Has the Endangered Species Act become immune to amendment?

Reblogged from the Liberty Blog

The powers of Congress are limited by the US Constitution, not the Endangered Species Act. ~Andrew Wyatt

April 29, 2014 | Jonathan Wood

DishonMikrai002An animal rights group has filed a lawsuit arguing that the Endangered Species Act — which is itself constitutionally suspect — limits Congress’ powers, i.e. Congress cannot legislate on endangered species issues unless that legislation would be consistent with the ESA. This absurd proposition has already been rejected by that bastion of anti-environmentalism: the Ninth Circuit, which recently characterized the protection of endangered species as the “highest priority” under federal law.

The subject of the most recent controversy is a permit exemption for exotic hunting ranches, which finance populations of species that are endangered or extinct in the wild through regulated hunting. This fantastically successful model for species conservation has been consistently attacked by animal rights groups. A few years ago, 60 Minutes produced a piece on this success and interviewed those on both sides of the political and legal fight. Lest you have any doubt that the opposition isn’t about species conservation, the leader of the animal rights group is asked directly whether she would rather see these species go extinct than be saved in this way.

And she said yes!

Read more…

A Caretaker and a Killer: How Hunters Can Save the Wilderness

Reblogged from The Atlantic.

“Hunting is Conservation… No one takes the philosophy of responsible stewardship and species preservation more seriously than the American hunter.” ~Andrew Wyatt

Stereotypes of gun-toting brutes and tree-hugging hippies miss the basic facts about who is protecting nature—and why.
TOVAR CERULLI | MAR 14 2014, 10:12 AM ET

kkirugi/Flickr

kkirugi/Flickr

Excerpted from The Atlantic:

The ideological turf matters far less than the ground beneath our feet—the real places that, once lost, may never be restored.

Hunting and environmental organizations don’t always see eye to eye, of course. Intense controversy has arisen over wolves, for instance. Some environmental groups have argued for continued federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, often citing the ecological value of top-level predators. Some hunting-conservation groups have argued for state management and public hunting, often protesting wolves’ predation on cherished game species such as deer and elk. Other organizations have remained neutral. In some cases, the politicized debate has driven wedges between longtime allies, causing rifts that will not be easily healed.

When clashes occur, it is all too easy to fall back on reductive notions about liberal, elite environmentalists and conservative, redneck hunters—the “greens” versus “the hook-and-bullet crowd.” With partisans on both sides invoking stereotypes and the media portraying hunters and environmentalists as opponents, it is tempting to imagine stark lines between the two.

But such divisions are too simplistic. As it turns out, many predator-conservation advocates are hunters. My tracking instructor Sue Morse, for instance, became a hunter in her 40s as a direct result of studying four-footed hunters. Interested in procuring more of her own food, she was drawn to emulate the animals she appreciated so deeply. Michael Soulé, the father of conservation biology, is also a hunter, as were famed conservationists Aldo Leopold, Olaus Murie, and Sigurd Olson.

 Read more at The Atlantic…

 

African Poaching Crisis: Elephants Slaughtered for Trinkets and Terrorism

Reblogged from the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF).

“Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, Co-Chair of the ICCF, weighs in on the African poaching crisis, the alarming links to terrorism, and how the the Conservation Reform Act might lend aid.” ~Andrew Wyatt

feb8_2014-1

Editor’s note: Rob Portman, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Ohio.

(CNN) — The African elephant, one of the world’s most majestic animals, is in danger. In the early 1900s, 5 million elephants roamed the African continent. Then the ivory trade drove them to the brink of extinction, with 90% of African elephants killed for the ivory in their tusks.

In 1989, the world reacted, imposing a ban on the international trade in ivory passed by the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Elephant populations stabilized. But today, driven by growing demand for ivory ornaments and carvings in Asia, particularly in China, elephant poaching has returned with a vengeance.

The largest slaughter in one year since the 1989 ban was passed happened in 2012, with up to 35,000 elephants killed. This adds up to nearly 100 a day. Tens of thousands are killed every year. Without action, the day may come when this magnificent creature is known only in history books.

Estimates say if elephants continue to be slaughtered at today’s rates, the creatures could be extinct in a decade.Not only do elephants die. The wildlife rangers who try to protect them from poachers are being killed.

The illicit trade in ivory — “white gold” — is a billion dollar industry, and because it is illegal, it tends to attract some very bad actors. It is blood ivory: Al-Shabaab, a wing of al Qaeda based in Africa that is responsible for continued instability in Somalia, is known to finance its operations through the poaching of elephants. Al-Shabaab raises an estimated $600,000 a month through the ivory trade. The Lord’s Resistance Army, another terrorist group infamous for forcing children to fight in its ranks, also engages in poaching and trafficking of elephant ivory.

