Big Cat Public Safety Act: USFWS v. USDA

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UPDATED June 29, 2017

On March 30, 2017 the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1818) was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. Proponents of H.R. 1818 laud it as a bi-partisan effort to “prohibit private ownership of captive lions, tigers, and other big cats in the US.” — in other words, pets. However, this characterization appears not only disingenuous, but it is duplicative, as most states already prohibit the ownership of big cats as pets. If passed as written, the primary impact of H.R. 1818 would not be on pet owners, but on zoos and sanctuaries that are not ideologically aligned with animal rights advocates espousing historical anti-captive wildlife sentiments.

Usurping the Animal Welfare Act
In a joint press release animal rights groups claimed H.R. 1818 would strengthen the Captive Wildlife Safety Act (CWSA). The CWSA is the 2003 Lacey Act amendment mandating interstate transport of big cats be limited to facilities licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and their registered agents. This amendment was consistent with the primary directive of the Lacey Act— to combat “trafficking” in “illegal” wildlife. The Lacey Act was never intended to regulate animal welfare. That is the dominion of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). However, H.R. 1818 seeks to expand the authority of the Lacey Act empowering U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to regulate “animal welfare” and “legal” wildlife; points of law already established under the AWA, and administered by USDA through the licensing and inspection of qualified facilities.

Dan Ashe, former Director of FWS under the Obama Administration and current CEO of the AZA, has long maintained working relationships with animal rights proponents of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, particularly Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), as well as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

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Dan Ashe, CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums— © Greg Nash

Three previous iterations of H.R. 1818 have been shopped around Capitol Hill since at least 2012. While touting public safety concerns, all have failed to get even a hearing because they are transparent attempts to establish the inequitable ideology of animal rights into the law. Previous versions of the Big Cat Public Safety Act offered an exemption to zoological facilities accredited only by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a trade association favored by bill proponents for instituting animal rights policies into their accreditation. These same proponents, led by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), have been engaged in an ongoing smear campaign against any zoo or aquarium not accredited by the AZA.

H.R. 1818 would continue to favor AZA, although no longer exempting them by name. The exemption is accomplished through a bit of “slight of hand,” calling for a USDA exemption, but then qualifying the exemption with a laundry list of AZA/HSUS negotiated policies inserted into the bill language. These qualifications effectively usurp authority from the AWA, placing it under the authority of the Lacey Act.

By writing animal rights policy into the Lacey Act, H.R. 1818 seeks to rewrite a broad swath of USDA animal welfare regulations by doing an end run around the AWA. These animal rights groups hope to supersede USDA regulations they were unsuccessful in changing through the administrative process by pushing legislation at the House Natural Resources Committee with lawmakers unfamiliar with animal welfare issues. If H.R. 1818 were to pass as written, FWS, without any experience regulating captive wildlife, would administer and enforce the new regulations.

H.R. 1818- Big Cat Public Safety Act:
Section 3 Prohibitions, (e) Captive Wildlife Offense, (2) Limitation on Application,  paragraph (1)(A), subparagraphs i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii and viii, presumes to rewrite and supersede an area of established law pertaining to the “animal welfare” of “legal” wildlife already regulated by USDA under authority of the Animal Welfare Act, while maintaining a de facto exemption for AZA zoos.

Public Safety or Animal Rights?
Proponents of H.R. 1818 cite an incident in Zanesville, Ohio in 2011 as an example of why this bill is needed. However, while tragic, Ohio recently past legislation addressing the issues. Most states already strictly regulate the possession of big cats. South Carolina just passed a ban on big cats as pets in this legislative session.

Ironically, most of the accidents with big cats, lethal and otherwise, have occurred at AZA zoos that would be exempted from this legislation; most notably, San Francisco Zoo in 2007 when a tiger killed a patron and injured two others— and more recently, Palm Beach Zoo in 2016 when a tiger killed a zookeeper. There are only a small handful of states that don’t strictly regulate big cats. Ohio now has some of the strictest regulations in the country. Outside of AZA accredited facilities, a death from a big cat hasn’t been recorded since 2003.

