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Director's Corner

Meet Service Director Dan Ashe.

Honoring Those Who Protect Us

It is natural for the images and ugliness of the illegal occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon to fade from public attention over time, but the impacts on federal land management will endure.  The quieter, more insidious efforts to undermine the legitimacy of public lands and deprive the American people of their rights have shown more clearly than ever the importance of our law enforcement community.

Across the nation, we’re indebted to those who protect not only our voiceless natural heritage but also the public servants dedicated to conserving those resources, and the public itself.

As we celebrate National Police Week (May 15-21), let us remember the hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement professionals who gave their lives to protect us. And let us honor the officers, agents, inspectors and all who stand a post for us today. Men and women of integrity like Sheriff Dave Ward of Harney County, who upheld his oath of office under the most difficult of circumstances.

We owe Sheriff Ward and others in the law-enforcement community, like our own John Megan and Jeremy Bucher, an enormous debt of gratitude for ensuring the safety of our Malheur family and the local community in what could have resulted in numerous casualties.

And all across the country – and the world – I want to express my appreciation to the rangers, wardens, officers, special agents and inspectors who put their lives on the line daily to keep us out of harm's way and safeguard the future of our natural heritage.

Thank you for your service, and stay safe.


Ed Grace and Operation Crash up for a Sammie

 Ed Grace

This week we found out that our own Law Enforcement Deputy Chief Ed Grace and his Operation Crash team were named a finalist in the  “Oscars” of government service.

Ed and team were nominated in the Homeland Security and Law Enforcement category of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals. Named after the founder of the Partnership for Public Service, the prestigious Sammies highlight the best work of our country’s dedicated public servants.

And no one is more deserving than Ed and team, who helped shine the national spotlight on the evils of wildlife trafficking with Operation Crash.

Actually, they did far more than bring the issue to light.

Recognizing early on the growing dangers of wildlife trafficking, both to biodiversity in general and to the future of some of the world’s most celebrated animals, Ed began planning Operation Crash. Crash is the name of a group of rhinoceroses, one of the animals being driven toward extinction by greedy and ruthless poachers who are themselves driven by demand that won’t die.

In February 2012, Ed’s brainchild first came crashing down on the trafficking world. So far, the ongoing nationwide criminal investigation led by Ed and our Office of Law Enforcement has led to 41 arrests, 30 convictions. The investigations, made up of agents from multiple regions and supporting federal agencies, has also seized more than $75 million in rhino horn and tusks of elephants, another charismatic animal threatened by poachers.

The investigations have “reverberated globally,” says Marshall Jones, a senior adviser at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “Ed Grace’s investigations have helped put pressure on” China, a large consumer of ivory and rhino horn, Jones says.

Operation Crash also shows would-be smugglers in the United States that wildlife laws have sharp teeth, and Ed’s tenacious leadership has not only put smugglers behind bars but created a real deterrent – people see the consequences of illegal wildlife trade. And thanks to Ed, that consequence is now often prison!

“For a long time, wildlife crime wasn’t treated as a serious crime even though it had become a lucrative business tied to organized crime,” Ed says. “We are now bringing these traffickers to justice.”

“It’s an honor to do this work that I’m passionate about and I believe it’s making a difference,” Ed adds. “If 20 years from now these species are surviving, I’ll know that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helped make that happen.”

The honor is mine, Ed, and  that of everyone who has the privilege to work with you.

While the problem of wildlife trafficking is definitely global, the United States has an obligation to take action – much of the illegal trade occurs within the United States, crosses our borders or involves American citizens.

Thanks to Ed Grace and Operation Crash, not only are we taking action; we’re succeeding.


A Strong Message on Climate Change for Earth Day

 Two little blue herons standing above water on dead tree trunk and mangrove roots at Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Steve Hillebrand
Two little blue herons standing above water on dead tree trunk and mangrove roots at Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

At the end of last year, 196 nations came together to establish the Paris Agreement, an ambitious and historic pact to address climate change and cut greenhouse gases. The United States played a leading role in this effort, bringing the global community together to take real steps to reduce climate change emissions and prepare for coming impacts. You can read the full text of the agreement here

On this Earth Day, the United States will become one of the first signatories to this agreement, which will enter into force only after at least 55 countries responsible for causing 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have signed on. 