 “Al-Shabaab raises an estimated $600,000 a month through the ivory trade.” ~Rob Portman

Stopping the ivory trade has become not only a matter of conservation but one of national security and international stability.

Last year, the United Nations issued a report warning that elephant poaching is the worst it has been in a decade, while ivory seizures are at their highest levels since 1989. Last summer, President Barack Obama issued an executive order recognizing that the poaching of protected species and the illicit trade in ivory has become an international crisis that the United States must take a leading role in combating.

Saving elephants and other threatened species is a cause that cuts across partisan lines and international boundaries. We all have a part to play.

It starts in our personal lives.

The ivory trade prospers because there is a demand for luxury goods fashioned from it. As consumers, we should never buy products made with ivory and should encourage others to be mindful that their purchases are not illegally sourced through trafficking. And we should continue to shine a spotlight on the problem of illegal poaching and the threat it poses to African elephants and other species.

There are actions our government can take, as well. As co-chairman of the U.S. Senate International Conservation Caucus, I have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to educate members of Congress on these ongoing problems and introduce legislation that authorizes proven conservation programs and directs resources to the international effort to dismantle the machinery of illegal poaching.

The Conservation Reform Act is part of this effort. If passed, it would streamline and increase the effectiveness of our existing international conservation efforts. I am also working to reauthorize the Saving Vanishing Species Stamp, which raises funds for the protection of threatened animals and their habitat at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

Over the years, we have watched as the actions of a few shortsighted, malicious and greedy people have nearly destroyed whole species. If we act now, we can make sure that the African elephant doesn’t become another sad entry on a long list of animals we can never bring back.

Prince Charles and Prince William Condemn Wildlife Trafficking

The anti-poaching rhetoric is really stepping up now that the cold hard reality is setting in that, Poaching Is Funding Terrorism! ~Andrew Wyatt

Science & Space

Every day, nearly 100 elephants in Africa meet a bloody end at the hands of poachers. The number of African elephants has fallen by 76% since 1980. They aren’t alone: poachers have thinned the once vast herds of black rhinos in Africa, leaving just 5,000 alive in the wild. These animals are being hunted to death.

But that’s only where poaching starts. Wildlife trafficking has become a global criminal enterprise, worth up to $10 billion a year and fed by the growing demand in Asia for ivory products. Money from the illegal wildlife trade goes to gangs of insurgents like al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-backed Somali terrorist group responsible for last year’s devastating attack on a Nairobi shopping mall. Wildlife trafficking is no longer just a niche problem for conservationists. It’s something that threatens us all.

That’s why it’s so heartening to see world leaders beginning to get serious about the issue.

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Break the Link Between Terrorism Funding and Poaching

Reblogged from the Washington Post.

“The connection between terrorism and poaching… A must read for those interested in rhino and elephant conservation.” ~ Andrew Wyatt

By Johan Bergenas and Monica Medina, Published: January 31

Johan Bergenas is deputy director of the Managing Across Boundaries Initiative at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank that studies peace and security challenges around the world. Monica Medina is a former special assistant to U.S. defense secretaries Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel.Elephant

There is a new threat in the terrorist hotbed of Africa, and the U.S. military can do much more to combat it. Poaching of endangered elephants and rhinos has become a conservation crisis, and profits from wildlife crimes are filling the coffers of terrorist organizations. The twin crises should be cause for alarm for military leaders, not just conservation groups. They need to start working together before it is too late.

In the past two years, about 60,000 elephants and more than 1,600 rhinos have been slaughtered by poachers, according to reports from the Wildlife Conservation Society, theInternational Union for Conservation of Nature and others. About a thousand park rangers have died in the past decade defending the animals.

In 2014 there have already been 86 rhinos poached.

In 2014 there have already been 86 rhinos poached.

Illegal wildlife trade generates an estimated $19 billion a year — more than the illicit trafficking of small arms, diamonds, gold or oil. A July Congressional Research Service report found that a rhino horn is worth more than $50,000 per kilogram on the black market — more than gold or platinum. Sadly, poaching elephants and rhinos in Africa is easy money for terrorists, and they are cashing in.

One Elephant Action League undercover investigation in Kenya concluded that illegal ivory funds as much as 40 percent of the operations of al-Shabab, the group behind the November attack at a Nairobi shopping mallwhere 60 people were killed. The former director of the Kenyan Wildlife Service and theU.N. secretary general have drawn similar links between crime against wildlife and al-Shabab, al-Qaeda and the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army.

