U.N., U.S. plan world war on feral wildlife

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1999:

TOKYO––Representatives of the 175 nations that
have endorsed the United Nations Convention on Biological
Diversity––including the U.S.––are to assemble in Nairobi,
Kenya, in May 2000 to draft guidelines for purging and blocking
the spread of alleged invasive species. The guidelines are
to be presented for ratification by the CBD members in 2001.
Once ratified, they could constitute a global mandate
in support of the forthcoming recommendations of the cabinetlevel
Invasive Species Council created by U.S. President Bill
Clinton on February 2, under orders to “mobilize the federal
government to defend against aggressive predators and pests.”
The mobilization is to be underway by August 2000.
The definition of “aggressive predators and pests”
addressed by both the CBD and Invasive Species Council could
include––among many other species––feral cats; feral pigs;
the mountain goats of Olympic National Park in Washington
state; street pigeons; starlings; the parrot colonies of San
Francisco, Florida, and the New York City metropolitan area;
and all wild horses and burros on public land except Bureau of
Land Management holdings, where they enjoy limited “squatters’
rights” under the 1971 Wild And Free Ranging Horse and
Burro Protection Act.

Most of these species are specifically mentioned in
the CBD Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical, and
Technological Advice document UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/4/8,
dated February 15, 1999, and presented as part of the agenda
for a June 21-25 meeting of the subsidiary body held in
Montreal. The subsidiary body is known as SBSTTA.
Japanese government officials disclosed the CBD
timetable to the Kyodo News Service on June 26, one day after
the SBSTTA meeting ended. Species likely to be targeted in
Japan, they indicated, include raccoons, weasels, marten,
common mongooses, and black bass.
The announcement came two weeks after the Japan
Environment Agency announced a plan to cull 250 of the 300
native Sika deer in the Odaigahara highlands, to protect an
ancient spruce forest from bark nibbling.
“This is the first time the Environment Agency has
decided to preserve an ecosystem by killing wild animals,”
wrote Sally Fisher of the Hong Kong-based South China
Morning Post. In absence of strong public protest, however,
the deer cull will doubtless not be the last such project.
Virtually ignored by U.S. and Canadian media, and
by the international humane community, SBSTTA has been
planning a worldwide war on non-native animals and plants
since May 1998, when it adopted “Decision IV/1.C on alien
species that threaten ecosystems, habitats or species.”
According to a “Note by the Executive Secretary”
prefacing the February 15 document, “The COP [Conference
of the Parties to the CBD] requested SBSTTA to develop guiding
principles for the prevention, introduction and mitigation of
impacts of alien species.”
The document, amounting to a summary SBSTTA
anti-invasive species agenda, is markedly less partisan than the
political context surrounding it––but there is still much in it to
cause concern that non-native so-called nuisance wildlife may
be aggressively, inaccurately, and inhumanely targeted for
allegedly causing extinctions of endangered species and economic
damage which may actually result from global warming,
pollution, and other habitat change caused by human activity.
Blaming invasive species could, for instance, enable
regulators to waive restrictions on development that might otherwise
be required under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Habitat could be further destroyed, while a program to kill a
non-native species passed as a mitigation measure.
Looking at related Congressional action, Defenders

