Friday, March 26, 2010
Endangered Species Coalition
I've watched with pride this week as American negotiators attempted to strengthen protections for endangered species at the United Nations' Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Despite the United States' efforts, endangered species protections have been shot down at the CITES meeting in Doha these past two weeks.
The United States certainly deserves praise for introducing international proposals that would have provided protections not only for charismatic species like the Polar bear, but also for species such as Bluefin tuna, corals and sharks.
The United States' proposal would have banned the international commercial trade in polar bear parts and products. In 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. According to the White House report Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, " about two-thirds of the world's polar bears are projected to be gone by the middle of this century. It is projected that there will be no wild polar bears left in Alaska in 75 years." The polar bear is in critical need of national and international safeguards.
The international community also rejected protections for the Atlantic bluefin tuna, a remarkable animal, which can swim more than 50 miles per hour and can raise its body temperature above that of the surrounding ocean. Bluefin tuna is one of the world's most valuable fish species and is highly traded in international markets. The demand for international trade and resulting overfishing has driven Atlantic bluefin tuna to the edge of extinction.
The United States also supported protections for a number of sharks - the Oceanic whitetip, Dusky, Sandbar, Spurdog, Porbeagle and Scalloped, Smooth and Great hammerheads. Unfortunately, of these, only the Porbeagle shark proposal made it through the 15th Conference of the Parties of CITES.
These results are highly disappointing. And, if anything, they highlight the need for the United States to continue to be a strong advocate and protector of endangered species.
Historically, America has been a leader in endangered species protections. Our nation has one of the strongest laws in the world to protect endangered species and their habitat. Because of the Endangered Species Act, America is still blessed with bald eagles and peregrine falcons flying in our skies, gray wolves and grizzly bears in the wilderness, and whales and dolphins off our coast.
As a nation, we have made a sacred commitment that no species that shares our land will slip into extinction. And we have an incredible record as a nation of endangered species protection. According to the National Research Council, the Endangered Species Act has saved hundreds of species from extinction.
And while our record is comparatively strong, there is certainly more that we could be doing within our own borders. In particular, we have in recent years fallen short of our responsibilities to list and protect species under the Endangered Species Act. And, the Obama administration has yet to announce how it will address the growing backlog of hundreds of "candidate" species--identified as needing protections, but which haven't yet made it on to "the list." For more information, check out the Endangered Species Coalition's report Without a Net- Top Ten Wildlife, Fish and Plants in Need of Endangered Species Act Protection.
Listing is key, because the Act has saved more than 99% of listed species from extinction. (One scientific analysis showed that between 1973 and 2004, a total of 227 species would have likely gone extinct had they not been on the list.)
Although some nations opposed restricting trade in endangered species due to economic arguments, the protection of plants, wildlife and fish is a boon to economies across the globe, providing us with priceless benefits from supplying lifesaving drugs and clean drinking water to recreation and tourism. Hunting, fishing and wildlife watching create $108 billion in annual revenues, which would rank as the 7th largest corporation in America. These activities employ nearly as many people--2.6 million--as in the computer industry in the United States. And extinction of any endangered species is something the world just cannot afford.
56% of the top 150 most popular prescribed drugs are linked to discoveries of natural compounds in the wild, with an annual economic value of $80 billion. This could be the tip of the iceberg--less than one percent of all tropical plant species have been screened for potential pharmaceutical applications. At the current extinction rate, experts estimate that the Earth is losing one major drug every two years. A cure for cancer or AIDS may lie in a plant or animal waiting to be discovered.
While the United States suffered setbacks at CITES these past two weeks for polar bears, tuna, sharks, coral and many other species, it doesn't prevent us from being able to continue to take significant steps to protect wildlife, plants, birds, and fish. Endangered species protection has certainly been a place of high ground for the United States. Let's not cede that. We urge the parties at CITES to continue to pursue efforts to protect wildlife, birds, fish and plants on the brink of extinction. And we must continue strong protections for endangered species at home.
We owe it to our children and grandchildren to be good stewards of our shared planet and leave behind a legacy of protecting endangered species and the special places they call home.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Our great thanks to Liz VanDenzen of the Alaska Wilderness League for bringing this to our attention.
The NCAA's kick off right about now and you've probably filled out your brackets for your (completely legal) office pool already but here's some friendly input on who to root for if you have not. Of the 64 teams granted entry into the tournament, 24 owe their mascot in some way to the Endangered Species Act. They are:
Lehigh Mountain Hawks
Northern IA Panthers
Oakland Golden Grizzlies
Kansas State Wildcats
Morgan State Bears
Old Dominion Monarchs
Sam Houston Bearkats
North Texas Mean Green (Eagle)
I think I'll be rooting for the 9th seeded UNI Panthers, but may the best (species related) team win!