Last May, President Obama called for a new strategy to fight al-Qaeda and its affiliates. To be effective, these counterterrorism plans must engage not only African defense leaders but also conservation and development leaders. U.S. military plans for Africa should include ending elephant and rhino poaching to cut off a key source of funds for al-Qaeda and other terrorists.

A high-level summit on wildlife crimes, organized by the British government, Prince Charles and Prince William, is scheduled to take place this month in London. It is the perfect place to call for a new partnership between the defense and conservation communities.

As Obama’s national security team plans its next steps, it can follow Hillary Clinton’s lead. Before stepping down as secretary of state, Clinton commissioned an intelligence review of the impact of wildlife trafficking on national security. Completed last summer, the review prompted Obama to sign an executive order creating an interagency task force to develop an anti-poaching strategy. Due out this year, the strategy should include a greater military role in responding to this growing challenge.

Last year Congress gave the Pentagon permission to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army’s poaching and human-trafficking activities. That authority should be expanded to cover all terrorist groups, including al-Shabab.

Even without specific direction from Congress, the Defense Department and intelligence agencies should work with conservation groups to combat poaching, using new and inexpensive technologies to detect and deter terrorist activities and traffickers. Drones, satellite imagery, tracking devices and other high-tech tools could transform the fight to save elephants and rhinos, cheaply and effectively starving terrorists of the easy money they gain from wildlife crimes. Already, some African countries are asking for such tools.

Top U.S. defense officials should routinely discuss wildlife trafficking in meetings with African military leaders. The U.S. military’s post-Afghanistan plans must explicitly include poaching in Africa and illegal trafficking of wildlife as new “fronts” in the war on terror. Using technology to detect and deter poachers is a much less expensive way to fight terrorists than deploying Special Operations forces — and less dangerous to U.S. troops.

Finally, private-sector security and technology companies should be encouraged to work with African governments to deploy sensors, radars, unmanned aerial vehicles, satellites and other sophisticated data-gathering and detection systems. These types of defense technologies are needed to bolster borders, ports, roads, energy facilities and other economic infrastructure in Africa. Over the next few decades, the market for this infrastructure and societal security capacity is estimated to be at least $60 trillion, according to reports by McKinsey and others. By working now to protect African economic infrastructure, which includes endangered elephants and rhinos, technology companies could reap huge financial and public relations rewards.

Security technology, military capacity and market incentives are all waiting to be deployed to defeat terrorists and save wildlife in Africa — a huge potential win-win. Here’s hoping that Prince Charles and Prince William use this month’s summit to publicly call on military and industry leaders to join the fight to conserve rhinos and elephants.

To Boldly Go Where No Continent Has Gone Before

Reblogged from the IUCN Blog: The Inside Track on Global Conservation by John Linnell, Senior Scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research.

“Some field perspective on the future of large carnivores from a member of IUCN’s Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe.” ~ Andrew Wyatt

Posted By IUCN |  January 28th, 2014 at 9:23 am |

Last week the kids and I found a wolverine track in the snow, just a few kilometres from my home. The sun was shining, the air was crisp and life suddenly felt different. The silent forest around me became transformed, from a bland backdrop to a dynamic living ecosystem. The encounter was unexpected, a rarity, a treasure; something that transformed just another family outing to “the day we saw that wolverine track”.

As both a scientist and a conservationist I have worked with large carnivore related issues for almost my entire professional life. Studying their prey (roe deer), studying the predator species themselves (including Eurasian lynx, leopards and jaguars), and studying their interactions with people, has taken me to study sites all across Europe, from the Barents Sea to the Adriatic, and beyond to India and Brazil.

Large carnivores are not an easy career path. For the scientist part of me, they are difficult and expensive to study. Working on rodents would certainly have allowed me to gain more scientific kudos. For the conservationist part of me they are associated with a constant round of challenges and conflicts. So why do I do it?

Gaupe_JlinnellFascination is clearly a major part of the answer. The more I learn about how these animals live their lives the more I appreciate them as masterpieces of evolutionary adaptation. They also trigger some emotional responses deep inside.

The combination of grace, power, silence, resilience and adaptability in such a beautiful packaging can only induce a sense of awe. These animals demand your respect simply by looking at you. They are also truly wild.

Completely independent of us humans, unapologetic about their actions, their persistence in our modern urbanised world provides a refreshing reminder that there is still some wildness left in nature. Predators above all other species remind us that nature is still something of a dynamic process and made up of interactions rather than just being static scenery. The idea that nature is something bigger than us humans and that it still not tamed provides a refreshing tonic to human arrogance and egotism.

