June 20, 2022

Black rhino (Diceros bicornis) sitting in the grass. Africa

One of the opinions on the NY Times Morning feed spoke of a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate to protect endangered species.  US Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) announced the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act passed the Senate unanimously.  This bipartisan bill would help protect endangered animals by combatting wildlife trafficking and poaching.  Specifically, RAWR would authorize the State Department to offer financial rewards for information that leads to the disruption of wildlife trafficking networks.  Senator Collins called wildlife trafficking a “transnational crime that requires a coordinated and sustained global effort.”  The RAWR allows the State Department to offer rewards for information about wildlife traffickers.  Senator Merkley added, “When wildlife traffickers, poachers, and profiteers kill magnificent animals like elephants, giraffes, and rhinos, they risk causing irreparable destruction to critical ecosystems and rob the world of a piece of our humanity and shared history on this planet.”   

When I looked online, I found wildlife trafficking is the second-greatest threat to the survival of species around the globe.  The billion-dollar wildlife trade leads to the overexploitation of species to the point of extinctions, while providing an avenue for criminal enterprises and terrorist organizations to profit from an elusive market.  RAWR would enable the State Department to tackle the threat to both animal species and security around the world.  The act is supported by a wide range of environmental and animal welfare groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, National Whistleblower Center, Humane Society Legislative Fund, Humane Society International, NRDC, African Wildlife Foundation, the Environmental Investigation Agency, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, World Wildlife Fund, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Oregon Zoo.  The act was bipartisan, multi-national, and found support of zoos and wildlife federations.  This was a rare win/win.

The bill had already passed the US House of Representatives when they voted 231 to 190 to pass the bipartisan bill to conserve wildlife on Tuesday.  RAWR will send $1.3 billion each year to states, territories, and tribal wildlife management agencies.  Fifteen percent of that money would be earmarked for protecting 1,673 species already listed as threatened or endangered, while the rest could be spent on protecting thousands of other species the states say are in jeopardy.  The legislation comes at a time of increasing concern over the decline of global biodiversity.  According to a landmark report released by the United Nations in 2019, climate change, pollution, human encroachment, and other factors threaten an “unprecedented” 1 million species with extinction.  Scientists warn that losing so many species could cause irreparable damage to ecosystems, climate stability, food security, and human health.  In the US, Fish and Wildlife Service data say saving all federally listed threatened and endangered species would cost $1.6 to $2.3 billion every year, or more than funds allocated by the Endangered Species Act.

THOUGHTS:  While RAWR is an important step in protecting endangered wildlife, congress is close to passing another bipartisan bill meant to protect human life.  According to Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa), the compromise gun control bill crafted by 10 Republicans and several Democrats is “more likely than not” to pass the Senate.  The plan would fund school safety and trauma programs, make for more rigorous background checks for buyers under 21, and add convicted domestic abusers and people under restraining orders to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.  This will help states create or enforce “red-flag” laws to authorize removing guns from those who pose a risk to others or themselves.  The bill is something Congress has not done since the 1990’s.  Laws to protect people should be as important as laws to protect wildlife.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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