Saving Endangered Turtles in Fiji: Implementation Challenges of Wildlife Conservation Exemplified. A New York Times article by Serena Solomon illustrates the challenges faced in attempting to implement bans on consumption of a threatened species, in this case, turtles such as the hawksbill, in Fiji. The Fiji government imposed a temporary ban in 1995 and now is nearing the end of another 1o-year “moratorium” on consumption of threatened turtles. Solomon notes that Fiji is composed of 300 islands and that the success of the moratorium depends on individual communities. Turtles have always been used in “major events” like “a chief’s funeral” but became part of the regular diet of Fijans. In addition to human consumption, climate change also threatens the turtles as well as the use of motorized boats which make it easier to capture the turtles. Solomon says some communities ignore the moratorium and the ban is enforced “only sporadically” with few jailed due to violations along with the fact that punishments are not very strong. The endorsement of the local chief is key to whether the ban is adhered to by local communities and Solomon notes that if locals don’t support the ban, it is not followed especially in remote areas. The Fiji ban also illustrates the importance of NGOs as the World Wildlife Fund has funded “monitors” such as paying for their expenses to tag turtles and other monitoring activities. However, WWF funding stopped in 2014 so monitoring now depends on true commitment since they have to pay their own costs. In short, Fiji turtle preservation efforts share the same implementation problems and constraints that we see in developed countries such as the challenges faced by USFWS and BLM in trying to protect tortoises and other species in U.S. western states where they have been challenged by people such as the Bundys as described in my Wildlife Politics book. Check out Serena Solomon’s article at http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/02/world/asia/on-a-fijian-island-hunters-become-conservators-of-endangered-turtles.html?emc=edit_tnt_20170102&nlid=10365419&tntemail0=y
Charismatic Species and the Endangered Species Act & the Secret to becoming a Charismatic Animal: Have humans name you!
Charismatic Species and the Endangered Species Act & the Secret to becoming a Charismatic Animal: Have humans name you! Emma Maris wrote in High Country News http://www.hcn.org/external_files/digitaledition/49-01.pdf about how a Oregon wolf became famous due to its journeys take took him into California for a while and thus became the first known wolf in the state since the 1920s. He had been radio-collared in Oregon so that is how they were able to trace him. He had been assigned the name OR7 when collared but became known as “Journey.” According to Marris, he has become an inspiration to many and has been a subject of documentaries and a children’s book. Marris goes on to point out how much effort has gone into tracking the wolf by a USFWS biologist, John Stephenson, who she quotes as saying “You get attached,” he says. “We all do.” OR7 is a celebrity, and no doubt the Fish and Wildlife Service will go the extra mile to enable him to live out his life and die a wild wolf’s death, perhaps after getting kicked by an elk or starving to death in a bad winter.” Marris goes on to cite other examples of wildlife who have become famous and been “named” such as a sea otter “Mr. Enchilada” whose death due to a car led to the installation of speed bumps in the area. Moreover, she points out that environmental groups have long known about the importance of people’s identification with individual animals and used this in appeals for money even though is the survival of the species rather than individuals that should be their primary goal. Indeed, wildlife conservation efforts have for a long time tended to concentrate on charismatic animals because their appeal to humans makes the issue of conservation politically salient—more powerful for most than the abstract concept of biodiversity. The hope among conservationists is that efforts to preserve the charismatic will assist other unglamorous species and thus overall biodiversity. There is the hope that humans will become more knowledgeable about biodiversity and realize the importance of preserving all fora and fauna—I have seen a least one reference that I cite in my Wildlife Politics book that suggests this might be occurring though I don’t find this evidence convincing yet. For now, human identification with charismatic species appears to be the main vehicle for our hope that attacks on the Endangered Species Act can be beaten.