However, many of these characteristics are also the source of conflicts. The sources of my fascination can easily become another person’s frustrations or fears. Predators don’t always make easy neighbours, and many rural people living in their proximity experience very real problems.

Working for the conservation of these species involves confronting these conflicts and trying to find ways to minimise them. And the challenge of responding to this is probably my second motivation to work with these species. The challenge is even greater considering that most of my work is in Europe. Europe is a crowded continent, with 500 million people, and no true wilderness areas. There is no “over there” with more space. If we want large carnivores, they have to be “here”; in the same landscape where people live, work and play.

Integrating these species into the fabric of our modern landscape is probably the greatest example of land sharing that has ever been attempted in conservation. The Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, of which I am a member, is trying to find ways to facilitate this integration of large carnivores into multi-use landscapes that simultaneously provide for the needs of human food production, recreation and biodiversity conservation.

And judging by present trends, the carnivores are succeeding, although there is still a long way to go. Many conflicts persist, and some are escalating. Finding solutions is going to require patience, ingenuity and a willingness to make compromises. Although research can provide some guidance, there is going to be a lot of trial and error because quite simply this experiment has never been tried before. For almost the entirety of human history we have been at a state of war with these species. We are now trying to find a way to coexist with them, although nobody knows how this coexistence is going to look in the end. Who could resist being a part of such a process?

CAN TROPHY HUNTING ACTUALLY HELP CONSERVATION?

CAN TROPHY HUNTING ACTUALLY HELP CONSERVATION? January 15, 2014

Re-blogged from Conservation Magazine: http://conservationmagazine.org/2014/01/can-trophy-hunting-reconciled-conservation/comment-page-1/#comment-22621

Can trophy hunting ever be a useful tool in the conservationist’s toolbox? On the surface, the answer would appear obvious. It seems as if the killing of an animal – especially an endangered one – for sport is directly contradictory to the goal of ensuring the survival of a species. The question has been asked again following the auction last Saturday night of the right to hunt an endangered black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) in Namibia. And the answer, as usual, is more complicated.

The permit was sold for $350,000, well above the previous high bid for a permit in that country, $223,000. While the Dallas Safari Club had the dubious distinction of being the first organization to hold such an auction outside of Namibia itself, it’s fairly unremarkable and actually quite common for an African nation to sell permits for trophy hunting, even for endangered species. Indeed, both Namibia and South Africa are legallypermitted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to sell five permits for the hunting of adult male black rhinos each year.

And it’s not just rhinos. For example, a 2000 report from TRAFFIC, an organization that works with the WWF, IUCN, and CITES to track the international trade of wildlife, describes how Namibia alone was the site of almost 16,000 trophy hunts that year. Those 16,000 animals represent a wide variety of species – birds, reptiles, mammals, and even primates – both endangered and not. They include four of the so-called “big five” popular African game: lion, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. (Only the elephant was missing.) The hunters brought eleven million US dollars with them to spend in the Namibian economy. And that doesn’t include revenue from non-trophy recreational hunting activities, which are limited to four species classified as of “least concern” by the IUCN: Greater Kudu, Gemsbok, Springbok and Warthog.

The issues here are complex and highly politicized. There are several questions that science can’t help address, primary of which is whether or not the money raised from the sale of hunting permits is used for conservation, something often promised by hunting tour operators. But empirical research can help to elucidate several other questions, such as whether hunting can ever help drive conservation efforts.

In 2006, researcher Peter A. Lindsey of Kenya’s Mpala Research Centreand colleagues interviewed 150 people who either had already hunted in Africa, or who planned to do so within the following three years. Their findings were published in the journal Animal Conservation. A majority of hunters – eighty-six percent! – told the researchers they preferred hunting in an area where they knew that a portion of the proceeds went back into local communities. Nearly half of the hunters they interviewed also indicated that they’d be willing to pay an equivalent price for a poorer trophy if it was a problem animal that would have had to be killed anyway.

Lindsey’s team also discovered that hunters were more sensitive to conservation concerns than was perhaps expected. For example, they were less willing to hunt in areas where wild dogs or cheetahs are illegally shot, in countries that intentionally surpass their quotas, or with operators who practice “put-and-take hunting,” which is where trophy animals are released onto a fenced-in property just before a hunt. Together this suggests that hunters were willing to place economic pressure on countries and tour companies to operate in as ethical a manner as possible. Approximately nine out of every ten hunters said they’d be willing to hunt in places that were poor for wildlife viewing or which lacked attractive scenery. That is, they said that they were willing to hunt in areas that would not have otherwise been able to reap an economic benefit from ecotourism.