Friday, March 19, 2010
With one week to go until the 3-26 deadline to postmark entries to the Endangered Species Day Art Contest, we're excited to tell you about the prestigious judge's panel that is going to choose the winning entry. Panel members include Admiral Stephen Rochon, White House Chief Usher; Jeff Corwin, host of Animal Planet’s Jeff Corwin Experience; and Jack Hanna, host of Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild.
Also participating in judging the artwork entries will be prominent artists, including marine life artist Wyland, sculptor Tom Sachs, sculptor and painter Hope Atherton, painter Alex Rockman, and artist Tim Grosvenor. Several award winning photographers also sit on the judges panel, including Andrew Zuckerman, author of three photography books, Creature, Wisdom and Bird; David Liittschwager and Susan Middleton, authors of Witness: Endangered Species of North America; National Geographic Photographer Joel Sartore, who is releasing Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species; and Jason Houston, picture editor at Orion magazine.
“We are incredibly grateful to our magnificent judges,” said Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “It will be quite an honor for the contest winners to know that their work was selected by these distinguished artists and conservationists.”
The Endangered Species Day Art Contest provides young people with an opportunity to learn about endangered species and express their knowledge and support through artwork. The contest is organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Coalition, Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Ogden Museum of Southern Art/University of New Orleans.
“In its school programs, The Ogden Museum celebrates the relationship between a sense of place and art, so we are especially pleased to participate in this contest which encourages students to connect their art to nature and to the wonderfully varied animals we are in danger of losing,” stated Kate Barron, Education Coordinator at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
Endangered Species Day Art Contest Judges Panel:
Hope Atherton is a sculptor and painter. Her shamanistic sculpture was included in “American Bricolage” at New York City’s Sperone Westwater in 2000.
Jeff Corwin is the host of popular TV series and specials, including Animal Planet’s Jeff Corwin Experience and NBC’s Jeff Corwin Unleashed, which won an Emmy for Outstanding Host. In 2009, Jeff executive produced 100 Heartbeats for NBC, a documentary that investigated our planet’s endangered wildlife species and the conservation heroes trying to save them.
Jack Hanna is Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and a well-known conservationist, author, and TV personality. After 12 years hosting Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures, he launched his latest syndicated TV series, Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild, which received an Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Series. Jack has made countless TV appearances on shows such as Good Morning America, The Late Show with David Letterman, and Larry King Live.
Jason Houston is picture editor at Orion magazine, a nonprofit, award-winning periodical that examines the relationships between nature, culture, and place through an array of cultural lenses. Jason has also worked for nearly 20 years as a documentary photographer in a dozen countries.
Tim Grosvenor was born in Tananarive, Madagascar, and studied in England. In March he will show his work at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. In October 2009, Tim organized an event at the Zoo Zurich, which focused on protecting the rainforests of Madagascar.
David Liittschwager is a freelance photographer who, after working with Richard Avedon in New York in the eighties, left advertising to focus on portraiture and natural history. Now a regular contributor to National Geographic, Liittschwager has produced a number of books.
Susan Middleton has been photographing at-risk species since 1986, and her work, with collaborator David Liittschwager, is collected in four books. Middleton and Liittschwager were featured in an Emmy Award–winning National Geographic television special America’s Endangered Species: Don’t Say Goodbye.
Rear Admiral Stephen W. Rochon is the Director of the Executive Residence and White House Chief Usher. Admiral Rochon is a highly decorated military officer, and has earned three Legion of Merit medals. A New Orleans native, Admiral Rochon served as the Coast Guard's Director of Personnel Management in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricanes.
Alexis Rockman is an American artist known for his paintings depicting the precarious relationship between man and nature. His mural, “Manifest Destiny,” exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, offers a view of the Brooklyn waterfront after catastrophic climate change.
Tom Sachs is a sculptor, best known for his recreations of various modern icons, masterpieces of engineering and design. His works also include “Balaenoptera Musculus” (2006), a life-size reconstruction of an 18-metre-long blue whale exhibited at the Fondazione Prada in Milan.
Joel Sartore has been a photographer for National Geographic magazine for over two decades. He is co-founder of the Grassland Foundation and a founding member of the International League of Conservation Photographers. He has written several books, including Face to Face with Grizzlies and Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species.
Wyland is a marine life artist who has earned distinction as one of America’s most creative influences and is a leading advocate for marine resource conservation. He was hailed as a “marine Michelangelo” by USA Today, His successful Wyland Foundation is actively engaged in teaching students about our oceans, rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.
Andrew Zuckerman has published three photography books. Creature, a portrait series of animals, was released worldwide to critical acclaim. Wisdom is an ongoing project of portraits and interviews made with the support of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His latest book, Bird, a visual study of birds from the rarest to the most common, was released in October 2009.
