Trump Budget Undercuts U.S. Commitment to Global Wildlife Conservation
By William H. Funk
Proposed funding cuts to environmental programs in President Trump's proposed 2018 budget have drawn anxious attention from around the world. But while the biggest numbers deal with rolling back the Obama administration's climate change initiatives, more subtle withdrawals of federal support from lesser known international programs threaten the continued existence of some of the planet's most iconic animals.
President Trump's 2018 budget proposes a 32 percent across-the-board shrinkage of U.S. foreign assistance, affecting hundreds of sustainability, health and environmental programs.
As comparatively paltry as a few million dollars retracted here and there from a $1.15 trillion federal budget may seem, for those desperately striving through underfunded programs to preserve the world's wildlife, the loss of monetary and moral support from the U.S. could be devastating.
And wildlife wouldn't be the only victims. The societal havoc wreaked by unchallenged trafficking cartels, and the loss of important tourist income due to vanished elephants, lions and giraffes resulting in abandoned safaris, could directly impact poor communities in Africa and Asia.
It remains to be seen if the U.S. Congress will embrace Trump's draconian cuts for 2018. But even if the legislature disallows the reductions next year, the administration still has between three and seven years left to run. And it seems unlikely that the president will shift very far away from his professed "America First" policies.
An elephant in Tanzania. USAID programs have helped fund community conservation programs and ranger equipment and training in Africa. Trump's budget would slash funding to many such programs. nickandmel2006 / flickr
Less money to curb the illegal wildlife trade
The U.S. State Department is tasked with administering the Presidential Taskforce on Wildlife Trafficking, co-chairing that body with USAID, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Department of Justice. This interagency coalition justifies its mission this way: "Wildlife trafficking is an international development issue because it undermines security, rule of law, and our efforts to end extreme poverty."
Through the auspices of the State/USAID interface, the U.S. has applied a multi-pronged approach to combat global trafficking. That includes anti-poaching workshops utilizing SMART technology for rangers in Central and East Africa; helping strengthen wildlife laws in Kenya and Mozambique; working with major American and African airlines to train staff to detect and intercept trafficked goods; and initiating a cultural shift by reaching "over 740 million people across Asia through the Internet, TV spots, and installations at airports" to reduce wildlife product demand. If Trump's budget is approved, the State Department's budget for all this will be more than halved—falling from $90.7 million to $40.9 million.
USAID's biodiversity program, which in FY2017 spent $265 million in conservation efforts across fifty countries in a mission to protect natural landscapes and wildlife while enhancing U.S. economic and security interests, would see its expenditures shrink to less than a third of that amount, to $69.9 million.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service white rhino monitoring program in Nakuru National Park, KenyaKarl Stromayer / USFWS
In 2015, USAID programs helped fund community conservation in northern Kenya, reduced poaching of elephants and rhinos by 35 and 78 percent respectively, and invested in training, equipment, education and new outposts for rangers—the men and women on the front lines of the wildlife wars. One result: rangers in Central Africa patrolled up to 50 percent more territory than the year before and apprehended more than 400 poachers thanks to wider deployment of the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART), a system of ranger-based monitoring techniques and technologies.
Under Trump's budget, the USFWS's International Species program—focusing on African and Asian elephants, great apes, migratory birds, tigers, rhinos and sea turtles—would go from a 2017 budget of $9.15 million to being completely zeroed out.
With that cut, significant anti-poaching, community engagement, habitat protection and wildlife management programs would vanish from poor countries whose priorities generally place conservation far down the list. Under Trump's plan, the cash-strapped USFWS would see its 2018 budget decreased by $202.9 million compared to 2017.
A black rhino. U.S. wildlife conservation efforts have contributed much to the preservation of animals worldwide in past years. Those efforts are now threatened by the Trump administration. John and Karen Hollingsworth, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Environmental groups have petitioned for several species imperiled by criminal wildlife trafficking to be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including giraffes, pangolins and African elephants. Such listings would curb America's role in the trade of these species' body parts, among other benefits. But proposed funding cuts make it likely that the Trump administration won't act on these petitions.
While it may be difficult to accept, this is the way the world will look if the president of the U.S. successfully moves his proposed budget through Congress. Calls to congressional offices failed to shed light on how many and how much of Trump's reductions will show up in the 2018 budget to be approved by the House and Senate.
A snow leopard. Already underfunded international conservation efforts could be seriously undermined by Trump's 2018 budget if it is approved.Sujit kumar Mahapatra
America First puts wildlife last
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, funding to protect new species under the Endangered Species Act would be cut by nearly 17 percent under Trump's budget, which would "severely hinder" the USFWS from progressing with its seven-year plan that allows the agency to prioritize over 350 species for listing decisions.
The proposed Department of the Interior budget slashes one million dollars each from the African Elephant Conservation Act and Asian Elephant Conservation Act; the African Elephant Conservation Act was funded at $3 million in 2016 and 2017, and would now be funded at $2 million; the Asian Elephant Conservation Act was funded at $2 million and would now be funded at $1 million.
