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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Alaska is Different: It Has OSM

3 people with harvested caribou    Subsistence users transport harvested caribou in Northwestern Alaska. Photo by Lisa Maas/USFWS

From caribou and permafrost to massive refuges accessed only by float planes, most folks recognize that Alaska is different.  So different, in fact, that an entire federal initiative, the Federal Subsistence Management Program, operates only in the Alaska Region.

For rural Alaskans, subsistence fishing and hunting provide a large share of their food – annually they harvest about 18,000 tons of wild foods, including salmon and moose.  An economic benefit to be sure, but the harvest of wild foods also connects them to the land and a way of life that has been passed down for thousands of years.

“Like many in the Arctic, my family relies on the land for food,” Keemuel Kenrud, an Arctic Youth Ambassador, writes in a blog.

The Federal Subsistence Management Program and the Office of Subsistence Management (OSM), which supports the program, aim to ensure that wild resources on federal lands remain available to people like Kenrud.

UpperKenaiScenicThe Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act re-designated Kenai National Moose Range as Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS

Some may be familiar with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), the 1980 law that established or added to Alaska’s 16 refuges.  A lesser-known function of the law was to prioritize subsistence uses by rural Alaskans on federal public lands and water over other consumptive uses.   Since 1990, when the federal government assumed management of subsistence on federal public lands from the state of Alaska, OSM has administered this subsistence priority.  

Dual management of fish and wildlife harvest is another way Alaska is different.  Only rural Alaskan residents qualify as “federal subsistence users,” so two sets of regulations govern harvest on federal public lands and waters in the state:  one for most Alaska residents and non-residents administered by the state of Alaska and one for federally qualified subsistence users administered by OSM and the Federal Subsistence Management Program.

Any U.S. citizen can submit proposals to modify federal subsistence regulations (i.e., extend a moose season, reduce the harvest limit of salmon).  OSM then analyzes the effects of the proposed regulation change on fish and wildlife populations as well as subsistence uses, and shepherds proposals through multiple rounds of review, including by the 10 Regional Advisory Councils.

The councils, established by ANILCA, are made up of local subsistence and sport/commercial users and provide a regional forum for subsistence issues.  After discussions, the councils make recommendations to the Federal Subsistence Board, which makes the final decision on proposals.  The eight-member board is composed of the Regional Directors of five federal agencies – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service – and three public members with extensive subsistence knowledge and experience who are appointed by the Secretary of the Interior with concurrence from the Secretary of Agriculture. 

“Being a [subsistence] user, eating [the food we harvest] every day, handing that tradition down to my family, and showing them why it’s important that we have strong environmental programs, that we have regulations, that we have management plans, to protect the way of life for ourselves, I think is critical to the future of Alaska,” Anthony Christianson, the new chair of the Federal Subsistence Board, told Alaska Public Media.

Lisa Maas, Office of Subsistence Management, Alaska Region

Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

Director Dan Ashe, Key Member of the FWS Family, Steps Down

Appreciation for the people who work with him drove Ashe when he served as director and throughout Service career. His last day is January 20.

   Dan and Scout polant milkweedAshe and a Girl Scout check on a milkweed planting, done to help monarch butterflies.  Photo by Lisa Cox/USFWS

Dan Ashe has garnered his share of accolades over his 22 years with the Service, the last five and a half as Director, but when it comes to naming what he thinks are his greatest accomplishments, he hesitates. “I think I will let other people decide whether things have been great.”

That’s not to say there aren’t things he is proud of. In summary, Ashe says he is proud of his work with the Service “in a variety of capacities” and his “work on things that are important and consequential.”

Specifically, he mentions the Refuge System Improvement Act in 1997 – a framework document for managing the National Wildlife Refuge System – the Service’s first scientific integrity policy, the climate change policy, landscape-scale conservation and more.

Fish and Wildlife Service Family

But when you speak to Dan Ashe, what you hear is his appreciation for the people who work with him. He doesn’t say he is proud he did this or he did that. Instead he says “we developed,” “we drove conservation.”

   Dan diving with Susan WhiteAshe and the Service’s Susan White see the sights around Palmyra National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific. Photo by USFWS

Fitting with that, Ashe says what he will miss most at the Service when he leaves are the people.