An example of a Policy Cycle: Too many or too few elk? One of the points I make in my Wildlife Politics book is how goals of society can change entirely in direction through time. A good example concerns elk. One of the major reasons for hunters dislike for wolves and grizzlies is the contention that they take too many game so they are reducing the population of game for hunters. (A related but different point is that the existence of these wildlife predators make the game more wary and thus harder for hunters to shoot regardless of whether their numbers are reduced or not). It is interesting to note that the State of Montana is now trying to deal with an OVERABUNDANCE OF ELK! Indeed, they cite the growing numbers of elk from 65,000 in 1990 to 160,000 in 2015 DESPITE the reintroduction of WOLVES! According to an article by Eve Byron in High Country News, hunting of elk has not kept up with the increasing numbers, many people prefer to WATCH elk and other wildlife rather than SHOOT them. One other significant factor cited by Byron is that elk seek out ‘SAFE HAVENS” where they won’t be shot and they are “sensitive to predation” (which shows some intelligence on their part!) Another factor concerns the “warmer-than-average winters” that have characterized the last 30 years. Overall, the article reinforces the complexity of causation of changes in game populations—they are affected by many factors including climate. However, when "shortages" of game animals occur, hunters and "game managers" focus entirely on predators such as wolves. The key from public policy perspective is how goals can change direction entirely. It also helps to destroy the arguments about how wolves are a major factor behind the lowering of game numbers. The article by Byron is available at: http://www.hcn.org/issues/49.3/montana-game-managers-try-to-outsmart-elk
To make the story even more curious and potent, neighboring state Idaho is still trying to boost elk numbers and, of course, blaming wolves so they plan to kill them. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) installed on 60 elk and four wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. They plan on killing 60 percent of the wolf population to inflate elk game numbers. See the following article: Preso, Tim. IDFG wolf collaring operation was outside management mainstream. Idaho Statesman, February 6. Accessed 2/7/17 from http://www.idahostatesman.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article131167419.html
Has Babbitt’s Train wreck finally arrived at the station? Bruce Babbitt was the Secretary of the Interior during the Clinton Administration. Overall, he was supportive of wildlife conservation. However, he was also worried about moving too fast in protecting endangered species because he thought that enraged western interests such as ranchers and extractive industries and their political representatives in Congress would attack and repeal or pass changes that would emasculate the Endangered Species Act. Thus Babbitt took actions to slow or weaken enforcement of endangered species protections such as asking a Republican Senator to restrict funding for critical habitat and imposed a “moratorium” on listings because being too aggressive with the ESA “would rub important people the wrong way.” (Note: for a good account of this, read David Knibb’s excellent book, Grizzly Wars: The Public Fight Over the Great Bear, 2008, Eastern University Press). In one interview, Babbitt even said that being too aggressive with the ESA would lead to the “repeal of it” and this this repeal would be justified. Despite Babbitt’s warnings and many Republican attempts to modify these ESA (e.g., impose cost benefit economic considerations that would limit listings), many groups such as the Center for Biodiversity and others pushed the USFWS to act. The USFWS moved during the Clinton Administration and all Administrations since (including the Obama Administration) to emphasize compromises between “stakeholders” such as ranchers, extractive industries, developers, and environmentalists through habitat conservation and other compromise devices. This approach has achieved many successes most notably a major compromise over the sage-grouse during the final year of the Obama Administration in which several Federal and state agencies came to a compromise covering hundreds of thousands of acres to protect the bird with a compromise that most accepted.
One could argue that this compromise approach could answer Babbitt’s concern about protecting the ESA from opponents through being overly aggressive. However, there is strong evidence that with the advent of the Trump Administration and Republican dominance of both chambers that despite the emphasis on compromise such as habitat conservation plans, that Republicans are determined to emasculate the ESA and have already taken steps to do so as documented in my other posts below. They would undercut the sage-grouse compromise despite the huge multi-year effort to forge this compromise and are planning to prepare revisions to the law so that states will have the say and economic costs can be justified as reasons to not list species—even though the rejection of cost as a reason for not protecting wildlife was at the heart of the original Endangered Species Act. The question that I struggle with is: if environmental groups and USFWS had been significantly less aggressive in their actions over the past 44 years, would the impending “train wreck” not have occurred? I cannot, of course, say for certain but I tend to doubt it. It seems to me that those who oppose the Act cannot tolerate the idea of putting interests of any important group (from their perspective this means landowners, ranchers, developers, and extractive industries) second to that of wildlife. They are outraged that they have to even to through a process where wildlife interests impose delays much less stoppage of their interests. This is my view and I welcome comments on this issue.
The Media and the attack on the Endangered Species Act: Need to Act Now
We need to encourage the media, senators, and representatives to let the American people know how the Republicans are about to destroy the Endangered Species Act and protections for wildlife such as wolves, grizzlies, sage-grouse and other species. So far, these developments have gone UNREPORTED by the major media. People concerned about wildlife conservation need to contact their senators, representatives and major media to ask them to cover these issues. One means to do this would be a filibuster by senators—that would draw attention from the media.
Republicans are preparing to pass legislation that will undermine the Endangered Species Act. They have passed a bill in the House to take away protections from the sage-grouse that were established after years of negotiation between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the various states involved. They are moving to take away protections from the gray wolf and are moving to allow wolves and bears to be slaughtered in Alaskan National Wildlife Refuges.