At the end of the day, animal welfare is not under the purview of the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act was designed to address wildlife trafficking. Further, FWS is not equipped to administer animal welfare regulations. Undoubtedly, funding for this unprecedented and duplicative overreach will be difficult to appropriate under the current administration. Proponents of the Big Cat Public Safety Act have misled bill sponsors and committee members. There is no crisis looming. The Big Cat Public Safety Act is not about public safety. It is about picking favorites and eliminating zoos and aquariums that will not voluntarily adopt the policies of the animal rights movement.

Compromise
With the help of Dan Ashe and the AZA, HSUS and IFAW are attempting to build political support for a hearing on H.R. 1818 before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. After years of failure petitioning USDA to institutionalize their ideology under the guise of public safety, these animal rights groups hope to have success by changing their tact and selling their brand of “public safety” to lawmakers at Natural Resources unfamiliar with animal welfare issues.

If proponents truly wanted only to stop pet ownership of big cats, the solution would be quite simple— amend the H.R. 1818 with a straight forward USDA exemption— without all of the qualifications that make it a de facto AZA exemption. The fact is, the USDA already regulates all legitimate zoos and aquariums regardless of trade association affiliation. Requiring USDA licensing would end the practice of keeping big cats as pets and legitimate non-AZA zoos would not be penalized or coerced into a choice between trade associations. Additionally, this compromise avoids using the Lacey Act to usurp the integrity of the Animal Welfare Act. Without an equitable amendment, zoos and aquariums across the country will likely oppose the Big Cat Public Safety Act.

Landmark Victory for USARK in Python Ban Lawsuit

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“Scales” of Justice prove true for Herpetoculture

Washington DC— April 7, 2017. The United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit in the case of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers v. Ryan Zinke, Secretary of The Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Humane Society of the United States and Center for Biological Diversity, ruled in favor of USARK on the question of Lacey Act authority to prohibit interstate transport of species listed as “injurious” under the Lacey Act. The court held that, “the government lacks authority under the shipment clause to prohibit shipments of injurious species between the ‘continental’ States.”

264575_210697215640070_6306357_n5-300x225What does all of this mean?
The way has now been cleared to legally resume trade of the Burmese python, North African python, South African python, reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda,  Beni anaconda, green anaconda and yellow anaconda within the “continental United States.” However, it appears that injurious species cannot be transported into the District of Columbia. The shipment clause specifically references the “continental United States,” “Hawaii,” the “Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,” and “any possession of the United States”, and the “District of Columbia” as distinct designations. In the court’s opinion the “District of Columbia” is an expressly separate designation from the “continental United States,” and specifically identified as prohibited in the shipment clause. In conclusion, it appears that there will be no legal transport into Washington, DC without the appropriate permits.

Congress defined the phrase “continental United States” in a statute enacted by the same Congress in the year before the 1960 addition of the shipment clause. See Pub. L. No. 86-70, § 48, 73 Stat. 141, 154 (1959); see also 1 U.S.C. § 1 note. Under that definition, “[w]henever the phrase ‘continental United States’ is used in any law of the United States enacted after the date of the enactment of this Act, it shall mean the 49 States on the North American Continent and the District of Columbia, unless otherwise expressly provided.”

Keep in mind that all nine constrictor snakes continue to be listed as injurious under the Lacey Act. Export and interstate transport are allowed. However import without a special permit is a felony and strictly prohibited. Violations can carry heavy fines and prison time.

Categorical Exclusion: CatX
Additionally, in 2015, in an unprecedented move, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service empowered itself to shortcut the rule making process under the Lacey Act in order to more easily declare injurious wildlife listings, making way for mass listing of species. Known as CatX, this rule has negatively impacted herpetoculture, and the pet trade by removing scientific justification from the listing process. This led to the listing of 201 salamander species in 2016, prohibiting the import and interstate trade of captive bred specimens. However, the ruling by the court on the authority of the Lacey Act to prohibit interstate transport now opens the way to resume trade of listed captive bred salamander species in the continental U.S., removing CatX’s teeth as a blunt force instrument to prohibit captive breeding programs on American soil. Listed species may be exported. However import without permit is a felony.

