4 December 2012

Africa: Conservation Matters

editorial

Kerri Ann Jones, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs — Conservation is a deep-seated American value. On land and at sea, our nation has a long and proud history of working to conserve the natural environment, particularly the extraordinary wildlife that inhabits this country with us. We have also long led international efforts with other nations and organizations to conserve natural resources and protect terrestrial and marine wildlife worldwide.

This is not a new issue for the U.S. Department of State, which has promoted wildlife conservation through cooperation with other nations, from the first international agreements on migratory birds and marine mammals to the host of global partnerships in which we are involved today.

Today, we are witnessing one of the most dire threats to our wildlife resources that the global community has ever faced: wildlife crime is reaching epic proportions. Illegal taking of our wildlife is reaching epic proportions, threatening the very survival of such iconic species as elephants, rhinos and tigers.

Illegal wildlife trade also threatens the security of nations and regions. It leads to insecurity and instability: armed poachers cross national borders undetected with heavy weaponry and are willing to harm anyone or anything that comes between them and their illegal sales, costing the lives of park rangers and threatening whole communities. It undermines their economic development, and contributes to the spread of disease and the degradation of vital ecosystems. This is why Secretary Clinton hosted a top-level discussion, bringing together political and civil society leaders from around the globe, to place wildlife conservation and trafficking firmly on the foreign policy and security agenda. The Department of State has committed to the Conservation Matters Strategy with a four-pillar approach to conservation, 1) catalyzing political will; 2) engaging in public diplomacy and outreach; 3) identifying training and technology needs; and 4) building on existing partnerships and initiating new cooperation to improve enforcement capacity and reduce consumer demand.

Make no mistake -- killing protected wildlife is a crime. Selling illegally taken wildlife is a crime.

We also face similar challenges with respect to marine species. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing diverts from $10 billion-$23 billion each year from legitimate fisheries and threatens food security and economic development in some of the world's poorest regions. Wasteful practices like shark finning and destructive fishing methods drive additional species toward extinction and threaten the health of ocean ecosystems.

The United States has long championed international regimes to identify and penalize IUU vessels, limit port and market access by States that fail to curb IUU fishing, and provide strong monitoring, control, and surveillance of all fisheries. But everyone -- governments, harvesters, traders, even recreational anglers -- must agree to play by these rules. We need to press forward on these efforts.

Marine protected areas are an increasingly important tool to combat unsustainable harvest and protect the marine environment. At the Pacific Islands Forum in August, Secretary Clinton announced our intention to work with Kiribati to facilitate the protection, preservation, and management of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument of the U.S. and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area of Kiribati. Just last month, the United States and New Zealand joined forces to propose the world's largest marine protected area -- in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. The Ross Sea is widely considered to be one of the last great ocean wilderness areas on the planet and is home to a unique assemblage of species found nowhere else on Earth, including over one quarter of the world's Emperor penguins.

We need to act. We are seeing criminal networks trafficking weapons, drugs and people, as well as ivory, rhino horns and illegally taken fish through a complex web of suppliers and clients.

This cannot be the responsibility of the conservation community alone. We must involve our law enforcement personnel and our trade and finance experts to mold a broad-based response. Nor can this threat be addressed solely by governments. The active engagement of civil society -- NGOs, businesses, scientists, youth, academics -- is essential if we are to build the coalitions that can effectively counter this growing threat.

As Secretary Clinton said on November 8th, "This is a global issue, and it calls, therefore, for a concerted global response." We collectively share a political and economic responsibility to be good stewards of our planet. We cannot allow a greedy few to steal these treasures from future generations. We must act now. Take the pledge to respect and protect our natural heritage at www.wildlifepledge.org.

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