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Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

No, I did not misspell cities…It’s CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.  So, what is the cities/transport guy doing talking about wildlife?  Well…I like plants and animals and care about their protection, and will be touching on similar topics from time to time.  This is our second crunchie of the year, and I’m going to try and break down what CITES is, and why you should care.

Can you identify all 14 species in the CITES Logo? Click on the image to get the answers

What is it, and what does it do?:  In 1963, member nations of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) drafted a new resolution that ultimately led to the creation of of CITES ten years later.  The goal of the convention was to ensure that the trade in plants and animals did not threaten the survival of these species in the wild.  Flora and Fauna (that’s fancy talk for plants and animals) species around the world have been disappearing or declining in numbers due to a number of factors, but one large one being the trade in that species or products made from that species.  In order keep this from happening, CITES designates different levels of  protection to different species (currently more than 34,000!)  Now, CITES works as a “framework” or “guideline”, providing member countries (called Parties) with a means to adopt the convention into its national laws.  CITES does not function as an international law in and of itself, and because of this, enforcement of the convention is dependent upon the individual country governments, which in most cases is lacking, or the penalties are not sever enough to deter behavior.  Of all of the member countries in the United Nations, only 17 have not ratified the convention (that leaves 193 that have!)

Why is it important?:  CITES is important because it helps protect plants and animals that are being exploited and who run the risk of becoming severely endangered or even extinct.  Without some kind of international agreement between countries, the responsibility of stoping the activities that are threatening the a plants or animals falls completely on the county in which the activities (hunting, poaching, logging, etc.) are occurring, without putting any pressure on the countries where the demand for these products is, and thus fueling the killing or logging.  Under CITES, animals such as all African rhinoceros species, tigers, and shortnose sturgeon, and plants such as bigleaf mahogany and the Guatemalan fir tree, are protected outside of their country of origin by restricting and enforcing their entry into foreign markets.  This lets countries work as a team to not only tackle the activities on the ground, but also to work to change behavior to decrease demand.  (For a list of the plants and animals listed under CITES, please click here.)

Back Rhinoceros

What does the USFWS do to enforce CITES?:  In the US, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is responsible for enforcing CITES and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The ESA is the US’s very own law that manages and protects endangered species within its boarders while CITES extends past its boards.  The USFWS works closely with agencies from other countries responsible for protecting wildlife and enforcing CITES.  These relationships have helped strengthen the capacity of these agencies, ultimately helping to protect more animals.

Lion meat anyone?:  An example of what can happen when an animal whose numbers are plummeting in the wild due to a lack of protection is the African lion.  The populations have been diminishing for the last 20 years, with some estimates showing a decline from 100,000 to 47,000 since the 1990s, (that’s a decline of more than 50%!)  While there has been a huge public backlash to the sale of lion meat in the US, there were a few restaurants that just until recently were selling lion meat steaks and burgers.  Technically, lion meat is not baned and is legal to sell as per the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  If the species were listed as endangered and protected under CITES, the sale of lion meat around the world, and especially in the US, would end almost over night.  This has become the goal for many conservation groups around the world who believe that lions need to be protected worldwide.

In a nutshell:  CITES is cool, but far from perfect.  Because it is merely an agreement and the framework for restricting the trade in plant and animals, the real job of enforcement still falls on individual countries, and most countries lack the capacity to do this.  Some countries, such as the US, have developed their own strategies and laws that help reinforce the international convention.  While there is controversy out there that CITES has in fact hurt some plant and animal species, that was certainly not its goal.  The convention has helped bring countries together to help fight the loss of species on this planet, and that’s pretty awesome in my book.

Other Sources of Information:

The CITES Website

The USFWS’s website on CITES 

World Wildlife Fund’s Take on CITES 

The African Lion’s conservation status on IUCN 

Lion meat no longer on the menu 

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California is leading the way, once again.  The City of Los Angeles is about to ban the plastic bag…

Maybe the greatest film of all time

San Jose, Long Beach, Berkeley, Malibu, and San Francisco have already banned plastic bags making plastic bag fees sound like an ancient practice (they’re pretty strict about the 5 cent fee here in D.C.).  Yes, plastic bags can be helpful on a grocery run, as a smaller garbage bag, and clean up your furry friend, but like so many things that we’ve done here in the U.S., plastic bags started showing up everywhere and then we made a mess.  They began to show up in our beaches affecting wildlife and in our streets affecting runoff flows.

Put that bag down birdman

In L.A., if you forget your reusable bag you have the option for a 10 cent paper bag, and that’s per bag.  The phrase “paper or plastic” will be a slogan for the history books.  Most groceries today even give you a discount for bringing your reusable bags.  Don’t forget to clean and wash your reusable bags too, I’ve heard they collect some interesting things after several uses.

And it never hurts to carry a sandwich, snacks, or your lunch in your hands without a bag at all.  When I don’t have lunch, I usually go to a nearby Au Bon Pain (somehow they have fifteen locations in a three block radius) and the cashier knows me there.  By habit she asks all the customers if they would like a bag and she asks me as well; now, she doesn’t even ask if I want a bag or corrects herself because she knows I don’t like/need a bag and that I’ll carry it in my hands.  In other trips for small items I find myself giving back a bag and saying “save a bag”.  I like never having to worry that a reusable bag is going to rip.  Sometimes I grab reusable bags from places I visit, such as my recent $1.99 purchase for a scenic Yosemite bag.  So, do you part and “save a bag”.  Cheers.

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We get pretty steeped around here in energy and policy and what Kara had for breakfast. But every once in a while we like to go outside. Especially this time of year – and specifically during a freakishly warm winter – when the weather warms and we SpinachHeads get to leave the cannery and spend more time in the fields, if you will.

Today’s topic: wildlife corridors, and whether or not they actually work to unite populations of species despite development of roads and highways and ongoing growth of cities. The idea is a brainchild of friend-of-the-blog (in our dreams) E.O. Wilson, who hypothesized back in the 60s that the biggest threat to species survival was habitat isolation, and the more we cut off major parts of habitat, the more dire some species’ peril becomes.

So do they work? That’s the question Fred Pearce at New Scientist asked earlier this week. And it got us thinking. There really isn’t much academic evidence we’ve come across to show that corridors indisputably work as intended.

There is, Pearce points out, lots of proof that species like to travel through tunnels (do they hold their breath?!) and travel. But there’s little to show that these things show genetic diversity across geographic distances. It’s a question of time and breeding. Is the population expanding faster than lone animals are using the corridors? If so separate populations won’t become united. The reverse is that animals of different populations are interbreeding faster than the overall population expands. That second scenario would make the corridors effective.

Problem is, it’s looking more and more to be the first scenario. One of the most comprehensive studies on the topic looked at marsupials in a narrow forest corridor in Queensland, Australia. Despite the expensive engineering, researchers found that genetically distinct populations had persisted. Ergo, over time, the populations would continue to grow apart.

The $64,000 question – and don’t worry, we can hear you asking it – is why the heck does this matter? Surely we have more important environment and wildlife issues to consider than whether a bunch of moose use tunnels, right?

Only partly true (and don’t call me Shirley). Corridors have long been the key argument by developers and contruction companies for continued growth. They nip at the core of how we reconcile our growth with the broader health of the environment are our terrestrial counterparts. As long as we keep habitat protected and allow species to roam wild and free, we can do whatever we want to the planet, the thinking goes. Yet this series of studies seems to offer a rather firm rebuke of that rationale.

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