The bottom line is that CatX and the Python Ban now prohibit import only, and the Court’s Ruling has effectively clipped the wings of the radical animal rights industry seeking to use the Lacey Act to interfere with captive breeding programs in this country.

http://www.troutmansanders.com/george-y-sugiyama-joins-troutman-sanders-washington-dc-office-03-21-2012/

George Sugiyama, former Chief Minority Counsel, Senate EPW ~ Troutman Sanders

History of the USARK Lawsuit
In 2011, as then-CEO of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK), I led the fight against the listing of nine constrictor snakes as injurious under the Lacey Act. During the course of many visits to Capitol Hill, I met with George Sugiyama, Chief Minority Counsel for the Senate Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Committee. Mr. Sugiyama suggested to me, that in his legal opinion, FWS under the Lacey Act, did not have the authority to restrict interstate transport of species listed as injurious. I loved the simplicity of his argument and directed USARK’s counsel to further research and vet the idea. Subsequently, we hatched a plan, and created a blueprint for a lawsuit challenging the FWS’ authority to regulate interstate transport. The architects of the lawsuit were George Sugiyama, Joan Galvin and myself.

I spent most all of 2012 lobbying the USARK Board of Directors to move forward with the lawsuit. USARK finally filed that lawsuit against then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (USARK v. Jewell et al.) in the Federal District Court of Washington, DC in December of 2013— 11 months after I resigned from the organization. In the end it doesn’t matter why they waited. The point is, USARK did file the lawsuit, my strategy proved to be the correct one as illustrated by the court, and herpetoculture gets a huge victory that will resonate for years to come!

The Injurious Wildlife listing under the Lacey Act can no longer be used as the weapon it once was against domestic herpetoculture in the United States.

Congratulations USARK and the Reptile Nation for a job well done!
Working on behalf of USARK Joan Galvin, Shawn Gehan, David Frulla, Paul C. Rosenthal, Richard Stanley, and an anonymous legal contributor all played crucial roles in bring this lawsuit to fruition. In addition there have been countless volunteers and fundraisers that contributed and funded this unprecedented success that has been 9 years in the making. It has been my honor and privilege to play my part. My sincerest thank you to USARK and the entire Reptile Nation in this monumental victory for herpetoculture!


Happy Birthday USARK! — Many people don’t know, even the current officers of USARK, but USARK was founded as a trade association dedicated to the interests of herpetoculture on April 5, 2008 in Chicago, specifically to fight the Python Ban. The founding principal was Andrew Wyatt, formerly the founder and president of the North Carolina Association of Reptile Keepers (NCARK). The co-founders of USARK included Mack Robinette, Lou Sangermano, Ralph Davis, Doug Price, Sherry Tregembo, Jeff Ronnie, Warren Booth, Shawn Heflick, Brian Sharp, and Dan and Colette Sutherland. This group would become the USARK Board of Directors electing Wyatt as president and CEO in April 2008. April 5, 2017 was USARK’s Birthday. Happy Birthday to a young and successful trade association.


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

Ula and me“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


© 2017 Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife. 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.

Winds of Change: Opportunity for Gain?

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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.

Burmese Python: Dragon of the Everglades

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South Florida Burmese Python

The 2016 Python Challenge™ is moving at a record pace in south Florida. Sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the controversial python hunt, ostensibly to remove invasive snakes from the Everglades, produced a disappointing tally of only 68 snakes after 30 days of hunting in 2013. With cooler temperatures in south Florida, 100 pythons have already been taken in 2016. Hunters have capitalized on greater snake visibility as pythons bask openly in the sun to retain warmth. But is the hunt, slated to finish on Valentines Day, really for conservation or just a publicity stunt?

Raising the specter of giant pythons in the Everglades has become a media pastime in Florida. Clearly the appetite for this farfetched story is not easily sated. Lauded as some kind of invasive dragon devouring endangered wildlife and family pets alike, the Burmese python has become the stuff of folklore and myth: a modern day Jaws. A myth promulgated by environmental groups, invasion biologists and the press. Pythons being slain by champions eager to battle dark denizens for the ecological life of the Everglades has become a symbolic narrative that politicians have adopted and regurgitated for their own political purposes.

