Testimony of
Tom Strickland
Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks
Department of the Interior

Before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife

Regarding U.S. Preparations for the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the
Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

February 11, 2010


Chairwoman Bordallo, Ranking Member Brown, and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Tom Strickland, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks within the Department of the Interior.  I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you today regarding the Administration’s preparations for the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP15) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which will take place in Doha, Qatar, from March 13th through March 25th, 2010.  I will lead the United States delegation to CoP15.

Often referred to as the Washington Convention, CITES is the only global treaty to ensure that international wildlife trade is based on sustainable use and management of wild and captive populations.  Now approaching its 40th anniversary, this treaty of 175 member nations remains one of the most influential and effective Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

The United States was instrumental in the development of the Convention, and has historically provided innovative leadership in its implementation and evolution.  The United States hosted the Plenipotentiary Meeting to draft the Convention.  That Convention took place here in Washington, DC.  We were the first of the 21 original countries to sign CITES on March 3, 1973.  The Administration is renewing the United States’ commitment to the Convention and its leadership role, and has prepared a number of species proposals and documents for consideration by the Parties for the 15th Meeting.  

The lead responsibility within the United States for the implementation of CITES rests with the Secretary of the Interior, as specified in the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  CITES requires that each participating nation designate a Management Authority and a Scientific Authority.  Under the ESA, the Secretary of the Interior is designated as the Management Authority and the Scientific Authority, and the functions of each Authority are required to be carried out through the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).  In implementing CITES, the Service works closely with the Departments of State, Commerce (NOAA Fisheries, in particular), Agriculture (both the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the U.S. Forest Service), Homeland Security (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol), and Justice, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Office of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality.

There are a number of issues of particular importance to the United States to be considered at the 15th Meeting.  In my testimony today, I would like to highlight those areas that I think are demonstrative of U.S. leadership in the Convention and will be our focus during this meeting. 

Asian Big Cats

The United States remains a consistent advocate for strong action within CITES to control the illegal trade in tigers and other Asian big cats, and is proud of its leadership role in tiger conservation.  We remain committed to playing a prominent role in the conservation of wild tigers and other Asian big cats, and intend to push for strong measures at CoP15 to reduce poaching and illegal trade, and oppose any attempt to re-open trade in tigers, including parts and derivatives.  The Service is working closely with USAID and Asian countries in support of the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network to fight trafficking in wildlife.  The Service is also currently reviewing the ESA regulations as they apply to captive-bred tigers in the United States and will develop amendments to further strengthen our existing domestic measures to support the conservation of wild tigers.

Marine Species

Historically, the United States has taken a leadership role on marine issues in CITES, originally advocating for inclusion of provisions related to "introduction from the sea," and therefore the applicability to marine species on the high seas, in the drafting of the Convention.  The United States has also successfully proposed several listings for commercially exploited marine species, including Appendix-II listings for queen conch in 1992 and seahorses in 2004.

Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs) have responsibility for the management of species under their purview; however, the United States firmly believes there is a role for CITES in managing trade in commercially exploited marine species when insufficient management by nations or RFMOs results in the species meeting the relevant listing criteria.  In such cases, the United States should be prepared to propose or support listings in the CITES Appendices if they will augment ongoing national and international efforts to manage the species.  Working closely with NOAA Fisheries at CoP15, we will continue to advocate a strong position on marine species. 

We have submitted proposals in cooperation with other range countries to list a number of coral species and shark species, including the scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, sandbar, dusky, and oceanic whitetip shark species in Appendix II.  The United States has submitted these proposals due to concerns that over-exploitation for international trade is having an adverse impact on the status of these species.  The primary threat to red and pink corals is intensive harvest to supply international demand for jewelry and other products.  To satisfy this demand, harvesters have significantly reduced these populations.  The boom and bust cycle of coral harvesting demonstrates that few nations or regions have effective management strategies in place.  Throughout the world, international trade in shark fins is decimating some of these species.  Few regulatory measures are currently in place internationally to manage these coral and shark species adequately.  We will work extensively with our partners to move these proposals forward.  Additionally, we will be actively involved in the ongoing work on interpretation and implementation of CITES "introduction from the sea" provisions during this meeting; these provisions take on increased importance given our coral and shark listing proposals.

