A Legacy of ConservationBlog
“When poachers and traffickers take ivory horns, elephant tusks, or pangolin scales, they are robbing local communities of their resources, their livelihoods and their futures. We do this work not only because we are saving iconic species for posterity’s sake, but because we are making an investment in the future of these communities and our planet.” –Chairman Royce
For over two decades, Chairman Royce has been fighting to protect the world’s most unique landscapes, the iconic animals that inhabit them and the communities that call them home.
Through bipartisan efforts in Congress, partnerships with local officials and activists, and work with leaders around the world, Royce has built a long record of success. Earlier this week, the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF) recognized Chairman Royce for his efforts.
Here’s a look back at a few of the key Royce initiatives that have made a real difference:
Launching the First International Conservation Caucus
In 2003, Chairman Royce joined with Congressman Clay Shaw, Congressman John Tanner and then-Congressman Tom Udall to co-found a caucus aimed at “providing the strong U.S. leadership necessary to conserve the world’s most biologically rich and diverse places.” In the following years, the House International Conservation Caucus would bring together Democrats and Republicans to advance important legislation to leverage public and private resources to conserve natural resources and bio-diversity for future generations. Thanks in part to Royce’s leadership, this model has expanded beyond the U.S., and today there are 17 nonpartisan conservation caucuses in legislatures around the world.
Preserving Congo Basin Forests, and Providing a Model for Regional Cooperation
Water and animals don’t know borders. That’s why Chairman Royce has long advocated for initiatives that support a regional approach to promoting conservation and smart development. One of the first of these was the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) – a bold initiative aimed at checking the aggressive logging practices that were devastating previously untouched African forests. By one estimate, forest landscape twice the size of Rhode Island was being lost every year. The CBFP, launched in 2002 and supported by U.S. legislation authored by Royce, put into place a framework where participating countries set aside large swaths of land to be protected from harmful activities.
- “Purged of wildlife, some Congo Basin forests already are eerily quiet ‘empty forests.’ If current deforestation and wildlife depletion rates are not reversed, the six countries of the Congo Basin most immediately, but also the world, will pay an incalculable economic, environmental, social and cultural price.” –Chairman Royce at 2003 hearing
Combating Wildlife Trafficking
Terrorists and criminals use the profits they gain from selling animal parts to fund their deadly activities, fueling instability throughout the world. To counter these threats, Chairman Royce authored the END Wildlife Trafficking Act, which became law in 2016. This landmark bill put wildlife trafficking in the same category as weapons and drug trafficking, names and shames countries engaged in or profiting from wildlife trafficking, and supports increased professionalization of rangers in partner countries who are on the front lines in the fight against poachers, who are increasingly armed with heavy weaponry and even helicopters. Using these authorities last year, law enforcement carried out Operation Jungle Book – the largest crackdown on wildlife trafficking in California’s history.
- “There’s a new battlefield in the fight against organized crime, rebel groups and terrorists organizations. Sadly, it is Africa’s national parks. …Today, wildlife trafficking is among the most lucrative criminal activities worldwide, generating revenues of between $8-10 billion per year. …[W]ildlife trafficking isn’t a threat just to wildlife, but increasingly [to U.S.] national security. Rebel militias and terrorists are capitalizing on this trade.” –Chairman Royce at 2014 hearing
Targeting the “Pablo Escobar of Wildlife Trafficking”
In 2013, President Obama signed into law legislation originally authored by Rep. Royce that expanded the State Department’s rewards program to target the world’s worst human rights abusers and transnational organized criminals. Following the bill’s enactment, the State Department offered an award for up to $1 million for information leading to the dismantling of the Zaysavang Network, one of the most notorious transnational criminal organizations engaged in trafficking wildlife.
- “Described as the ‘Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking,’ [Vixay’s] network spans numerous countries and his illegal activities have led to the slaughter of hundreds of elephants and rhinos in Africa and the decimation of other species in Asia.” –Chairman Royce in 2016 letter
Protecting the Home of the Largest Remaining Elephant Population in the World
Chairman Royce is also championing legislation to help conserve the Okavango River Basin, home to the largest remaining elephant population in Africa and more than one million people. The DELTA Act works to strengthen cooperation among Angola, Botswana and Namibia to help local communities that rely on responsible management of the Okavango watershed. The DELTA Act passed the House this past summer, and is currently awaiting action in the Senate.
- “Today the critical Okavango River Basin is near a breaking point. Unwise development and wildlife poaching and trafficking threatens to destroy this rare inland delta.” –Chairman Royce in January 2018
Eliminating the Sale of Shark Fins
The demand for shark fins, the key ingredient in shark fin soup, is one of the greatest threats facing shark populations around the world. Fins from as many as 73 million sharks end up in the global market every year, and more than 70 percent of the most common shark species involved with the fin trade are considered at high or very high risk of extinction. While shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, shark fins continue to be bought and sold throughout the U.S. and imported through California ports. To combat this gruesome practice, Chairman Royce introduced the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (H.R. 1456) to make the possession, sale and purchase of shark fins illegal in the United States.
- “Shark finning, which leaves these animals to die a slow and painful death at the bottom of the ocean, is a cruel practice that needs to be stopped. When the United States leads, others follow. We should set an example by eliminating the shark fin trade rather than providing a market to incentivize this illicit activity.” –Chairman Royce in June 2016