of Wildlife Greenlines editor Roger
Featherstone in an August 5 electronic alert
warned, “Sources indicate that Interior
Secretary Bruce Babbitt has persuaded Senator
Slade Gorton (R-Washington) to introduce an
amendment to the Senate Interior
Appropriations bill to limit funding for critical
habitat designations under the Endangered
Species Act. Earlier this year,” Featherstone
explained, “Babbitt worked behind the scenes
with Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico)
in an attempt to gut the critical habitat provisions
of the ESA. Environmentalists believe
Babbitt wants Congress to give only $1 million
for critical habitat so the agency can plead
poverty when faced with lawsuits challenging
their failure to list critical habitat. The ESA
requires that critical habitat be designated
when a species is listed, yet more than 90% of
the listed species have none designated.”
Targeting non-native species could
also reinforce tax-funded programs to encourage
hunting, fishing, and trapping––like the
thus far futile effort to rid Lake Yellowstone of
rainbow trout via sport fishing. The rainbow
trout were introduced to Yellowstone National
Park in the first place to increase fishing
opportunities. The influential Louisiana delegation
to Congress might seek federal subsidies
for trapping nutria. The Wild and Free
Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act
might be repealed on the pretext that it contradicts
an international treaty, much as the 1990
Dolphin Protection Act was recently amended
to eliminate the provision barring imports of
tuna netted “on dolphin.”
Most obviously, the federal and
international invasive species eradication programs
together form a politically safe pretext
for continuing the increasingly unpopular and
ecologically destructive USDA Wildlife
Services branch. Formerly known as Animal
Damage Control, the program changed names
in 1997. As always since it was formed in
1930, Wildlife Services kills mainly coyotes,
prairie dogs, and other species accused of
either preying upon or competing with livestock––but
in recent years it has sought to promote
an image of protecting endangered
species, as in killing coyotes at the Julia
Hansen Butler Refuge in southern Washington
to increase the survival of formerly endangered
Columbia whitetailed deer fawns.
Jointly chaired by Interior Secretary
Bruce Babbitt, Commerce Secretary William
Daley, and Agriculture Secretary Dan
Glickman, the Invasive Species Council provided
a boon to Senators from western ranching
states by securing the status of Wildlife
Services within the federal budget––and was
announced on the eve of Clinton’s impeachment
trial before the U.S. Senate, for allegedly
misusing his office and lying to Congress
about his sexual liaisons with former White
House aide Monica Lewinsky.
Wildlife Services briefly lost more
than a third of its $28.8 million fiscal 1999
allocation in June 1998, when the House of
Representatives axed it as a boondoggle––but
the cut was rescinded within days, under
intense regional political pressure.
Coincidentally, the sum Clinton
allocated to fulfill the recommendations of the
Invasive Species Council was also $28.8 million:
enough to precisely double the Wildlife
Services budget.

Includes dogs and cats
Hired as Invasive Species Council
executive director was Gordon Brown, coauthor
with Cornell University professor
David Pimentel of a recent study which claims
alien plants and animals are already costing the
U.S. $138 billion a year, including $300 million
in various other forms of federal spending,
and are responsible for jeopardizing 42% of
the species on the U.S. endangered species list.
The monetary figures include all
costs of rat control, the estimated $30 milliona-year
cost of treating dog bites, $10 million
in livestock losses purportedly caused by dogs,
and $6 million a year for the lost insect-eating
capacity of birds believed to have been killed
by outdoor cats.
Brown reportedly told Knight Ridder
Newspapers science reporter Seth Borenstein
that he envisions forming an organization
“something like a cross between the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention and a wildfire
fighting force, that can parachute in to
contain the spread of exotics.”
But plant ecologist Marcel Rejmanek
of the University of California at Davis told
Borenstein that he doubts a combative rather
than preventive approach can succeed.
“Unless new species are discovered
very early,” Rejmanek said, “we have to
switch from an offensive strategy to a defensive
strategy. We don’t have any chance to
eradicate any species that is widespread.”
Animal control cat-killing provides a
quick example of that. Except on small islands
of extremely harsh climate and limited food
supply, catch-and-kill has never lastingly
depressed cat populations. Aggressive
neuter/return programs have brought feral cat
population crashes, however, in every locale
where results have been monitored over several
years. Cats, like many other “invasive” animals,
have evolved high enough fecundity to
withstand predation at rates of up to 100%
population turnover per year. Reducing the
fecundity of the animals already in the habitat,
rather than accelerating extermination, is the
key to gradually eliminating their presence.

