White House plan would ramp up trafficking enforcement

By Corbin Hiar | 02/11/2015 01:13 PM EST

To ramp up the fight against wildlife trafficking, the Obama administration today rolled out a new defense plan mainly focused on increasing U.S. and global enforcement efforts.

The three-pronged implementation plan for the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking also aims to reduce demand for endangered species and products made from them as well as to increase international cooperation to address the growing challenge. The strategy to reduce the multibillion-dollar illicit market was announced by the White House last year (E&ENews PM, Feb. 11, 2014).

"Poaching and illegal trade in wildlife have long been a threat to species ranging from elephants to tigers, but they have escalated into an international crisis in the past decade as demand has grown and organized crime has discovered how lucrative this trade can be," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. The departments of the Interior, Justice and State co-chaired the President’s Task Force on Combating Wildlife Trafficking, a 17-agency group that produced the plan.

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"We have reached a pivotal moment where we must take effective action or risk seeing iconic species go extinct in the wild," Jewell added.

The 30-page bullet-pointed plan includes specific objectives, next steps and ways to measure the strategy’s progress. Fully half of the document is devoted to efforts to increase enforcement.

Some of the notable enforcement objectives include working with Congress to increase penalties for wildlife trafficking and to direct proceeds from the illegal trade into additional enforcement. The plan specifically highlighted S. 27, a bipartisan bill to prosecute wildlife trafficking under federal racketeering and money laundering statutes (Greenwire, Jan. 7).

The task force also called for tightening prohibitions on the trade of elephant ivory. Specific next steps include eliminating the administrative exceptions to the 1989 African Elephant Conservation Act moratorium to prohibiting commercial import of antique ivory, clarifying the definition of what qualifies as an antique and limiting the number of sport-hunted elephant trophies an individual can import.

Some lawmakers and interest groups, however, are seeking to roll back the virtual ban on the ivory trade, which was announced in February 2014 at the same time as the broader anti-trafficking strategy (E&E Daily, Feb. 5).

Furthermore, training to support the interdiction and investigation of wildlife trafficking should be added to the core curriculum of FBI legal attachés, Drug Enforcement Administration agents and other "relevant federal personnel deployed abroad," the plan says.

The task force aims to reduce demand by launching education and advertising campaigns about the impact of wildlife trafficking both at home and abroad. The administration also will seek to work with religious and faith leaders on the initiative.

To increase international cooperation in the fight against illegal trade in rare plants and animals, the plan primarily calls for raising the issue with China and including "meaningful commitments to combat wildlife trafficking in new [free trade agreements] including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership."

Technology could provide another way to promote cooperation, the task force said. It said the U.S. Agency for International Development should launch a "Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge" that would offer "awards to the most creative, innovative, and promising science and technology solutions to wildlife crime, and put the winning innovations into the hands of individuals and institutions that will put them to good use."

Finally, the task force emphasized that the document released today is just a start.

"The plan to implement the strategy will be informed by the breadth of the wildlife trafficking crisis, which continues to grow at an alarming rate," it said.

Conservation groups were quick to praise the new plan. Wildlife Conservation Society President and CEO Cristián Samper said in a statement that it represents "an unprecedented commitment from the United States government to curb wildlife trafficking, an ever-increasing threat to our world’s wildlife, and to global, regional and local security."

"We applaud the president’s leadership and are optimistic that this strategy will bring real results in efforts to address this transnational organized crime — helping to prevent the extinction of a large array of species from the elephant, to the tiger, to the sea turtle, to the tarantula," said Samper, who served on an advisory council to the task force. "Our world’s wildlife has a new reason for hope."

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