“We use the word family a lot here in the Fish and Wildlife Service,” he says, “and in many regards it feels that way.” And he will miss working with that family on issues big and small.

Chad Karges, the manager of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, was thankful for Ashe’s help dealing with a major issue a year ago: the illegal occupation of the refuge. “Dan's engagement was fundamental to lessening impacts to Service employees and resources,” Karges says.

But the Service family needs to grow to remain relevant, and Ren Lohoefener, who just retired after 27 years with the Service, including eight years as Pacific Southwest Regional Director, credits Ashe for seeing that, calling him “a force for change within the Service.” 

  Dan with Sigma members Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity International President Jonathan Mason (left to right) chats with Ashe, Sigma Deputy Director Steve Ballard and retired Service Deputy Director Rowan Gould in 2014 after the Service and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity signed a historic agreement to encourage urban youth to experience the natural world and promote their interest in conservation and biological sciences. Photo by Tami Heilemann/DOI

Lohoefener lauds Ashe’s support of diversity in our hiring to expand our family so we better reflect the diversity of our audience.

The Service family has always played an important part in Ashe’s life. His dad, Bill, was a career employee with the Service, and Dan Ashe grew up around the refuges of the Southeast.

At an event in June, he told an audience that he used to be known around the Service as “Bill Ashe’s son.”

The idea of family extends also to some of the advice Ashe has for his successor. “Love the people that work for you,” he says, “and they’ll go to the ends of the earth for you.”

Supporting the Field

   releasing black-footed ferrets: Dan holding carrierAshe and Mountain-Prairie Regional Director Noreen Walsh release black-footed ferrets. Photo by USFWS

His father, Ashe says, taught him that. Bill Ashe was very supportive of the people in the field, and Ashe says he learned to always support the field because much of the work “that gets done in the Fish and Wildlife Service gets done by this thing we lump into ‘the field.’”

Don Campton, science advisor and fish biologist in the Pacific Region, recalls meeting Ashe at a national meeting of science staffs back when Ashe was Science Advisor to the Director at the time.  “At the meeting, Dan asked all of us, ‘What are your needs?’” Campton told him that the Service needed online electronic access to scientific journals, something that Campton says was relatively new at the time. Campton says he is sure Ashe had heard that need before, and he “made that request a reality.”

“It is impossible,” Campton says, “to overstate the value of those contributions to the Service.”

Challenges that will be Overcome

That kind of support may be key as the Service faces challenges in the years ahead – the biggest in Ashe’s mind is the growth of human population, 10 billion by midcentury. The increase, he says, means that “every day is the best remaining day” for wildlife.

He tells people this when he talks to them – because it is true, he says, and integrity is important to Ashe, something else he got from his father.

But it doesn’t mean “we won’t have success.”

Ashe is optimistic.

What it does mean, he says, is that people “will have to make places for [wildlife species] to survive.” People will have to be “energetic enough and skilled enough to make places for them to survive.”

And Ashe thinks they will.

aSHE AND mEGAN rEED   Ashe with the Service’s Megan Reed, who presented a resolution on youth engagement at the 17TH Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in October. Ashe says he’ll “remember that moment for the rest of his life.” Photo by USFWS

“I see young people who are talented and energetic and dedicated, and they have tools and will have tools we have never imagined possible to bring to the task, so I am optimistic about the future.”

Lohoefener agrees there are challenges ahead and says Ashe positioned the Service to overcome them. “Dan will be recognized as a pivotal director during a time of global challenges.”

Bryan Arroyo, the Assistant Director for International Affairs, has seen Ashe work on the world’s stage. “Dan's leadership has transcended borders, taking the conservation mission of the Service global.” 

And thanks to Ashe, Arroyo adds, the Service has become a key player worldwide. “His balanced approach between conservation and sustainability has made him and the Service a trusted partner around the globe, allowing us to be influential on both domestic and international conservation policy.” 


 Dan speaks at Ivory Crush

Ashe speaks at the Ivory Crush in New York City, the second such event designed to raise awareness of the poaching crisis that threatens the existence of elephants. Photo by USFWS

Whoever follows him will find plenty of notes on how to succeed from Ashe, who says he has been gathering advice for a while. Some are quite basic, he says, such as “don’t answer your cellphone if you don’t know the number; let them leave a message.”

