What Endangered Species will the U.S. Support for International Protection?

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) came into force in 1975 with the declared intention of controlling trade of endangered species or products made from them.  CITES uses listing procedures to establish trade relevant limitations and controls.  An endangered species gets listed in the Appendices and these decisions are based upon the scientific inputs and then the political wrangling of state parties.  Appendix I prohibits all trade in the endangered species and Appendix II is species where their trade requires permits.  It is thus crucial to know what species may be promoted for listing as a CITES-protected species.

The U.S. has been a key player in many aspects of CITES, sometimes as a pusher for protection and sometimes as a key roadblock.  It is thus very important that the government is petitioning for input in forming its negotiating position for the future CITES meetings.  The government published on Wednesday April 10th, 2012 its list of species it intends to push for protection and some species it is as of yet undecided about.  Public input is open and available.  This is apparently only the third time they have opened up their CITES negotiation position for public input, and I cannot think of another case where that is even considered.

Some relevant species for consideration:

  • Laguna Beach dudleya.  One of two plant species the U.S. is opting to push for removal from lists.  Although the species appears to have some recovery efforts that are being effective, it is still listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.  And recent studies have not suggested any change in the status of the species from threatened.
  • Burmese Starred Tortoise.  The U.S. is undecided about whether to push for inclusion in Appendix I.  The pet trade is driving this species toward wild extinction in Myanmar.  Craig B. Standord (The Last Tortoise. Harvard Press) highlights this species as one of many tortoise species that is being driven to extinction through the turtle trade.  Although some protection in Burma is being effective, the international tortoise and turtle trade needs significant regulation if it is not going to collapse multiple species.
  • McCord’s Box Turtle.  The U.S. is undecided about whether to push for inclusion in Appendix I.  This species is considered critically endangered by all relevant organizations.  However, as a species native to China, most of its destruction is caused domestically, making trade restrictions of limited use in dealing with the domestic pet trade, habitat destruction, and pollution.  This is a hard aspect that forms a key condition of the U.S. decisions.
  • Polar Bears.  The U.S. is undecided about whether to push for inclusion in Appendix I.  CITES has been a fairly important tool in conservation with particular relevance over a number of species.  However, to retain its relevance, it must prepare for climate change and develop guidelines for working on those problems.  Polar bears present an excellent test case and the way they deal with trade of a species whose number 1 threat is climate change will be very, very relevant.
  • Hammerhead Sharks.  The U.S. is unlikely to push for inclusion in Appendix I.  It is endangered.  It’s major threat comes from the fishing industry.  Listing in Appendix I is the right choice, but will meet fierce economic pressure against it.
  • White Rhino.  The U.S. is unlikely to push for inclusion in Appendix I.  White Rhinos are certainly a small number, but they are doing well in protected areas.  Appendix II listing seems the most appropriate; however, it is important to note that a sudden shock to the small population of white rhinos remaining may quickly make Appendix II listing out-dated.  Listing decisions do not often take resilience into consideration…maybe they should.
  • Narwhal- The U.S. is unlikely to push for inclusion in Appendix I.  IUCN lists the Narwhal as near threatened with some particularly problematic areas where populations are declining.  However, IUCN contends that if range countries continue efforts, this species should not cross into either threatened or endangered status.  Appendix I would seem to be the wrong listing at this time; however, climate change impacts may quickly change that situation.  Similar to the polar bear, this may become a key test of the proactive protection of CITES.

There are few opportunities for citizens to directly contribute to their country’s positions in international environmental negotiations.  If you have any relevant comments or information regarding the species being discussed–it is a great chance to contact the relevant body and let them know.  The efforts may prove significant.

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