These species are fragile and surveys show that the public very much supports the Endangered Species Act and species such as wolves and bears but they are unaware of these impending events because news organizations like yours have not reported them.
A filibuster of these issues would bring them to the attention of the American public—the overwhelming majority of the public opposes these efforts—so far they have been flying under the radar due to a lack of media coverage of them—the focus has all been on Russians and national security issues.
You can check out what is happening at the following sites:
The Beginning of the End for the Endangered Species Act & species like the Sage-Grouse?
The Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) reports that both the House and Senate have “introduced legislation” that will allow governors to override Federal sage-grouse management plans that were negotiated between the USFWS and several states and replace them with the state’s own plans. The state plans would be much less restrictive concerning threats to the sage-grouse from threats like extractive industries. The proposal would also “not allow the USFWS to reconsider its decision to list the bird under the ESA” for an additional 10 years. Of course, the negotiation between the Federal and state governments resulted in the decision NOT to list the sage-grouse because of the Federal-state agreements. But now, even if sage-grouse population dips greatly, the USFWS will not be able to list it. The inability to list a species takes away the major incentive that any interested party such as oil and gas companies and ranchers to negotiate with the USFWS for protections. For those interested in wildlife conservation, the passage of these bills would be a disaster. The WMI report is available at: https://wildlifemanagement.institute/brief/february-2017/house-votes-stop-blm-planning-rule
More bad news: Brian Palmer on the Audubon website reports that a bill proposed by “Rep. Pete Olson [R-TX], would remove the 12-month deadline for making listing decisions, allowing officials to let petitions fester for years. It would also give the Interior or Commerce Departments the power to reject a listing because of economic fallout.” His article is available at: http://www.audubon.org/news/the-endangered-species-act-under-attack-how-much-trouble-it?ms=digital-eng-email-ea-newsletter-20170216_feb_wingspan&utm_source=ea&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20170216_feb_wingspan
There is lots of evidence that overall the American public supports wildlife conservation but it is not a highly visible issue to the majority. It will be the task of conservation organizations through whatever means including media messages and ads to increase the visibility of this issue and make it a salient issue so that the senators and representatives cannot ignore the views of the majority in favor of the small number of beneficiaries of these anti-conservation moves.
Tourism versus Biodiversity? Case of Coral Reefs in Dominican Republic: One of the positive hopes of people interested in wildlife conservation is that humans through tourism will become interested in preserving the wildlife diversity that they travel, in part, to enjoy. However, there is increasing evidence that tourism as related impacts of humans can be harmful. A recent article by Erin Eastwood et al. in Ocean & Coastal Management journal reports that the “Miches area” reefs are suffering from “coral bleaching, disease prevalence” and other evidence of human impacts such as “low abundances of fishery-targeted species, high prevalence of diseased coral, anchor damage at nearly every site, and high abundances of indicator species for nutrient-based pollution such as fertilizers and raw sewage.” The authors report that this area is “on the verge of a tourism boom” with a new highway being completed and its main 4 risks are: “overfishing, land-based pollution, human-related structural damage, and coral bleaching.” To prevent further deterioration, the authors state that the area needs “strong fisheries regulation” and “consistent monitoring.” Perhaps those with financial interests in tourism will realize that it is in their self-interest to undertake these preventive measures but this author’s views of similar developments elsewhere (e.g., Mexico) suggest that the needed steps are not likely to be undertaken. Thus it remains an open question to me whether tourism, even if supposedly “ecological” in nature, is overall harmful or helpful to wildlife protection. It might be argued that without tourism, the areas will be eventually exploited by humans with even less concern for wildlife. We need to study of the true impacts of tourism on wildlife on coral reefs or wherever they exist.
