Wednesday, May 30, 2007

U.S. to support conservation of tigers, other wildlife at CITES

The United States will continue to support strong conservation measures and international trade protections for tigers, elephants and whales at the upcoming 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in The Hague, Netherlands, June 3 to 15.

Meanwhile, the United States is proposing new restrictions on international trade in sawfish and pink and red coral, while asking the conference to lift trade restrictions on bobcat, a species that is abundant throughout its range, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Todd Willens, the head of the U.S. delegation.

The United States will also work closely with European nations to determine if two shark species - the spiny dogfish and the porbeagle - require CITES protection. The U.S. delegation also will hold consultations with range countries and other nations before deciding whether to support proposals to list several Central and South American timber species.

CITES is an international agreement signed by 171 nations that is designed to control and regulate global trade in certain wild animals and plants that are or may become threatened with extinction due to commercial trade.

"CITES has proven to be a powerful tool to prevent the extinction of species such as tigers, elephants and whales and we intend to work with other countries to support the continued protection and conservation of these species," Willens said.

The United States will publish its tentative negotiating positions for the conference in the Federal Register before the start of the conference. However, as often has been the case in the past, the United States has not yet taken final positions on many proposals on the agenda because of the desire to hold discussions with and work with range states and other parties during the conference.

"As the top importer of wildlife, plants, and their products, the United States has both a significant stake and a significant role in decisions made under CITES," Willens said. "In the past, we have played an important role in bringing countries to the table to develop proposals that protect species while promoting conservation in range countries. We intend to continue that tradition at the upcoming Conference of the Parties."

A CITES-regulated species may be included in one of three appendices to the Convention:

Appendix I includes species for which it is determined that any commercial trade is detrimental to the survival of the species. Therefore, no commercial trade is allowed in Appendix-I species. Non-commercial trade in such species is allowed if it does not jeopardize the species' survival in the wild. Permits are required for the exportation and importation of Appendix-I species.

Appendix II includes species for which it has been determined that commercial trade may be detrimental to the survival of the species if that trade is not strictly controlled. Trade in these species is regulated through the use of export permits.

Appendix III includes species listed by a range country that requires the assistance of other parties to ensure that exports of their native species are legal. Permits are used to control and monitor trade in native species. Any CITES Party may place a native species in Appendix III.

Any listing of a species in either Appendix I or II requires approval by two-thirds of the CITES party countries that vote on the proposal.

Major issues and resolutions to be discussed at the upcoming conference include:

Tigers: The United States has long been at the forefront of promoting the conservation of tigers. There are no listing proposals related to tigers on the agenda at the conference, but there will be a discussion of the problem of illegal trade in tigers and other Asian wild cats. The United States is concerned about reports that China may soon lift its domestic ban on trade in tigers and tiger parts. This would promote the spread of tiger farms, which the United States believes would provide a cover for trade in illegally poached tigers. At the upcoming conference, the United States will strongly encourage China to retain its domestic ban and will discuss ways of improving cooperative law enforcement efforts with India and other range countries.

Elephants: Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa are included in a proposal to establish annual quotas for export of raw ivory from elephants that have died of natural causes or have been culled as part of managing herds. The funds raised by these sales would be used to support elephant conservation. In addition, even if the proposal for all four countries is not approved, Botswana is asking for permission for annual sales of up to eight tons of ivory per year, plus sale of hides, leather goods, and live elephants for commercial purposes.

The United States has not supported annual export quotas in the past. However, it did support a one-time sale of ivory from Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa at the 12th Conference of the Parties 2002 when specific conditions were met. Those conditions, which included the establishment of an international monitoring system for elephant populations and controls in importing countries to prevent the re-export of ivory, have not yet been met and the sale has not taken place, although it may finally be approved at a meeting of the CITES Standing Committee which takes place just before the start of the Conference of the Parties.

The United States has not taken a formal position on the proposals but is concerned that the pending one-time sale be held and its impact on elephant populations determined before any other sales are approved. The United States also is concerned about the inclusion of Zimbabwe in the proposal because of reports of poaching and lack of protection for elephants in that country.

"We will be paying close attention in the meeting of the African elephant range states that will take place before the Conference of the Parties," Willens said. "We want to work closely with range states to come up with the right course of action for the elephants."

The United States also will emphasize the conservation of Asian elephants, which are threatened by poaching and illegal trade, Willens said.

"We will work to ensure that Asian elephants are considered during the discussion of a number of issues on the conference agenda, including poaching of elephants and trade in ivory, the need for enhanced law enforcement, and the importance of better compliance with CITES requirements for trade control and reporting of illegal activities," he said.

Whales: While there are no proposals related to delisting of whales on the agenda, the United States is committed to supporting the International Whaling Commission's current moratorium on commercial whaling, which is also supported by many other countries. Japan has proposed a new CITES review which it hopes will eventually lead to delisting of whales. The United States will also be paying close attention to a report from the International Whaling Commission on the results of its annual meeting, which takes place in Alaska just before the CITES Conference.

Sharks: Germany, on behalf of the European Union, has proposed to list the spiny dogfish and the porbeagle under Appendix II. Both species are harvested for food. The spiny dogfish is a primary source for the fish in "fish and chips." The United States is concerned that a CITES listing might have an undo impact on commercial fishing on the Atlantic coast, where populations of both fish are managed by the federal government and the states and currently are healthy. Populations in the north-eastern Atlantic do not have a management plan and have been significantly reduced by over-harvest.

"The United States has long been a strong advocate of shark conservation. However, we are concerned that a CITES listing for spiny dogfish and porbeagle would impose a paperwork burden for our fishermen while not guaranteeing that European nations would begin to properly manage populations off their shores, which is what is needed if range states are genuine about helping the species recover in the northeast Atlantic," Willens said. "We intend to hold discussions with the European Union countries on the issue during the conference."

Sawfish and pink and red corals: The United States is proposing to list sawfishes under Appendix I. These species have been over-harvested for both their rostra, or saw, and their fins. It is already illegal to land sawfishes on all U.S. coasts under the Endangered Species Act.

The United States also is proposing to list 26 species of pink and red corals under Appendix II. The United States is the leading importer of these corals, which are being over-harvested in many places. The listing will allow for better monitoring of commercial trade to ensure that it is sustainable and does not cause the species to become extinct.

Bobcat: The United States is proposing to remove the bobcat from Appendix II. The species is healthy throughout its range and is only listed because of the similarity of its appearance to other listed species such as lynx. The United States decided to propose the delisting after studies showed that the ready differentiation of bobcat skins in the international fur market was, in fact, possible because the majority of trade involves full skins, including the cats' distinctive markings.

Timber: A number of Latin American timber species are proposed for inclusion in Appendix II, including Spanish cedar, a furniture wood similar to mahogany, and Brazilian pernambuco, the primary wood used to make fine bows for stringed instruments. The United States will engage in discussions with range states in Central and South America before determining whether to support these proposals and if so, whether there should be exemptions from trade controls for limited numbers of bows and other finished products.

Source: U.S. Department of Interior

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