There is no denying that there are tens of thousands of Burmese pythons in the Everglades, but that’s far fewer than the 100’s of thousands touted by the likes of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson or Dan Ashe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While pythons are certainly eating rabbits, rats, feral cats and an occasional small gator, what many people don’t realize, is that pythons don’t eat every day like a warm blooded predator. They may only eat a handful of times per year; hardly the “resource hogs” depicted by some biologists.

“Cold temperatures killed thousands of pythons in the Winter of 2009-2010. Numbers appear to be rebounding, but pythons are not being found as readily as they were. The population peaked in Summer of 2009 with highs estimated to be 30,000- 40,000 pythons.” — Shawn Heflick, Biologist and star of NatGeo WILD’s: The Python Hunters

Another part and parcel of the myth is the notion that pythons have no natural predators in the glades. Nothing to temper an unabated population growth, a notion that is patently false. Any biologist worth his salt can tell you, there are dozens of potential predators for pythons in south Florida. Baby pythons are extremely vulnerable to hawks and eagles, wading birds, predatory fish, raccoons, feral hogs, feral cats, not to mention the apex predator of the Everglades, the American alligator, which preys even on adult pythons.

The exaggeration of every detail surrounding the presence of pythons in the glades further clouds the facts. For a variety of reasons the press and the pundits seem invested in demonizing the python. The press loves the idea of a giant snake in the glades “eating everything in its path.” Clearly the public has a morbid fascination with snakes that kindles a primal fear. Environmentalists and agency personnel see opportunity to increase funding for invasive, and or endangered species research not stimulated by less sensational problems. Ambitious biologists seem to bank on decades of pythons study and research in their future. Politicians vilify the snake as a threat that can only be overcome with the appropriation of billions in Everglades restoration dollars. It is a rich issue with a handout for nearly everyone.

“… many are content to chase the ‘Burmese Dragon’ around south Florida like Don Quixote chasing windmills.” — Andrew Wyatt

But the reality is this: Burmese pythons are a relatively low rung on the ladder of serious problems facing the Everglades. They have become a red herring, a distraction, and a scapegoat from more fundamental problems that are either too contentious or too difficult to deal with. Instead of addressing issues surrounding big sugar, pollution, water flow or other more pervasive invasive species threats, many are content to chase the ‘Burmese Dragon’ around south Florida like Don Quixote chasing windmills.

Hunting invasive pythons, although not without merit, is not being pursued in earnest. The National Park Service (NPS) will not allow pythons to be hunted at the epicenter of the population in the Everglades National Park (ENP). Ironically, the NPS appears to be protecting those pythons in order to preserve a study group for ongoing research. For the hunts to be effective, they should be conducted in the ENP in an open and ongoing basis. For now, hunts are restricted to state lands around the periphery of the park, and are limited to 30 days every few years.

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Vendors selling snakeskin wallets and belts at the 2016 Python Challenge™

The actual 2016 Python Challenge™ takes on an air more commensurate with a rattlesnake round-up or a reality TV show, than an environmental clean-up. It attracts colorful characters from all over the country to ‘hunt’ the dreaded pythons. Vendors have booths and sell t-shirts, snakeskin wallets and belt buckles. There’s funnel cake and BBQ. FWC is omni-present “educating” the public about the dangers of large pythons, how to identify them, wrangle them, and how to report them. But one has to wonder if the purpose is conservation or carnival.

While some concerns regarding invasive pythons are legitimate, the dramatic characterization placing pythons at the center of all of the Everglades ecological troubles is way overblown. Efforts to reduce the population via the Python Challenge are ineffective and disingenuous. Python population will never be significantly reduced unless the hunt is conducted at the epicenter of the invasion in the heart of the ENP. Allowing an open season within the park is the only way to actually reduce numbers through hunting. This ‘Dragon’ hunt  can hardly be seen as anything but a side show, while the decline of the Everglades goes on with or without the Burmese python circus.


Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs and policy consultant working exclusively in the wildlife sector. He formerly served as the CEO of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) where he twice testified before congress as an expert on python issues. Andrew has been interviewed on National Public Radio, by Bloomberg and by The New York Times.