These cuts couldn't come at a worse time. African elephants are currently being slaughtered for their ivory at the rate of eight percent of their total population per year, or nearly 30,000 annually. Interior's conservation programs provide technical and financial assistance to range states to protect elephants and their habitats, with money for elephant population management, public education, and anti-poaching activities. The USFWS website details some of the important projects that have been funded in the past and are now on the budgetary chopping block.
The USFWS Conservation and Enforcement Budget would likewise be cut, from around $182 million for 2017 to $166 million in 2018. While this may not seem like a huge reduction, it is being sliced from a budget that is already far too small to do the job. This funding is critical to protecting species imperiled by the illegal wildlife trade, and enables U.S. investigations of wildlife crimes, helping put traffickers in jail; regulating the wildlife trade; and helping Americans understand and obey wildlife protection laws. Species that will be most hurt by this cut would likely be those for which the U.S. is a major market, including elephants (the U.S. is the second largest international market for trafficked wildlife, after China).
In a reply to an emailed query, U.S. Senator and former vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he would "strongly oppose" the president's 2018 budget plan, noting that in 2013, the U.S. joined 21 nations in launching Operation Cobra, a successful multinational strategy designed to tackle illegal wildlife trading in Africa and Asia. Kaine also pointed to President Obama's Executive Order 13648, aimed at improving coordination with other governments in combating trafficking. Both of these pledges of American leadership to confront the international wildlife crisis are now on the table for defunding.
A pangolin scale burn in Cameroon, Africa, supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Pangolins are believed to be the most heavily trafficked wild mammals in the world, with as many as one million being poached from the wild during the last decade.Linh Nguyen Ngoc Bao
USFWS Special Agent Steve Oberholtzer discusses ivory trafficking with reporters. In the past, the U.S. has worked diligently to combat the illegal wildlife trade.USFWS
Empty coffers mean empty forests
To put all of this in perspective, Congress only provides approximately three and half percent of the funding that the USFWS's own scientists estimate is needed to recover species, according to a Center for Biological Diversity report on endangered species spending. This amount, however meager and inadequate, is now in the crosshairs of an administration whose antipathy for wildlife, natural landscapes and environmental protection is manifest in its many administrative actions.
The Trump budget would cut the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, which allows state and federal partners to recover currently listed species, by $34 million, a 64 percent reduction. His budget also reduces funding for foreign endangered species like elephants, rhinoceros and tigers by 19 percent, and reduces the funding for the listing program by 17 percent. Currently 500 plants and animals are waiting for consideration for protection.
Carter Roberts, president of the World Wildlife Fund, said that the 2018 budget in its current form would be a calamitous abandonment of American pledges to assist poor countries struggling to preserve our common wild heritage. "These cuts will turn back the clock on advances made in combating common global challenges like food and water security, wildlife trafficking, and climate change," he said, urging passage of a budget that "more closely aligns with America's long-held humanitarian and conservation values."
Roberts's appeal is echoed by other leading conservation groups, including the Wildlife Conservation Society and The Nature Conservancy, whose president Mike Tercek explained that, "American investments in international conservation support sustainable livelihoods, political stability and good governance in difficult regions of the world, thereby supporting our own national security and economic objectives." Pulling back on these commitments, he said, would be prohibitively costly, harming our last remaining rhinos, snow leopards and sea turtles, but also undermining governmental accountability and due process in the developing world—critical to combatting the persistent state corruption that underlies the tragic success of international trafficking networks.
An 1895 photo of a young but dead Javan Rhino in Ujung Kulon; the hunter is Charles te Mechelen. Donald Trump Jr. is an avid big game trophy hunter in an era when conservationists are battling fiercely to protect the world's fast vanishing wild animals.
Blasting away at the wild world
Fortunately for declining wildlife, the president does not have the final say on the U.S. budget. That remains for the House and Senate to decide, a decision that they've already once delayed this year. But the news out of Congress thus far isn't all that good.
"Environmental groups are blasting pending House spending legislation," E&E News reported on Sept. 7, warning that proposed budget amendments in the House would undermine environmental protections, making major "funding cuts aimed at the Interior, EPA and Commerce Department work on protection and conservation."
As of this writing, the State Department's International Conservation Programs project, which this year allotted a mere $7 million to some of the most important wildlife organizations on earth, including the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and its indispensible Red List of data on thousands of species, would be totally defunded under Trump's plan.
The jury's still out on what the final 2018 budget will look like (with a vote not likely due until early December), but it's clear that the current administration and many in the GOP dominated Congress are advocating an abandonment of long-held, fundamental domestic and international American tenets—especially helping the disadvantaged and taking a stand for treasured wild animals the world over.
Meanwhile, those who continue to assert these values, do so from a self-declared position of wanting to help others, of being on the right side of history, and of fulfilling our obligations across the globe.
For the planet's most spectacular and endangered wildlife, public participation in the seemingly mundane wrangling over budgetary priorities has never been more important.
Rhino mother and calf grazing in Kaziranga National Park, India. With so much wildlife at risk globally, Trump's proposed reductions to U.S. international wildlife conservation programs couldn't come at a worse time.Deepraj
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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By Katie Howell
A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.
By Manuela Callari
It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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