More seriously, he reminds the next director that “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is an institution, not a person … your job is to maintain it so that you can hand it off to the next temporary custodian in as good or better condition than you received it.”

And he quotes President Lyndon Johnson when he describes what he calls “the dark side of the job.” Johnson once said, “Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There's nothing to do but to stand there and take it.” Sometimes, Ashe says, that is the director’s job.

But he was proud to represent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, something he has called “the greatest professional honor of my life.”

As he prepares to walk out the door as director one last time, Ashe thanks everyone. He knows he’ll still be working with the Service in his new role as President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. He also knows the Service will succeed, “and I’ll be watching.”

-- Matt Trott, External Affairs

Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

Immigrant Children Connect with Nature in Their New Home

Student hugs a plant Dirt flies as students dig in a garden, the sound of laughter bouncing across the schoolyard. “There’s sand in my shoes, but that’s not stopping me!” exclaims Maryna, a third-grader digging holes for new plants at Anza Elementary School. Most of the children who attend Anza, in El Cajon, just east of San Diego, have emigrated from war-torn countries such as Iraq and Syria, and now they are are transforming themselves into confident young girls and boys through a schoolyard habitat project.

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Students at Anza Elementary are learning to love being outdoors. Photo by Lisa Cox/USFWS

Gila Trout Swim Mineral Creek

 helicopter with big tank hanging beneath it
Gila trout arrive at the treetops over Mineral Creek. Photo by Craig Springer/USFWS

How do you move a thousand captive-raised fish from their hatchery to their release site miles away? Answer: Carefully! It helps to have a helicopter, too. That’s what it took (along with a big truck and a lot of shoe leather) to get that many Gila trout safely out to the remote headwaters of Mineral Creek, well inside the Gila National Forest of southwestern New Mexico.

On November 18, the Service, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and U.S. Forest Service released the young Gila trout, ranging from 6 inches to a foot in length, into Mineral Creek. These rare, yellow trout were spawned, hatched and raised in captivity in 2015 and 2016 at the Service’s Mora National Fish Hatchery. Hatchery fish are carefully paired and spawned to maximize genetic diversity of offspring, improving chances of their survival in the wild. The captive fish were also purposely subjected to rigorous swimming conditions in the hatchery to further ensure their fitness when released.

These trout traveled by truck eight hours to meet a helicopter at the Gila National Forest’s Glenwood Ranger Station. The aircraft made multiple flights carrying an aerated tank at the end of a long line, each time full of Gila trout. Biologists from the three agencies had hiked several miles into the rugged country to meet the trout and place them in the cool, shaded runs and pools of Mineral Creek, a tributary of the San Francisco River near Alma, New Mexico.

   Andy Dean releases Gila trout into Mineral Creek.
  Andy Dean releases Gila trout into Mineral Creek. Photo by Craig Springer/USFWS

This release is a large step forward in conserving Gila trout, which live only in New Mexico and Arizona along the Mogollon Rim, notes Andy Dean, lead Gila trout biologist with the Service’s New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. “This repatriation into Mineral Creek adds another stream to harbor Gila trout, as outlined as a necessity in the Gila Trout Recovery Plan,” he says.  “Not only does this add a population within the San Francisco River drainage, it also helps establish Gila trout populations across a larger geographical area. More Gila trout over a larger area adds greater security to this rare fish.”

That desired security will be achieved when the Mineral Creek population is naturally reproducing, and fish of multiple ages swim its waters, perhaps in 2018.

Mineral Creek came to the attention of biologists as a candidate stream to receive Gila trout after the massive Whitewater-Baldy Fire of 2012. Destructive as it was, the forest fire actually made Mineral Creek suitable for Gila trout. The fire burned in the headlands of the stream and summer rains washed a slurry of ash and debris down the creek, removing unwanted competing non-native fishes. Though the mountain slopes and streamside vegetation are not fully stabilized post-fire, sufficient habitat exists to harbor Gila trout in Mineral Creek.  With so few suitable streams available to repatriate Gila trout in the watershed, biologists seized the opportunity.

Mineral Creek was not the only stream to receive Gila trout from Mora National Fish Hatchery this autumn.  More than 8,600 Gila trout were placed in several other waters to advance the species’ recovery and entice anglers to go after native trout in native habitats of southwest New Mexico. 

