This Monday I attended the August meeting of the National Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking on behalf of Tigers for Tigers. The Advisory Council was formed as a result of President Obama’s 2013 Executive Order on combatting wildlife trafficking. The Council reports to the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking to provide them with guidance and assistance in implementing the United States’ National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking. You can read more about the President’s executive order here.
At the August meeting, Council members heard updates and reports from the Department of Justice, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and State Department. In addition, individual Council members spoke on issues relating to the upcoming CITES meetings this next year and on the newly formed US Wildlife Trafficking Alliance.
The first person to present was John Cruden, Assistant Attorney General for Environmental and Natural Resources at the Department of Justice. He spoke on the progress the Justice Department is making both here in the US and abroad in the fight against wildlife trafficking. Some highlights included the successful conviction earlier this year of a Florida auction house owner found guilty of trafficking and trading rhino horn, elephant ivory, and coral. He was sentenced to 3 years in jail and fined $1.5 million for violating the Lacey Act. Cruden also discussed plans for the 1st Federal Prosecutorial Training in Zambia this October to educate African lawyers how to effectively prosecute wildlife crimes after criminals are apprehended in their countries.
Christine Dawson works for the Office of Conservation and Water for the State Department. The State Department is the federal executive department responsible for US international relations and is involved in conservation work in many countries around the world. She stressed that a strong judicial system to prosecute these wildlife criminals is impossible without a vibrant, robust civil society. Without mentioning specifics, she declared that the State Department is working with Chinese officials to encourage them to make a “strong announcement” during President Xi’s visit later next month.
Craig Hoover spoke on behalf of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) with regard to their proposed final rule on a near-total ban on trade in elephant ivory. This final rule will impose stricter regulations on interstate sale of ivory and on imports and exports. This is an important step in addressing the United States’ role in the illegal wildlife trade, and sends a message to the rest of the world that we are taking the global poaching crisis very seriously. The rule is open to public comments until September 28th, so click here to learn more about the changes included in the rule and to tell the USFWS that you support their rule on elephant ivory!
David Hayes, Vice-Chair of the Council, concluded the meeting by discussing the newly formed US Wildlife Trafficking Alliance. This alliance will emphasize public-private partnership to address the United States’ role in wildlife trafficking. Membership will be comprised of corporations and NGOs working together to implement best practices ensuring illegal wildlife products do not end up in the supply chain of US companies. This will be compounded by efforts to spread awareness to the American public and change consumer habits.
The final item on the agenda for the meeting was reserved for the public comments to the Council. I had the opportunity to speak on behalf of Tigers for Tigers, and used my allotted two minutes to congratulate the work of the USFWS on their elephant ivory rule and express our desire for tigers to become a priority in the global conservation conversation.
It is an exciting time for conservation in DC. Thanks to the President’s Executive Order, the illegal wildlife trade and global conservation have received more attention from the government than ever before. Conservation legislation in Congress, interagency collaboration, public and private partnerships such as the newly formed Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, and increased public awareness are all important steps in ensuring the continued survival of endangered wildlife, such as our shared mascot, the tiger.