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House Democrats Target Trophy Hunting on Anniversary of Cecil’s Death
By Taylor Hill
It's been nearly a year since an American hunter killed Cecil, an iconic lion in Zimbabwe. House Democrats are using the anniversary to question the premise that trophy hunting benefits Africa's endangered wildlife.
In a new report, Missing the Mark, the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Natural Resources charges that Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa are providing U.S. officials with little evidence that taxes and fees raised from trophy hunts targeting lions, leopards, elephants and rhinoceroses provide conservation benefits and have an overall net-positive impact on imperiled species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has the authority to grant a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to American trophy hunters wishing to bring animal trophies into the country, has too often supported nations' claims that the hunts enhance the survival of the species, the report charged.
“You can't make the assumption that these countries are using the funds for conservation. You have to have the proof," said Matt Strickland, a member of the committee's Democratic staff. “U.S. hunters are responsible for taking a lot of animal trophies from Africa and we want to make sure the Fish and Wildlife Service is doing its job in permitting trophy imports and Americans aren't contributing to the decline of certain species."
American hunters wishing to import the heads, horns, pelts or any other parts of animals they have killed overseas must request a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service.
If the animal has threatened or endangered species protections under the Endangered Species Act, the agency requires that the hunt enhance the survival of the species. The agency is responsible as well for managing U.S. compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which also regulates and permits the hunting of endangered species.
“On paper, all four countries examined have equally strong frameworks for ensuring that trophy hunts benefit species conservation," the authors wrote. “Unfortunately, the implementation of these frameworks has in many cases been marred by corruption and has not produced the advertised and desired results."
The Fish and Wildlife Service has sometimes turned a blind eye to these shortfalls and granted import permits for animals killed in these countries, said Strickland. “They accepted at face value that trophy hunting benefits wildlife conservation without drilling down and actually checking on individual cases," he said.
An agency spokesperson stated in an email that the agency is reviewing the report, adding, “By law, we cannot and will not allow trophies of certain protected species into the United States that were hunted in any nation whose conservation program fails to meet high standards for transparency, scientific management and effectiveness. If we have concerns about a country's management program or a species' population status, we will not issue permits."
One such case occurred in 2014, when the agency shut down imports of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania because of the species' marked population decline. “They also weren't providing any evidence that the hunts were benefiting conservation, so Fish and Wildlife stopped allowing it," Strickland said. “We'd like to see more of that type of decision making regularly."
That's the exception, not the norm, according to the report, which noted thousands of cases in which the Fish and Wildlife Service used special rules and loopholes to exempt hunters from permitting requirements for many species listed as endangered. The report authors found that between 2010 and 2014, the agency could have required permits for more than 2,700 hunting trophies imported to the county yet only required one, for a critically endangered black rhinoceros. Of 1,469 leopard trophies that could have mandated an import permit, the agency required none.
In other instances, such as the controversial baiting tactics that lured Cecil out of a protected area and led to his death at the hands of Walter Palmer, the trophy hunting industry isn't “playing by the rules," the report stated and “needs to be regulated and held accountable for there to be any hope of a consistent conservation benefit."
To help rein in the negative impacts of trophy hunting on wildlife, the report recommends that the Fish and Wildlife Service deny import requests from hunters convicted of wildlife violations, close loopholes that allow some trophies to be imported without a permit, collect more data on trophy hunting through the permitting process and increase permit fees to fund science and conservation.
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate TakePart.
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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.
Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.
Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.
SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.
It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.
Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.
In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.
The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).
"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.
The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.
"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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