Black Rhino Hunt: Conservation Controversy

One Black Rhino May Help Save All Of The Rest

One Black Rhino May Help Save All Of The Rest

How hunting a critically endangered black rhino will greatly benefit conservation of the species.

Last January the Dallas Safari Club (DSC), auctioned off a permit issued by the government of Namibia to hunt a black rhino. Namibia is legally permitted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to sell five permits for the hunting of adult male black rhinos each year. The Namibian government has identified a small number of individual black rhinos that may be hunted that are old, incapable of breeding and pose a threat to other younger animals.

A prominent hunter and conservationist, Corey Knowlton, submitted the winning bid of $350,000 at the auction and subsequently applied to FWS for a permit to import the trophy into the US. DSC plans to donate the entire proceeds of the auction to benefit conservation of the black rhino species (Diceros bicornis).

The debate over the value of a black rhino hunt that would raise $350,000 for rhino conservation efforts in Namibia has heated to the boiling point once again. The question of whether the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) will issue a permit to import a black rhino trophy into the US is at the forefront of this debate. Anti-hunting animal rights groups that vehemently oppose the hunt are using the power of their grass roots followers to pressure FWS to deny issue of the permit.

Reports from the Namibian government suggest that an older non-breeding male rhino that is disruptive to the herd, will be selected. It is important to note that this rhino will likely be culled regardless of whether FWS issues the import permit or not. If the permit is denied DSC plans to refund Mr. Knowlton’s winning $350,000 bid.  If that happens, the rhino’s life will not be saved, and the conservation efforts in Namibia will not receive the $350,000.

According to FWS spokesman Gavin Shire, FWS is ‘applying “extra scrutiny” to Knowlton’s request because of the rise in poaching.’ By all accounts, although there was a rise in the numbers of poached white rhinos in South Africa, the overall population of black rhinos has been on the rise for a number of years.

“Thanks to successful conservation and anti-poaching efforts, the total number of black rhinos has grown…” ~ World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Anti-hunting groups have long argued that hunting and poaching are indistinguishable. However, it is clear that this is a position driven by ideology. The reality is that hunting is legal and supports conservation. Poaching is a criminal activity that undermines conservation. What is unclear from the FWS statement, is how an unrelated rise in poaching arbitrarily dictates “extra scrutiny” toward the issuance of an import permit for a legal rhino hunt.

“Hunting isn’t conservation” ~ Jeffrey Flocken, North American regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

Additionally, animal rights groups argue that money spent on hunting in Africa never reaches local communities or conservation, but according to a report from TRAFFIC, the organization that works with the WWF, IUCN, and CITES to track the international trade of wildlife, US hunters spend $11 million annually in Namibia on controlled, legal hunts. Further, if allowed by the US government, the $350,000 proceeds from this one single hunt would go exclusively to black rhino conservation in Namibia.

Those that are opposed to hunting are predisposed to object to any hunting based conservation model. Ideology aside, there is no doubt that millions of dollars are injected into the Namibian economy every year as the direct result of hunting. For FWS to deny issuing an import permit based on misinformation and pressure from special interests, would not only be a disservice to processing a legitimate permit application, but it would block $350,000 earmarked for black rhino conservation efforts.

“Sport hunting of Namibia’s black rhino population will strongly contribute to the enhancement of the survival of the species…” ~ World Wildlife Fund

Yesterday on the IFAW Facebook page, the animal rights organization was exhorting their followers to “Save One Black Rhino” by pressuring FWS to deny import permits. The fact remains that the rhino in question will likely be culled regardless of the decision of FWS. Wouldn’t it be better to allow Mr. Knowlton to hunt the rhino and import the trophy so that the auction money can go to rhino conservation? Preventing Mr. Knowlton’s hunt will accomplish only one thing:  it will prevent black rhino conservation in Namibia from receiving a $350,000 donation.  All real conservation happens at the species level. The survival of critically endangered black rhinos should not be held hostage to special interest politics.


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

WyattP2“Endangered species conservation 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


© Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word, 2014. 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 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