One of the most important marine issues for consideration at CoP15 is Monaco’s proposal to list the Atlantic bluefin tuna in Appendix I.  The conservation of Atlantic bluefin tuna is a high priority for the United States and by working through both the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and CITES, the United States is demonstrating leadership in the conservation of this species.  Current population information for the species meets the biological criteria for listing in Appendix I.  On October 14, 2009, I announced U.S. support for Monaco’s proposal to list the Atlantic bluefin tuna in Appendix I, contingent upon decisions made at the November 2009 ICCAT meeting.  At that time, I said that unless ICCAT  adopted significantly strengthened management and compliance measures, specifically measures to address illegal, unregulated, and unreported harvest, we would exert complete and vigorous support for Monaco’s proposal.

Under the leadership of NOAA, the United States entered the November 2009 ICCAT meeting seeking the strongest possible agreement for the conservation of eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna.  We recognize that the parties to ICCAT took some unprecedented steps in November 2009.  These steps include a commitment to set future catch levels in line with scientific advice, to shorten the fishing season, reduce fishing capacity, strengthen monitoring and compliance measures, and close the fishery if the stocks continue to decline.  In light of the serious compliance problems that have plagued the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean fishery and the fact that the 2010 quota level adopted by ICCAT is not as low as we believe is needed, the United States continues to have serious concerns about the long-term viability of either the fish or the fishery.   The United States therefore will support the proposal to list Atlantic bluefin tuna in Appendix I at CoP15 and will work actively with Monaco and other CITES and ICCAT Parties in order to achieve positive results for bluefin tuna at CoP15 and at the 2010 ICCAT annual meeting. The U.S. government believes that our support of Monaco’s proposal will complement ICCAT’s management actions to help ensure the effective conservation of Atlantic bluefin tuna, specifically the full implementation of last year’s commitments to strengthen compliance and bring catch levels in line with scientific advice.

We have heard the message from U.S. fishermen who oppose this listing.  We understand their frustration with the fact that they have followed the scientific recommendations and regulatory provisions of ICCAT for many years while their counterparts in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean have often overfished and engaged in questionable management and conservation practices.  For a long time, our fishermen have called upon ICCAT to provide better protection for the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean stock of bluefin tuna due to concerns that the inadequate management of that stock was impacting recovery of the western Atlantic stock.  The United States government is committed to working with our international partners to continue rebuilding Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks and ensuring sustained conservation and management of the species into the future.

Polar Bear

The United States has submitted a proposal to list polar bears in Appendix I to highlight the need to enhance management efforts for this species.  The United States believes that the polar bear meets the biological criteria for Appendix I and that caution is necessary to ensure that commercial trade does not compound the threats posed to the species.  We base this on the information available on polar bear habitat indicating the current and projected effects of various factors, including climate change, on the quantity and distribution of that habitat.  

Climate change poses a significant challenge for wildlife conservation, and we are committed to addressing this challenge.  We recognize that species’ abundance and distribution are dynamic, relative to a variety of factors including climate, and that as climate changes, the abundance and distribution of wildlife and plants will also change. We hope this proposal will stimulate significant dialogue on the issue and the interrelationship of multiple threats to species in making both listing and process decisions under the Convention, including how to incorporate climate change resilience into non-detriment findings and listing decisions.

Bobcat

In keeping with past practice, the States will provide a representative to serve as a member of our delegation to CoP15, which allows for direct consultation and input by the States into the decision-making process for implementing CITES.  In this country, States have the primary responsibility for managing our native wildlife.  At the request of the States, the United States has submitted a proposal to remove the bobcat from Appendix II.  Bobcats are listed on Appendix II because of their similarity of appearance to other spotted cats listed as threatened as a result of trade such as the Iberian lynx.  At CoP13 and CoP14, the United States submitted similar proposals that were not adopted.  We have been working with the European Union (EU), the primary importers of bobcat furs, to resolve issues they have raised related to the identification of Lynx species in trade.

