2013 Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence (Individual)
Dr. Rosemarie Gnam
Award Criteria 1: Demonstration of Leadership Traits
As Chief of the Division of Scientific Authority in the International Affairs Program, Dr. Gnam provides scientific support for implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in the United States, which entails (1) working with States, Tribes, and other stakeholders to monitor U.S. species in trade to ensure that export levels are biologically sustainable and to address their conservation needs; (2) preparation of proposals to list, delist, or change the listing status of species under CITES; (3) providing recommendations for U.S. positions on proposals from other countries and other technical issues considered at meetings of the Conference of the Parties (CoPs) to CITES; (4) providing biological (non-detriment) findings for the issuance of import and export permits (15,000-20,000 permits annually); (5) providing advice on the suitability of facilities to receive live specimens of rare Appendix-I species; (6) determining whether scientific institutions, breeding operations, and nurseries to determine qualify for CITES exemptions; and (7) providing technical advice on other issues related to wildlife trade, including disease risks, introduction of invasive species, and the evaluation of other threats to species in trade (e.g., climate change).
While Dr. Gnam’s specific expertise is in ornithology, she has demonstrated a keen ability to apply scientific principles to a wide array of taxa, across a variety of habitat types, and each with its own unique challenges. Her work is both domestic and international in scope; within the United States the work of her offices extends to all Regions of the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). Her proficiency as a Science Leader has been demonstrated as follows:
- Marine species
Bluefin tuna: While the United States was not a formal co-proponent of the proposal to list Bluefin tuna in CITES Appendix I at CoP15 in 2010, Dr. Gnam consulted closely with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), State Department, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, individual State fisheries agencies, and the CITES Scientific Authorities of other countries, particularly in the European Union (EU), and especially Monaco, the proponent country. She provided support to the Assistant Secretary of Fish and Wildlife and Parks and Service Director for briefings of the Council on Environmental Quality to advocate U.S. support for the proposal. Dr. Gnam was able to do this effectively by developing a comprehensive understanding of the biology of bluefin tuna, the fishery for this species, its management needs, and the politics of tuna fisheries. Although the proposal was not adopted, it stimulated stronger measures under the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.
Red and pink coral: Similarly, Dr. Gnam engaged with NMFS and others to assemble comprehensive biological and trade data to document the over-exploitation of these species globally and to prepare a proposal for CoP15, co-sponsored with the 27 EU countries, to list these species in CITES Appendix II. Although the proposal was defeated, she had worked with others to build a coalition of support for the proposal. While not adopted, the proposal caused China to subsequently list the species occurring in their waters in Appendix III, which countries may do unilaterally, to address a shift in trade patterns from Europe to Asia. Furthermore, the threat of the listing stimulated countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea to adopt measures to address overharvest of the species and stock rebuilding needs.
Sharks: For CoP15, Dr. Gnam and her staff worked with NMFS, State Department, and others to develop strong science-based proposals to list several shark species (oceanic whitetip, hammerheads, sandbar, and dusky) in Appendix II. Although the proposals failed, the groundwork was laid for resubmission of the proposals, with even stronger scientific justifications, for CoP16 in 2013, where proposals for oceanic whitetip and three hammerhead sharks were adopted—a historic accomplishment. These accomplishments were based on Dr. Gnam’s continued engagement following CoP15 to improve the scientific justifications in the proposals and gain the support of additional countries.
- Polar bear – For both CoP15 and CoP16, Director Dan Ashe identified the uplisting of polar bear from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I as a priority action. Dr. Gnam was responsible for coordinating with Region 7, with other range countries for polar bear, and with other CITES Parties to develop a strong science-based proposal that considered the primary threats to polar bear—particularly climate change—in the context of trade. While the proposal was defeated at both CoPs, it has stimulated continued discussion among range countries (Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia, and the United States) about improving controls on harvest and trade, and ensuring that harvest is from populations that can sustain it.