The Gila trout is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The species was listed as endangered in 1973, and due to conservation measures, was downlisted to threatened in 2006. A year later, select Gila trout populations were opened to angling for the first time in 50 years. 

Craig Springer, External Affairs, Southwest Region

Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

Virtual Tour: Visiting the Winter Home of Western Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterflies Overwintering in Pacific Grove, CaliforniaDuring sunny winter days, monarch butterflies overwintering along California’s central coast will disperse from their clusters on trees, when they exhibit their underwings to disguise themselves as dead leaves, to bask in the sunshine until dusk. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

Public affairs specialist Joanna Gilkeson recently traded in a job in our Midwest Region in Minnesota for a job in California. She is a big monarch person, so when the time was right, she packed up her camera equipment and drove north along California’s coast to see monarchs overwintering in California for the first time.

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See Joanna's Photos

‘Hope Spots’ in the Ocean

  Palmyra Atoll Natl Wildlife Refuge Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is part of Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, one of five marine national monuments cooperatively managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Photo by Kydd Pollock

The ocean covers almost three-quarters of Earth’s surface and contains about 97 percent of the planet’s water. The ocean is home to an almost otherworldly array of rainbow-colored fish, exotic plants, large-winged seabirds, powerful marine mammals, living corals and vital microorganisms. We are just beginning to understand how those ocean creatures are interconnected with one another and with us.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, state and territorial governments and others to conserve the ocean and remote islands and atolls in it. The two federal agencies cooperatively manage four marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean and one in the Atlantic. 

Oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle has called the marine national monuments “hope spots” for ocean health. They are the subject of this week’s National Wildlife Refuge System photo essay, “Hope Spots” in the Ocean.

   PapahanaumokuakeaAn exotic and colorful assortment of fish, plants and corals inhabit reefs within Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Photo by James Watt 

Papahanaumokuakea, at more than 580,000 square miles, is the largest marine national monument. “It’s the largest protected area under U.S. jurisdiction. It’s the largest wholly protected area on Earth,” says Matt Brown, a Fish and Wildlife Service superintendent for the Pacific marine national monuments. “At its heart is the most remote island chain in the world, the Hawaiian Archipelago.”  

The deep water at the far end of Papahanaumokuakea is home to scores of species found nowhere else on Earth.

Additionally, Papahanaumokuakea “is the spiritual birthplace and the spiritual home of the Hawaiian people, and so it is a place of enormous cultural significance,” says Brown. “It’s also a place of enormous historical significance. In June, we’re going to commemorate the 75th anniversary the Battle of Midway. It’s the turning point of World War II. It’s all of these layers that make Papahanaumokuakea so special.”

   Mariana Trench MNM Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, clockwise from bottom left: Galatheid crabs and shrimp graze on bacterial filaments on mussel shells; tropical fish and corals inhabit an area nicknamed “the aquarium”; superheated spring water spews from Champagne Vent into cold ocean water to form bubbles of liquid carbon dioxide. Photos by NOAA Submarine Ring of Fire 2004

The other marine national monuments in the Pacific are Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monument and, in the Atlantic, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

Learn more about them in “Hope Spots” in the Ocean. It is part of the Refuge System’s series of weekly photo essays that highlight the conservation work and visitor opportunities at national wildlife refuges, wetland management districts and marine national monuments. A new photo essay is posted on the Refuge System home page each Wednesday. The essays are archived here.

Captive Rearing and Reintroduction Program Gives the Dusky Gopher Frog a Head Start at Recovery

   dusky gopher frogAdult male dusky gopher frog. Photo by John Tupy

The dusky gopher frog is a native to the longleaf pine forests of the southeastern United States. This federally endangered animal depends on temporary shallow ponds embedded in this landscape for breeding. Unfortunately, much of the open longleaf pine habitat where rainwater collects to create the ideal setting for breeding has disappeared as a result of development and fire suppression. For years, the survival of the frog has primarily depended on a single breeding pond – Glen's Pond – located within Mississippi’s DeSoto National Forest. This site has been monitored continuously since it was discovered in 1988. Since then, severe drought events and a disease outbreak in 2003 resulted in several back-to-back years where there was little to no breeding success. With few frog tadpoles surviving to adulthood, the species was in jeopardy.