It’s encouraging that trophy hunters seem willing to take conservation-related issues into consideration when choosing a tour operator, but it is possible that they were simply providing the researchers with the answers that would cast them in the best light. That’s a typical concern for assessments that rely on self-report. Better evidence would come from proof that hunting can be consistent with actual, measurable conservation-related benefits for a species.

Is there such evidence? According to a 2005 paper by Nigel Leader-Williams and colleagues in the Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy the answer is yes. Leader-Williams describes how the legalization of white rhinoceros hunting in South Africa motivated private landowners to reintroduce the species onto their lands. As a result, the country saw an increase in white rhinos from fewer than one hundred individuals to more than 11,000, even while a limited number were killed as trophies.

In a 2011 letter to Science magazine, Leader-Williams also pointed out that the implementation of controlled, legalized hunting was also beneficial for Zimbabwe’s elephants. “Implementing trophy hunting has doubled the area of the country under wildlife management relative to the 13% in state protected areas,” thanks to the inclusion of private lands, he says. “As a result, the area of suitable land available to elephants and other wildlife has increased, reversing the problem of habitat loss and helping to maintain a sustained population increase in Zimbabwe’s already large elephant population.” It is important to note, however, that the removal of mature elephant males can have other,detrimental consequences on the psychological development of younger males. And rhinos and elephants are very different animals, with different needs and behaviors.

Still, the elephants of Zimbabwe and the white rhinos of South Africa seem to suggest that it is possible for conservation and trophy hunting to coexist, at least in principle. It is indeed a tricky, but not impossible, balance to strike.

It is noteworthy that the Leader-Williams’ 2005 paper recommended that legal trophy hunting for black rhinos be focused mainly on older, non-breeding males, or on younger males who have already contributed sufficient genetic material to their breeding groups. They further suggested that revenues from the sale of permits be reinvested into conservation efforts, and that revenues could be maximized by selling permits through international auctions. Namibia’s own hunting policy, it turns out, is remarkably consistent with scientific recommendations.

Even so, some have expressed concern regarding what the larger message of sanctioned trophy hunts might be. Could the possible negative consequences from a PR perspective outweigh the possible benefits from hunting? Can the message that an auction for the hunting of an endangered species like the black rhino brings possibly be reconciled with the competing message that the species requires saving? This question is probably not one that science can adequately address.

However, it might just be worth having a quick look at some numbers. 745 rhinos were killed due to illegal poaching in 2012 in Africa, which amounts to approximately two rhinos each day, mostly for their horns. In South Africa alone, 461 rhinos were killed in just the first half of 2013. Rhino horns are valued for their medicinal uses and for their supposed cancer-curing powers. Of course, rhino horns have no pharmacological value at all, making their harvest even more tragic. The five non-breeding rhinos that Namibia allows to be hunted each year seem paltry in comparison, especially since they are older males who can no longer contribute to population growth.

I don’t understand the desire to kill a magnificent animal for sport, even if the individual is an older non-breeding male. The sale of the right to kill an animal for a trophy surely reflects the value that animal lives hold in at least some corners of our society: that killing an animal for fun isn’t wrong, as long as you can afford it. It is right to worry about the sort of message that sends.

But if an endangered species as charismatic as the black rhinoceros is under such extreme threat from poaching, then perhaps the message that the species needs saving has a larger problem to address than the relatively limited loss of animals to wealthy hunters. The real tragedy here is that the one rhino that will be killed as a result of Saturday’s auction has received a disproportionate amount of media attention compared to the hundreds of rhinos lost to poaching each year, which remain largely invisible. And while there remains at least a possibility that sanctioned trophy hunts can benefit the black rhino as they have for the white rhino, there is only one possible consequence of continued poaching. It’s one that conservationists and hunters alike will lament. – Jason G. Goldman | 15 January 2014

Sources: Leader-Williams N., Milledge S., Adcock K., Brooks M., Conway A., Knight M., Mainka S., Martin E.B. & Teferi T. (2005). Trophy Hunting of Black Rhino: Proposals to Ensure Its Future Sustainability,Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy, 8 (1) 1-11. DOI:

Lindsey P.A., Alexander R., Frank L.G., Mathieson A. & Romanach S.S. (2006). Potential of trophy hunting to create incentives for wildlife conservation in Africa where alternative wildlife-based land uses may not be viable, Animal Conservation, 9 (3) 283-291. DOI: 

Leader-Williams N. Elephant Hunting and Conservation, Science, 293(5538) 2203b-2204. DOI: 

Photo: Male black rhino and calf, Karl Stromayer/USFWS. Public domain.