Pollutants Don’t Go Away: Why the new conservationists are wrong. One of the themes of the “new conservationist” movement headed by Peter Kareiva and Emma Marris is that nature is self-healing and the effects of contaminants from man-made disasters and poisoning (e.g., nuclear tests) vanish through time. However, research by Alan Jamieson and others published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution found that industrial pollutants have reached the “deepest corners” of the ocean that are not directly contacted by humans. These are chemicals “that haven’t been produced for decades” but do not naturally decay. The researchers said they were surprised by “how badly contaminated” the deep ocean animals were. It is not known exactly how the pollutants reached the ocean but the researchers suspect that it was from leaks from landfills and contamination from the atmosphere. You can read Ellie Kincaid’s Wall Street Journal article about this at https://www.wsj.com/articles/industrial-pollutants-found-in-the-deepest-corners-of-the-ocean-1487001600 The full article is available at the journal’s website: http://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-016-0051
Why wildlife lose out in politics: Gillnets and Fishing Industry versus dolphins: Two dolphins, one in New Zealand and the other in Mexico, are threatened by the use of gillnets used by the fishing industry. Christopher Pala of New Zealand recently reported in Science Magazine (Feb. 10, 2017, vol. 355, Issues #6325, p. 559) that the Maui dolphin that lives on the coasts of New Zealand is extremely threatened with the latest count estimated to be 69 in existence. One of the major threats to it are gillnets used by fishing trawlers. New Zealand has partially responded by banning the use of the nets in 1600 square miles of coastal waters but this only represents about 5% of the dolphins total habitat. Environmentalists such as Greenpeace New Zealand have asked the ban to be extended to the dolphin’s entire habitat but the government has refused to do so due to reluctance to hurt the fishing industry.
In Mexico, the vaquita is the small porpoise that is threatened. The latest estimated count of vaquita is down to 30 from 60 for the previous year. The gillnets are used by fishers to catch the totoaba—a fish that has a bladder that is sold in the black market in China. Though there is a gillnet ban in Mexico, according to Virginia Morell (Science Magazine, Feb. 10, 2017, vol. 355, #6325, p. 558), the ban is not well-enforced and fishers don’t use gillnets that have escapes for the dolphin. The situation is so dismal for the porpoise that teams are now preparing to capture vaquita for captive breeding to prevent the total extermination of the species.
Taken together, these two cases illustrate how human interests and needs for fish and global markets create crises and also how official bans and laws aimed at protecting wildlife often are not enforced. If the beneficiaries of the laws were human, then there is a greater likelihood that failed or weak enforcement would be noticed. These weaknesses again show why the long-term survival of species is pessimistic—wildlife are likely to be the losers in competitive politics of who gets what when how.
Institutionalism: Why wildlife conservation loses in legislatures despite support from majorities of general populace
Bravemder, Robin. Cheney wants to wage war on regulations. Wyofile, February 11. Accessed 2/14/17 from http://www.wyofile.com/cheney-wants-wage-war-regulations/
Institutionalism: Why wildlife conservation loses in legislatures despite support from majorities of general populace: The case of Liz Cheney, former Vice President Cheney’s daughter who has just become the lone Wyoming U.S. representative in Congress illustrates how anti-environmentalists dominate decision-making in Congress (and this same principle applies to state legislatures too). Cheney has secured a seat on the House Natural Resources Committee—this is a seat that conservative Westerners actively seek while liberals and moderates from other parts of the country are generally uninterested. Because the Committee oversees organizations like the Bureau of Land Management that controls western lands, it makes some sense that westerns would be especially interested in sitting on this committee compared to representatives from other areas of the U.S. However, the impact of these choices assures that this institution, the House Natural Resources Committee, is usually dominated by conservatives who are against wildlife conservation. For example, in her first few weeks, Cheney has already sponsored a bill to remove protections from the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act and vows to fight “power grabs” by the Bureau of Land Management. The only good news for conservationists is that hunters from her own state have voiced opposition to a bill that she supports that would lead to the transfer of Federal lands to states. Thus it is important that those interested in wildlife conservation from other parts of the country seek out seats on this committee. In the past, liberals such as former Rep. George Miller of California have played an important role on this committee and helped to protect the Endangered Species Act. Likewise, former Rep. Jon Dingell of Michigan played a key role for many years in protecting species such as against poisoning by the Federal agency that targeted wolves and other "varmints" for killing. Thus it is important for representatives and senators from non-western areas of this country to get on key committees affecting wildlife and act to protect them because their constituents consider these to be important issues and, if they don't, the narrow interests of ranchers, hunters, and extractive industries will dominate wildlife politics to the detriment of many species that we need to protect. Check out the article by Robin Bravemder in Wyofile on Cheney: http://www.wyofile.com/cheney-wants-wage-war-regulations/
I have just completed a book titled "Wildlife Politics" that is scheduled to be published by Cambridge University Press on March 30, 2017. The book covers broadly all major aspects of wildlife conservation policy worldwide. During my research for the book, I noticed that there was no blog available for sharing informaton on wildlife conservation and thus I set up this blog to accomplish this purpose. Please share any informaticoncerning issues related to wildife policy and politics. I welcome feedback from users concerning this blog and website.