The first environmental law-related bill of the 113th Congress would re-authorize three laws that aim to conserve iconic wildlife native to other continents.
H.R. 39, which was introduced Thursday by veteran U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, would renew the African Elephant Conservation Act of 1989, the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act of 1994, and the Asian Elephant Conservation Act of 1997.
Young said that he is asking for re-authorization of the three laws because they provide benefits beyond conservation of the iconic species that are their subjects.
“In addition to preserving the local species, by working with local communities, the conservation programs improve people’s livelihoods, contribute to local and regional stability, and support U.S. security interests in impoverished regions,” Young explained in a statement provided by Michael Anderson, his press secretary.
The African Elephant Conservation Act aims to shut down international trade in ivory. To that end, AfECA gave the President authority to block imports of ivory from nations that do not establish and maintain a program to preserve African elephants (Loxodonta africana). President George H.W. Bush, by executive order, blocked imports of ivory from African elephants in June 1989.
AfECA also permits Washington to help finance elephant conservation programs in Africa. In 2011, Congress appropriated $1,774,465 for this purpose. That money was matched by more than $3.6 million in additional contributions from other donors and was put to work in 14 countries.
AfECA is aimed at maintaining a slow but steady rate of growth in African elephant populations that seems
to have occurred between the 1930s and about 2006.
The law must, however, contend with varying rates of elephant losses throughout its range. According
to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the animal’s numbers are on the decline in central and west Africa.
One recent scientific paper
estimated that the number of African elephants in that region of the continent has declined by 50 percent during the last four decades.
A leading cause of that trend is the drive
to exploit elephant tusks to finance military operations in some African nations. The money comes mostly from China, which maintains a persistent demand for ivory.
The situation in Asia is the result of much different factors. Asian elephants compete with humans for space and must contend, in many areas of their range, with deforestation.
Asian elephants are also killed with some frequency by humans with whom they come in contact. The killings are related to the frequently unfortunate consequences to humans of being proximate to Asian elephants.
One recent report
calculated that more than 400 people are killed by elephants each year, while another
estimated that the animals cause economic losses, mostly due to crop destruction, on the order of $2 to 3 million per year.
The Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act
works in essentially the same manner. The law aims to shut down commerce in rhinoceros horns and tiger body parts. A 1998 amendment
to RTCA forbids any sale, import, or export of any product that contains any part of a rhinoceros or tiger, or which is labeled or advertised as including such body parts, if the product is intended for any type of human consumption.
RTCA applies to all five rhinoceros species and all five remaining tiger subspecies
Both animals are in rapid decline.
According to a website
maintained by the Wildlife Conservation Society, tigers occupy only about six percent of the available habitat on their native continent of Asia.
Meanwhile, the world’s population of rhinos has dropped
by 90 percent since 1970.
As with AfECA and AECA, RTCA established a fund through which Washington has supported international efforts to preserve increasingly scarce rhinoceroses and tigers. In 2011 Congress appropriated more than $2.6 million to the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund, an amount matched by more than $4 million in other contributions.
“All together, these three funds have financed 1,202 conservation projects to assist two species of elephants, five species of rhinoceros and six species of tigers over the past twenty-three years,” Young said. “These funds have been the only continuous source of money for international conservation efforts, and conservationists across the globe believe that without these projects the African elephant, rhinoceros, tigers and the Asian elephant would disappear forever.”
The bill must first be considered by the House Natural Resources Committee before any floor debate on it is possible.
Congress previously enacted, and President George W. Bush signed, legislation re-authorizing AfECA and RTCA in 2007. That re-authorization expired at the end of September.
AECA was last re-authorized in 2002. The period of that re-authorization expired in 2007.
Young’s bill to secure re-authorization of all three laws during the 112th Congress did not get out of committee.
“I am committed to working with my colleagues on the House Natural Resources Committee to ensure that these bills are reauthorized,” Young said.
Photo of African elephants courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, photo by Andrea Turkalo.
Photo of Asian elephants courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, photo by Jennifer Pastorini.
Photo of rhinoceros courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, photo by Karl Stromayer.
Photo of Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) courtesy Wikimedia.