A captive rearing and release program has helped bolster the wild dusky gopher frog population. By hatching egg masses brought in from the wild and raising the tadpoles in the safety of a lab, staff in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mississippi Ecological Service’s Field Office ensures the breeding population at Glen’s Pond recruits healthy adult frogs each year, even when various factors prevent the natural development of wild tadpoles into frogs.

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Monarchs and Other Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly
Monarch butterfly at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo by Ron Holmes/USFWS

We write a lot about monarch butterflies and our work to conserve them – with good reason! Almost everyone knows monarchs. They may well be North America’s best-known butterfly. And people are rallying to support them. Beyond their celebrity, though, there is another good reason. Planting milkweed, a key way to help monarchs, has benefits beyond monarchs. In fact, all our work, and that of many partners, to restore habitat for monarchs helps other pollinators. And we restored or enhanced more than 330,000 acres in 2016 for monarchs and other pollinators, blowing past our goal for 2016 AND 2017.

Lately, our work with other butterflies has been in the news.

Oregon silverspot butterflyOregon silverspot butterfly was listed as a threatened species with critical habitat in October 1980.  Photo by USFWS

In Oregon, we are working with partners to re-establish two populations of the threatened Oregon silverspot butterfly. At one time, the Oregon silverspot butterfly was widespread among 20 distinct locations from northern California to southern Washington.  Only five populations currently remain, four in Oregon and one in California.

Quino Checkerspot Butterfly on a wild hyacinthQuino checkerspot butterfly on a wild hyacinth. Photo by Andrew Fisher/USFWS Volunteer Biologist

San Diego National Wildlife Refuge is working to recover the critically endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly. A team of biologists from the San Diego Zoo, the Service and the Conservation Biology Institute recently released 742 larvae of the Quino checkerspot on the refuge. This was the first captive-rearing and release for this California native butterfly species. The Quino checkerspot was once among the most commonly seen butterflies in Southern California, but this species has experienced a drastic decline, primarily because increased urban development has deprived it of habitat. Climate change, drought, invasive plants and fire pose additional threats.

Male Smith's blue butterfly at Salinas River National Wildlife RefugeMale Smith's blue butterfly at Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Diane Kodama/USFWS

Also in California, Service senior fish and wildlife biologist Jacob Martin has been studying the endangered Smith’s blue butterfly for more than 10 years. Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge is a safe haven for the tiny butterflies, which have struggled to survive against trampling by humans and vehicles, proliferation of weeds and coastal development. A new survey technique and long-term monitoring effort will help the refuge know better how to support the Smith’s blue butterfly population.

A Bridge to Nature

Students gather around gardenStudents learn about pollinators and conservation work with Groundwork and the Service. Photo by Marilyn Kitchell

On a clear fall day last year, we helped celebrate the opening of a pollinator garden at Yonkers School 13, a pre-K to 8 school in south Yonkers. Groundwork-Hudson Valley Urban Rangers, high school students paid to work on conservation projects, built the garden, with input from our staff. The effort is another component of the Yonkers Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, which was established in 2014.The garden features plants chosen to represent four habitat types – wetlands, meadows, forest understories and grasslands. Blooming in spring or fall, the chosen plantings should provide habitat for butterflies, bees and wasps (dare we hope for a hummingbird?!) in a part of Yonkers dominated by impervious surfaces.

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U.S. and Sudan Talk Wildlife Trafficking

   delegationU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Associate Director Teresa Christopher, Chief of Law Enforcement William Woody, and Special Agent in Charge David Hubbard, visit Sudanese National Police HQ in Khartoum, Sudan, to discuss potential cooperation on combating wildlife trafficking.

Shortly after arriving in Sudan, I quickly noticed that the Sudanese bills have images of many of Africa’s iconic species – elephants, rhinos, giraffes and Cape buffalo – yet many of these species are disappearing at alarming rates.  Over 30,000 African elephants are killed each year…with populations plummeting toward extinction.  The wildlife trafficking crisis is global and has far-reaching, detrimental economic, environmental, security and social impacts -- especially in Africa.  Illegal poaching and associated wildlife trafficking are major sources of funding for transnational organized criminal networks, insurgencies and militant groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). These organizations are well structured, often violent and capable of illegally moving large commercial volumes of wildlife and wildlife products. 

