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Monday, May 19, 2008

Conservation Legislation: From Cats to Cranes

Like a tiger stalking its prey through the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, good legislation can quietly sneak up on you.

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives is slated to pass several important conservation bills under suspension of the rules. For those unfamiliar with the Byzantine procedures of the House, The Washington Post describes suspension as “a rules gambit used to expeditiously give relatively uncontroversial legislation an up-or-down vote, with limited floor debate, no amendments and two-thirds support of lawmakers present required for passage.”

Coral reef and fish, credit James Watt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Among the measures likely to pass today are two resolutions: H.Con.Res. 300, introduced by Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans, recognizes the necessity for the United States to maintain its significant leadership role in improving the health and promoting the resiliency of coral reef ecosystems. And S.J.Res. 17, by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), vice chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, directs the United States to initiate international discussions to negotiate an agreement for managing migratory and transboundary fish stocks in the Arctic Ocean.

Also on the calendar are two important policies to protect rare species of mammals and birds around the world. H.R. 1464, the Great Cats and Rare Canids Act, introduced by Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), will provide financial resources for conservation programs to protect rare dog and cat species outside North America. A Senate version of the bill was introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). Species such as jaguars, clouded leopards, and African wild dogs are declining drastically due to habitat loss, poaching, disease, and human-wildlife conflict. This conservation funding will be a critical lifeline for rare dogs and cats ranging from the Ethiopian wolf to the Iberian lynx.

H.R. 1771, the Crane Conservation Act, by Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), will do the same for imperiled crane populations both here at home and across the globe. A Senate version of the bill was introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). Cranes are the most endangered family of birds in the world, victims of pesticide, power lines, human encroachment, and even wars. Eleven of 15 species are at risk of extinction, and the North American whooping crane is the rarest of all cranes.

Two whooping cranes, credit Joel Trick, U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceAs Congresswoman Baldwin said, “Wisconsin has been a world leader in protecting this endangered family of birds. With federal support, the work done at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo can inspire and instruct conservationists at home and abroad in their efforts to protect this magnificent species.”

The Multinational Species Conservation Fund already includes grant programs to help imperiled species—including Asian and African elephants, great apes, marine turtles, and rhinoceroses and tigers. Now, two separate accounts will be added to the fund specifically to assist cranes and rare dogs and cats.

Some reforms are so evident that there really is not a debate in society about the right course of action. Who could possibly think that Cape hunting dogs or black crowned cranes do not deserve a place on our planet, or jaguars or snow leopards for that matter? We hope today that the House approves these measures, and that Senate action follows swiftly. These are major advances in the waiting, and I extend our thanks to Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Subcommittee Chairwoman Bordallo, who have made passage of these measures a priority when the species need our help the most.

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