African Elephants

The United States has been actively involved in African elephant conservation under CITES since the inclusion of the species in Appendix II in 1977 and its transfer to Appendix I in 1989.  The United States helped negotiate the compromise transfer of some Southern African populations to Appendix II in 1997 and 2000.  The compromise continued the ban on commercial trade in ivory, but provided for a one-off (one-time) sale of registered stocks by several countries of raw ivory, all of which came from illegal trade seizures or during culls of stable elephant populations.  These transfers were subject to detailed annotations that were further modified during subsequent meetings of the CoP, with an agreement at CoP14 that restricted any further proposals from existing Appendix-II populations for the sale of ivory until 2017.  

Proposals for CoP15 include transfers of populations in Tanzania and Zambia from Appendix I to Appendix II, with similar annotations as the previous transfers, and a proposal by several range states for a 20-year moratorium on all ivory sales.  Relative to the Tanzania and Zambia proposals, the United States awaits the findings of the Panel of Experts to advise the Parties on the merits of these proposals, and any consensus decisions forthcoming from the range countries themselves before formulating its final position.  With regard to the 20-year moratorium, we note that imposing a long-term ban on ivory trade would pre-empt future proposals for such trade.  This pre-emptive action appears to violate the terms of the treaty, which explicitly allow any Party to propose amendments to the Appendices of the Convention for consideration by the Conference of the Parties. 

Timber species 

The United States has a long history of supporting the listing of commercial timber species in the CITES Appendices, beginning with a proposal in 1992 to include neotropical populations of bigleaf mahogany in Appendix II.  Although that proposal was not adopted at the time, the species was subsequently listed in Appendix II in 2002 and we have continued to support the use of CITES to promote the conservation of timber species threatened with extinction or under pressure from international trade.  As a major importer of bigleaf mahogany, as well as a significant trading partner for other CITES-listed timber species, we have been active in CITES discussions on implementation of the treaty for commercially important tree species.  We have participated in and supported the Mahogany Working Group of CITES.  We also led efforts to ensure that the International Tropical Timber Organization and CITES work closely together for effective implementation of CITES listings of tropical timber species.  We fully support the inclusion of timber species in CITES when international trade is a threat to effective management and sustainable use.  For CoP15, we have submitted a document to improve the effectiveness of CITES timber listings, which has been endorsed by both the CITES Plants Committee, the technical committee on plant issues (including timber), and the Standing Committee, which is the executive body that oversees implementation of the Convention between Conferences of the Parties.

Appendix-II Proposals

While much of the attention at a CITES meeting is focused on a few listings of charismatic species in Appendix I, the backbone of the Convention is its Appendix-II listings, where the objective is to regulate trade at sustainable levels, not prohibit it.  The United States will be actively involved in discussions regarding bluefin tuna and polar bears; at the same time we will also devote significant effort toward adoption of our Appendix-II shark and red coral proposals, and we will provide support and assistance to other range-country proposals for endemic species, including several species of iguana from Guatemala and Honduras, and proposals from Argentina for holy wood and Brazil for Brazilian rosewood.

Listing Criteria

The United States has been actively engaged in the development of the current listing criteria for inclusion of species in the CITES Appendices, first in the drafting of the criteria at CoP9, in 1994, then leading the intersessional working group, and participating in the review and refinement of the criteria between CoP11 and CoP13.  At CoP15, we will work to ensure that commercially-exploited marine species can benefit from Appendix-II listings through regulation of trade to ensure that it is both legal and sustainable. In all of these discussions, the United States vigorously advocates science-based decision-making in the evaluation of species for inclusion in the Appendices.

The United States has a unique opportunity to lead the world in wildlife conservation.  We have a rich legacy of bold and innovative approaches to protect and restore our natural heritage and must redouble our efforts if we are going to adapt to the challenges that face us now and in the future.  We work together with the world’s best scientists and managers to ensure that we have the tools that we need and the will to move forward.  Our commitment to global wildlife conservation is critical, and our continued focus on and support of this Convention is imperative in achieving our goals. 

In closing, Madame Chairwoman, I would like to thank the Subcommittee Members and your staff for your continued support for the conservation and protection of threatened and endangered species throughout the world.  We greatly appreciate the Subcommittee’s interest in CITES and we look forward to reporting back to the Subcommittee on our successes at CoP15.  This concludes my written testimony, and I would be pleased to answer any questions Members may have.

Last updated: January 10, 2013