This agreement is a cause for optimism, but not complacency. Optimism because it establishes ambitious targets to limit global average temperature increases to well under 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels, while providing a mechanism to regularly ratchet up global commitments and drive down emissions over time. The agreement also establishes more transparent tracking to hold countries accountable and requires a global effort to “take stock” of climate action every five years. It encourages the public and private sectors to rapidly invest and participate in the developing energy economy, and explicitly recognizes the importance of anticipating and addressing climate-related impacts to the earth’s wildlife and natural systems. 

But our work is just beginning. Despite its ambitious targets, the agreement’s emission reduction commitments are not yet strong enough to hold global temperature increases below 2°C. Indeed, the world has already experienced an increase of about 1°C. Even if fully implemented, our communities and ecosystems, including the diverse species the Service manages, will continue to feel serious effects from increasing climate disruption in the years and decades to come. 

As Secretary Jewell has stated, the Department of the Interior has an important role to play in ensuring the success of the Paris Agreement, including supporting clean energy development, reducing our own carbon emission, promoting carbon sequestration, investing in sound science, and continuing to manage our trust resources under new and changing threats. 

I’m proud to say the Service is doing just that. Our Climate Adaptation Network (CAN), a regionally and programmatically representative advisory group of senior managers, will continue to work with staff across the agency to address climate change and plan adaptation actions. In particular, CAN will work to expand access to information and tools, clarify our goals and strategies, provide effective policy and guidance, and ensure accountability at all levels. The group will also host our first ever Climate Change Practitioners’ Forum at NCTC in June, bringing together staff from around the nation to share success stories, explore key questions, learn from each other and set the stage for a path forward. 

These steps are important. But, our agency’s most critical climate change response is happening right now on the ground, as we integrate climate change into our daily work. 

For example, refuges like J.N. “Ding” Darling, Ten Thousand Islands, Merritt Island, Archie Carr, Pelican Island and Lower Florida Keys face impending threats from sea-level rise, increasing air and sea-water temperatures and changing storm patterns. Threats like these are game changers for these refuges’ extensive mangrove forests, which provide vital habitat for dozens of species of fish, birds and crustaceans, while buffering inland areas from hurricanes and other severe weather. 

In face of these very real threats, we’re working with the USGS Land Carbon Program to assess the vulnerability of mangroves at several key refuges. Together, we’re using remote sensing tools to evaluate changes in mangrove distribution and abundance, measure carbon stocks in mangrove forests, and other indicators that can tell us if the ecosystem can keep pace with sea-level rise. 

Alaska’s communities and resources are also experiencing rapid environmental changes. Even in this remote northern region, human activities are fragmenting the landscape, and climate change is happening at two to three times the global rate. We are working with Alaskan communities and other partners through Alaska’s Landscape Conservation Cooperatives to understand, anticipate and address these changes on Arctic ecosystems and the communities and wildlife they support, including polar bear and walrus.  If we can work with partners to design ecologically connected landscapes now, while these landscapes are still relatively intact, we may be able to avoid the global trend of environmental fragmentation and degradation. 

We’re also doing our part to minimize our carbon footprint, with the goal of becoming carbon neutral as an agency by 2020. And we’re working to facilitate the shift to clean energy that is essential for limiting climate change, ensuring that impacts to species and habitat are avoided, minimized, and mitigated as renewable energy sources are planned and developed. 

As I’ve said before, climate change is not something “extra” that we can consider if and when we have the time.  We must make climate change a fundamental part of how we approach our core responsibilities in order to meet the mission of our agency. 

I urge you to learn more about what’s happening around the Service and discover how you can integrate climate adaptation and planning into your daily work. With your support and engagement, I’m optimistic we’ll succeed in sustaining wildlife and habitat for future generations.

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