For more complete biographies of the judges, please visit www.EndangeredSpeciesDay.org
Monday, March 15, 2010
Sea Turtle Restoration Project
The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) off the coast of California. Photo: Scott R. Benson, NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center
Endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles Off West Coast May Gain Critical Habitat Protections
The critically endangered Western Pacific leatherback sea turtles embark on an annual migration of over 6,000 miles each year to feed on dense aggregations of their favorite food, jellyfish. The largest of all sea turtles, leatherback have experienced a catastrophic 95% decline in their Pacific nesting populations over the last several decades due to constant threats of entanglement in commercial fishing gear, poaching of turtles and turtle eggs from nesting beaches, ingestion of plastics and pollutants, and habitat loss on tropical nesting beaches.
The endangered Western Pacific leatherback sea turtles that visit California, Oregon and Washington's coastal waters could gain long overdue habitat protections to prevent their extinction under a new government proposal. In response to years of actions by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project and its allies, the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a proposed rule to designate more than 70,000 square miles of critical habitat for Pacific leatherback sea turtles in the waters off the West Coast.
While the current NOAA proposal will advance protections for leatherbacks and their critical habitat, there are some major exclusions of important protections, and comments to support strengthening the current proposal are needed.
“Increasing protections in these coastal waters will help leatherbacks survive,” said Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, "But turning a blind eye to sea turtle capture in commercial fishing fleets, especially deadly longline and gillnet fisheries, in these critical areas is a major oversight.”
The impacts of commercial fishery operations, specifically longline and drift gillnet fisheries, and not identified in the current proposal, and major fault that must be corrected in the final rule. These fisheries are known to encounter, entangle, and land leatherbacks sea turtles resulting in disruption of their foraging, migration, and potentially resulting in injury and death. Comments to support strengthening the current proposal with protections from commercial fisheries are needed.
The protected area proposed by NOAA stretches from Northern Washington to Southern California, but excludes a large expanse of foraging and migratory areas between the Umpqua River in Central Oregon and Point Arena in Northern California, as well as offshore areas in the U.S Exclusive Economic Zone leatherbacks must swim through to reach the proposed areas. In addition, the area proposed is much smaller than the existing Leatherback Conservation Area, which totals 200,000 square miles along the coast, an area that is closed to gillnet fishing six months of the year to protect leatherbacks. The Leatherback Conservation Area and the timed fishery closure was achieved in March 2000 as a result of a lawsuit by Turtle Island Restoration Network and allies. Comments to support expanding critical habitat area in the current proposal are needed.
Designating critical habitat for the leatherbacks will strengthen protections for all pelagic species in the coastal ecosystem along the U.S. Pacific Coast. Protection of the foraging habitats and migratory corridors are essential to the recovery of this imperiled species. Leatherbacks are the largest of marine reptiles and grow up to nine feet long and weigh up to 1,200 pounds, have survived the extinction of the dinosaurs and persisted for over 100 million years. This iconic species, the last of its kind, can only survive with continued support for their protections and continued conservation.
The proposed critical habitat areas are colored and labeled 1, 2, and 7 and many areas that are vital migration routes and feeding areas are excluded from the current proposal. Map NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center
To learn more please visit the Sea Turtle Restoration Project web site, http://www.seaturtles.org
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
By Francesca T. Grifo, Ph.D.
Director, Scientific Integrity Program
Union of Concerned Scientists
For 23 years, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) served as Congress’s “on-call” source for trustworthy scientific and technological information. OTA authored over 700 reports on issues from Alzheimer’s disease to acid rain, including groundbreaking research on biodiversity and invasive species.
In 1995 the OTA closed its doors, the victim of budget cuts that saved the federal government a little more than $20 million annually. Since it was defunded, Congress has permitted billions of dollars to be spent on technology from “virtual” border fences to combat ships that are over budget and do not work as promised. The money OTA saved taxpayers was many times over what it cost to operate.
OTA—while designed to serve the needs of Congress—in reality served the needs of our nation. The U.S. is facing increasingly complex challenges. We at the Union of Concerned Scientists believe that it is time to take the first steps to re-start OTA to address the pressing needs of the 21st Century. An OTA today could for example assess climate change adaptation technologies or examine the criteria for determining jeopardy.
Last week, I testified at a hearing to tell Congress that OTA represents a small investment with a guaranteed payoff: less government waste and a more responsible Congress. Members of Congress certainly do not lack for input, but in many situations they do lack credible and nonpartisan information that is structured in a way they can easily use. OTA was uniquely structured to provide credible information and help Congress understand the risks and implications of policy options.
The OTA authorizing legislation is still on the books, it simply needs funding to re-open its doors. Many believe that only grassroots support will bring it back, so we’re seeking the support of scientists and non-scientists as well as nonprofit organizations. To read my testimony, and to learn more about how you can help restore the OTA, visit www.ucsusa.org/ota.