- Paddlefish – As stocks of Caspian Sea sturgeons have collapsed due to overharvest for caviar, trade in caviar from paddlefish harvested in U.S. waters has increased significantly, thus posing a potential threat to native paddlefish populations. Dr. Gnam and her staff have been at the forefront of evaluating the sustainability of paddlefish harvest and have actively engaged with the States, other Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) offices, and experts in academia to determine appropriate harvest levels for paddlefish, including the determination of minimum-size restrictions on harvest. This has been accomplished through the identification of information gaps/research needs and funding of research through Dr. Gnam’s office. This has resulted in significant contributions to the knowledge of paddlefish biology and effects of fishing on population structure and productivity, which in turn have influenced regulation of paddlefish fisheries by the States and provided a basis for the non-detriment findings necessary to authorize exports of paddlefish caviar. Two reports on paddlefish in the Mississippi River basin (in prep) have resulted from research identified and funded by Dr. Gnam. She also cooperated with the Columbia National Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office to develop a national GIS database for paddlefish. This work impacts fisheries in Service Regions 3, 4, and 6.
- Tortoises and freshwater turtles – The over-exploitation of tortoises and freshwater turtles for use as food, pets, and traditional medicines began primarily as an Asia-focused issue, but as turtle populations have declined in China and Southeast Asian countries, the trade has shifted to other regions, including the United States. In the past several years, Dr. Gnam has provided strong leadership both in the United States and abroad in addressing the conservation of turtles and tortoises by organizing and funding, in collaboration with other Service offices, the States, foreign governments, non-governmental organizations, and academia. She was one of the driving forces behind the organization of a workshop held in September 2010 that brought together a broad range of expertise to address the pressing management, regulatory, scientific, and enforcement needs associated with the harvest and trade of freshwater turtles in the United States [see link]. This work involved all Service Regions. Information resulting from this workshop, including the subsequent assessment of species for the IUCN Red List, was ultimately used to prepare listing proposals for three U.S. turtle species at CoP16. Working internationally, Dr. Gnam again demonstrated her leadership skills by reaching out and engaging with the CITES Authorities of China and Viet Nam to co-sponsor proposals for nearly 30 additional Asian taxa. The co-sponsorship of proposals with both China and Viet Nam was historic, since the United States had not cooperated with either country on the submission of proposals in the past.
- American ginseng – The United States is a major exporter of ginseng to Asia. Wild populations have been significantly impacted by this trade, which extends back to the 1700s; exports of wild ginseng roots vary around 20,000-25,000 kg annually, which translates to millions of individual plants of a slow-growing, late-maturing plant with relatively low recruitment. Dr. Gnam and her staff, working through the U.S. Geological Survey and universities, have significantly improved the scientific basis for evaluating the impacts of harvest and trade, and have used results from research funded or stimulated by her office to achieve regulatory at the State level to improve the biological sustainability of this trade. This work covers Service Regions 3, 4, and 5.
Award Criteria 2: Support for Scientific Activities of Staff
Dr. Gnam supports the scientific activities of her staff by:
- Providing training to maintain and improve their proficiencies as biologists as well as developing their own leadership skills. This includes participation in formal training as well as workshops, field visits with experts, etc. Specific training experiences of staff include participation in the Service’s Advanced Leadership Development Program and developmental details, and NCTC courses in Critical Writing/Critical Thinking, Fisheries Modeling, and Conservation Biology.
- Supporting their participation in professional societies and conservation organizations, such as by serving on IUCN specialist groups. For example, various Scientific Authority staff are members of IUCN Cactus and Succulent, Cycad, Medicinal Plants, Bear, and Otter Specialist Groups, the American Society of Mammalogists, American Fisheries Society, Society for Conservation Biology, The Wildlife Society, Native Plant Societies of Maryland and Virginia, and Society for Economic Botany.
- Encouraging their collaboration with other scientists, such as other biologists in the Service, USGS, National Park Service, State natural resource agencies, and academia. Examples of collaboration with other agencies include work to address the sustainability of harvest and exports of American ginseng, and the work on paddlefish and freshwater turtles mentioned above.
- She also encourages collaboration by supporting their inclusion on delegations to CITES technical committee meetings, participation in CITES working groups to address technical issues related to implementation of CITES. These include working groups on Review of Significant Trade, Periodic Review of the Appendices, trade in freshwater turtles and tortoises, sturgeons, sharks, annotations to listings, timber, and the making of non-detriment findings for plants.
- Her staff have participated in various coalitions to address conservation needs of plants, pollinators, and other taxonomic groups, such as the Plant Conservation Alliance and its Medicinal Plant Working Group and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.
- Having individual staff take the lead on reviewing the status of species in trade and developing listing proposals.
- Having staff serve as peer reviewers for various scientific publications, including recent papers on ginseng, other medicinal plants, and chambered nautilus.
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