in their parlors. The ability to play the piano was thought to be nearly as important to the marriage potential of single ladies as their skill in cooking and sewing, signaling a young woman’s gentility and culture.

The keys on those pianos were all fashioned from the ivory of African elephants. And that is why one of these uprights, the oldest one known to survive, in fact, is stuck in Japan.

The director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued an order prohibiting the commercial importation of all African elephant ivory into the United States. (Commercial imports had been allowed in some instances, including for certain antiques.)

The Obama administration is also planning to implement additional rules that will prohibit, with narrow exceptions, both the export of African elephant ivory and its unfettered trade within the United States.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has said that these new rules will help stop the slaughter of elephants. But we believe that unless demand for ivory in Asia is reduced — through aggressive education programs there, tougher enforcement against the illegal ivory trade and the creation of a legal raw ivory market — these new American regulations will merely cause the price to balloon and the black market to flourish, pushing up the profit potential of continued poaching.

In short, these new rules proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service may well end up doing more harm than good to the African elephant.

Read more at The New York Times...

 

Terrorists, Tusks and the Ivory Crush

photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service

photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Today ivory sells on the black market for about $1500US per pound. Al-Shabab, a Somali splinter cell of al Qaida, raises $600,000 per month from poaching activities. Local African warlords and international crime syndicates fund their own violent and illegal activities through ivory poaching. Any reduction in the supply of legal ivory to growing middle class markets in China will skyrocket prices for illegal supplies, with profit margins for terrorist groups, warlords and criminals escalating correspondingly.

Recently the Obama administration announced that US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) would promulgate a rule that would ban ivory sales in the United States. Government agencies around the world have postured with high profile ivory crushes and burns from China to the United States and Kenya. Even Prince William wants to crush the Royal ivory collection in the UK. This week the Administrations’ Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking will meet to discuss their strategy to enact  a rule ending legal trade in the US. But will destroying stockpiles of ivory and criminalizing legal trade really stop ivory poaching in Africa? There is no evidence to support that belief.

“The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.” ~Thomas Sowell

While seemingly noble, these measures are largely symbolic and are likely to drive the price of ivory up by creating scarcity. Markets are driven by supply and demand. When the supply is reduced and the demand continues or increases, prices move up. Even the perception of scarcity puts upward pressure on markets. This is all Economics 101, and it applies equally to legal and illegal markets.

The face of ivory poaching in Africa

The face of ivory poaching in Africa

Propaganda in support of the ivory crush theory suggests that eliminating the world’s stock piles of ivory and criminalizing legal trade works to discourage black-market trade; that somehow legal trade provides cover for illegal trade. The opposite effect is far more likely. Without a significant decrease in the demand for ivory, scarcity, even perceived scarcity, will likely drive the price for illicit ivory to all time highs. Black-market trade will become more lucrative than ever. Criminals will be emboldened by the world’s inability to protect elephants in Africa, nor implement a workable strategy to reduce demand in ivory markets.

Instead of crushing valuable stockpiles of ivory in a grand symbolic gesture, sell the ivory in legal markets and use the money for elephant conservation. This is not about writing symbolic checks that are the fodder of photo ops and behind the scenes corruption– but about putting beans and bullets directly on the ground to be used by the rangers who need them. We should use money from legal ivory sales  for the recruitment and training of additional personnel, outfit them with the equipment they need, and deploy them to fight sophisticated poaching rings. Crushing ivory out of existence only increases it’s value on the black market.

Ivory poaching is funding international terrorism. Making it more difficult and more dangerous to kill elephants, while educating  the Chinese to the realities of ivory trade, will mitigate the flow of money from ivory to terrorist activities.

Al-Shabab makes $600,000 per month on poaching and employs child soldiers.

Al-Shabab makes $600,000 per month on poaching and employs child soldiers

Money from legal ivory sales could fund educational programs targeting the Chinese middle class.

Making legal trade illegal and turning good citizens into criminals will make it easier for FWS to make cases against Americans here at home, but it fails to address the hard work of catching poachers and real criminals that are determined to kill every living elephant.

We should utilize the groups that have the most at stake in elephant conservation. Hunting groups, gun and equipment manufacturers, and NGO’s. They all need to step up to the plate and play a larger role in preservation of the species they value. Protecting elephants as a resource that will be available for future generations should be a common goal of all of these interest groups. The focus needs to be on leveraging relationships on the ground in Africa, and empowering small specialized projects that get equipment, supplies, manpower and training where they are needed most. We should be using the legal sale of confiscated ivory to fund putting boots on the ground to undercut poaching.

Additionally, a larger effort needs to go into educating middle class ivory consumers in China. Again, NGO’s funded in part by legal sales of ivory could create a model for education– essentially an “issue campaign” to change the hearts and minds that currently have such an appetite for ivory and a steadfast superstition that tusks grow like human fingernails.

If we insist on going down the primrose path of symbolic conservation gestures that actually aggravate the situation,  while wasting what could be irreplaceable conservation dollars from ivory stockpiles, we fail. We will never address the  fundamentals of supply and demand. Our current course will make it so lucrative and easy for criminals and terrorists to continue their activities that elephant populations could be pushed to the brink.

Funding for elephant conservation is limited. Criminalizing legal trade of ivory at home is foolish, ineffective and distracts from actual conservation. We are running out of time for the usual tortured process of political posturing and the stroking of egos. We need to get resources on the ground and limit markets in short order. Elephants died for the ivory being crushed. Should their deaths be for naught? Use the money from legal sales of ivory to protect the future of elephants for generations to come. Stop the ivory crush.

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WyattP2The ivory crush and other wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in working with clients to employ campaign style tactics to change hearts and minds on vital issues in the wildlife sector. Please follow The Last Word for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of running a targeted issue campaign, and/or a comprehensive government affairs strategy, please call or email me. ~ Andrew Wyatt