Thursday, November 15, 2012

A new lens

A S-event, congressional hearing, a National Geographic Symposium, a myriad of interagency meetings and briefings. Its been a crazy two weeks and I was only peripherally involved in the frenzy surrounding wildlife crime in DC this week.  I'm assured that this stuff never happens in our office. Its not often that the Secretary (S) of State becomes passionate about a conservation or biodiversity issue.

I don't know if all of this high profile attention will translate into action and progress on the ground, but I have started to see conservation and biodiversity differently.

I have spent my scientific career studying marine processes to improve our understanding of the world around us. I've stayed away from conservation per se - partially after seeing too many hippies pedaling hemp to save the earth growing up in California and partially because of a deep seeded value for curiosity. I had never thought about the broader implications of preserving biodiversity and the environment.  Of course its a good thing... but not just for the sake of the environment. How is it that the crazy hippies didn't ever convince me - a biologist, a believer in the environment - that a healthy and protected environment is essential for our  national security, global economy, and health. Now it shouldn't have to be about humans, but there might be a lot more buy in if it was.

National Security. What does conservation have to with national security?  We'll start there since its been integral to the wildlife events the past two weeks. A testimony to Senate and House Reps of the International Conservation Caucus painted a grim picture not just of rhino's horns being cut off and elephants slaughtered for the skyrocketing price of ivory but of a growing, untraceable monetary supply for terrorist groups. With other revenue streams successfully being closed off, rebel and terrorist groups are turning to the lucrative business of poaching in developing countries with poor environmental protection and enforcement. Well-run wilderness (marine, forest, savannah, or other) preserves coupled with stable local communities surrounding them will not only save species but might close off a revenue stream to ... well, bad people.
 "From al-Shabaab to the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army, we are seeing the worst of the world’s worst poaching elephants to fund their illicit activities," said Rep. Royce.  "... The transnational aspect of the illegal wildlife trade and the demand from Asia has elevated this problem from an ‘African problem’ to a global problem. There are dangerous terrorist connections. It is time we target these networks engaged in the illegal wildlife trade."

World peace through environmental conservation? Not quite but a necessary step in the right direction.

Monday, November 5, 2012


I'm foreboden from discussing politics at work, and I'll keep that pledge here. The most important thing is to VOTE.

Its a strange thing being entrenched in the policy side of the government during a major election year. If there's a change in the White House, science and foreign policy will likely get a big overhaul.  Aside from the intangible policy, people will be in flux. Political appointees may or may not disappear in the next few months. A few are already set to leave no matter what.

Right now last minute (midnight hour) policies are being pushed through for VIPs to leave their mark or stamp on the landscape. My office is all in a tizzy trying to push through multiple 'action items' before the upheaval. I am quite excited that at least a couple of the VIP causes will help conserve wildlife and the environment!