In mid-December, I led a U.S. delegation to Khartoum in an unprecedented visit to assess the possibility of long-term cooperation with the Government of Sudan on efforts to halt wildlife trafficking, as well as to learn more about ivory trafficking and LRA involvement.   Sudan has historically been one of Africa’s major transit routes for illicit trade of wildlife products.  However, due to decades of ongoing conflict and strained relations between Sudan and the United States, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leaders have never visited Sudan.

Poachers and traffickers travel long distances from Sudan across central Africa in search of elephants residing in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan and other neighboring countries.  Porous borders, long-standing unrest, endemic conflict, widespread poverty, lack of economic opportunities and frequent movement of a large number of people in these areas all contribute to the illicit trade.     

Sudanese government’s seized wildlife stockpile.

Accompanied by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chief of Law Enforcement William Woody, Special Agent in Charge David Hubbard, and senior officials from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Security Council and the Directorate of National Intelligence, I spent three days meeting with senior government officials and local leaders, viewing the Sudanese government’s seized ivory stockpiles, and visiting local markets, or souqs, known to be centers of commerce for illegal wildlife products. 

As part of a high-level dialogue with the Government of Sudan, the visit included constructive discussions with national and state government leaders, National Police, ethnic leaders from Kafia-Kingi and South Darfur, and civil society representatives.  We heard about the Sudanese government’s efforts to combat wildlife trafficking and promote wildlife conservation, including deployment of officers in nine national parks, enforcement challenges, such as rough terrain, recent drug control operations and development of management plans.   We gained a better understanding of existing Sudanese wildlife laws and pending legislation.  In addition, we discussed the impacts the ongoing armed conflicts and the poor economy have had on wildlife management and trafficking. 

Following a visit on the first day with the Foreign Minister, senior officials from the National Police, Ministry of the Interior, and National Intelligence and Security Service, the delegation viewed a storage facility of seized wildlife products at the Wildlife Protection Policy Headquarters. 

   tusksSudanese government’s seized wildlife stockpile.

After speaking with the Sudanese government, I also had the opportunity to hear from more than 15 traditional leaders of ethnic groups located around Kafia-Kingi and South Darfur during a roundtable discussion.  These leaders pointed to a poor economy, the long-running conflict in Darfur, the proliferation of arms and a strong demand for exotic goods as the main reasons for illegal trafficking of wildlife.  They described movements of poachers, some of which were said to be LRA, recalling that these groups would travel between Sudan and neighboring countries in the south to poach elephants for their tusks and other wildlife for their skins. The poachers would then return to the Darfur region to sell these products.  Driven by the dire situation in the region, local hunters also turn to trafficking wildlife for income – which can be far more lucrative than farming and other means of generating money in an area that has been a conflict zone for years.

Many groups move in and out of the region across borders with the CAR and other neighboring countries, creating enforcement challenges.  But increased enforcement efforts alone will not address the problem.  Raising awareness with local communities and creating new economic opportunities as alternatives to selling ivory and wildlife products are also needed.   This was reiterated by both traditional leaders and senior government officials.  

Despite government efforts, a trip to Omdurman and Khartoum markets indicated a thriving business in wildlife products – from carved ivory tusks to snake skin shoes.

 shop  Markets in Khartoum and Omdurman openly sell ivory and other illegal wildlife products.

 wildlife products


Combating wildlife trafficking has been a major priority for the U.S., spurred by President Obama’s Executive Order in September 2013 and advanced with bipartisan support through the adoption of the END Wildlife Trafficking Act in October 2016.  U.S. efforts to combat wildlife trafficking have focused on enforcement, demand reduction, on-the-ground protection and conservation, and international cooperation and capacity building. 

Cooperation and partnerships around the globe are cornerstones of these efforts.  In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created a dedicated International Operations Unit to dramatically expand the reach and effectiveness of our law enforcement program.  We have based regional attachés in key locations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and continue to expand our global presence and encourage cooperation - with our newest special agent attaché joining the U.S. Embassy in Libreville, Gabon, this month.

The United States remains deeply committed to the Sudanese people.  Through visits like this, the U.S. aims to set a foundation for future cooperation that could not only help to save Africa’s iconic species but promote regional security and a peaceful and stable Sudan.  

About the author: Teresa R. Christopher is the Associate Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  


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