Lethal methods
The success of neuter/return notwithstanding,
the hunter/conservationists and cataversive
birders who dominate wildlife agencies
continue to seek ever deadlier cat-killing
methods. In Australia, for instance, the federally
funded National Heritage Trust––in the
name of protecting biodiversity––announced
on July 22 that it will underwrite trials of a
poison called FTC-2, engineered by the
Victorian Institute for Animal Science to kill
only cats. The estimated 15 million Australian
feral cats kill about four million native animals
per year, the project planners explained,
apparently without mentioning that the cats are
also the leading predators of rabbits.
Another non-native species, introduced
for hunting in 1856, rabbits swiftly
occupied the burrows of extirpated native marsupials,
proliferated to become a nationally
decried pest species within 15 years, and purportedly
now cost Australian farmers about
$600 million annually in lost production and
control expense. But other introduced species
are favored against rabbits: the flea-borne disease
mixomiatosis; and rabbit hemorrhagic
disease, also called rabbit calicivirus.
At urging of the Universities
Federation for Animal Welfare, some
British humane societies began using
neuter/return instead of catch-and-kill to
control feral cats as early as 1973,
18 years before major neuter/return
projects debuted in the U.S.
The success of that
approach may have influenced the
British Forestry Commission to pursue
the development of contraceptives
to replace lethal methods in trying
to keep introduced American
grey squirrels from out-competing
and hybridizing with native red
squirrels. “The search for a contraceptive
solution has moved out of
the laboratory and field tests are
being carried out,” a Foresty
Commission spokesperson told A.J.
McIlroy of the London D a i l y
Telegraph on July 19.
“The aim,” the spokesperson
continued, “is to control the
population of grey squirrels, not to
exterminate them.”
Non-lethal reproductive
control may be the most humane and
most practical approach to handling
any sentient invasive species. But it
may not satisfy the demand of people
annoyed by a particular animal to
see it fall down dead.

Priority #1
Concern over invasive species was
written into the Convention on Biological
Diversity right from the start, when it was produced
as the central achievement of the 1992
Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
CBD Article 8 states that “each
Contracting Party shall, as far as possible and
as appropriate…prevent the introduction of,
control, or eradicate alien species which
threaten ecosystems, habitats or species.”
Explained the February 15 SBSTTA
agenda, “At subsequent meetings of SBSTTA
and of the COP, Parties recognized that negative
impacts of alien species on biological
diversity concern not only marine and coastal,
but also inland water, agricultural and forest
ecosystems. Further, alien species pose problems
to indigenous and local communities and
negatively affect local and national economies.
This ultimately led the COP to decide, at its
fourth meeting, that alien species is a crosscutting
issue for implementation of many of
the themes of the Convention.”
In other words, alien species moved
up in February 1999 from being one CBD concern
among many to becoming Priority One.
This represented a major behind-thescenes
victory for the biotechnology industry,
largely based in the U.S. and other developed
nations; for hunter/conservationists, who prefer
to blame invasive species rather than sport
hunting and poaching done under cover of
sport hunting for the decline of many so-called
trophy species; and, especially, for U.S.
Vice President Albert Gore.
Gore, as presiding officer of the
U.S. Senate, has the primary constitutional
responsibility for negotiating and securing ratification
of international treaties.
When the CBD was formed, the
underdeveloped nations which make up the
majority of membership tried to center discussion
on genetic property rights––still the most
divisive issue on the CBD calendar.
If an underdeveloped nation preserves
habitat within which animals or plants
with genes of future value to biotechnology are
discovered, Third World representatives contend,
that nation should receive royalties on
any applications of the discovery.
Nations with advanced biotech
industries, led by the U.S., have resisted the
royalty concept as an infringement on intellectual
property rights.
Advancing the invasive species issue
has neither resolved nor sidetracked the genetic
property rights dispute, so far. But producing
an global plan for invasive species control
will provide a pretext for offering aid to underdeveloped
nations whose official philosophies
on biodiversity coincide with those of the
developed nations, perhaps tipping the balance
in the semi-stalemated genetic property
rights debate toward the U.S. perspective.

The agenda
The scientific foundation of the CBD
drive against non-native species is the 1995
Global Biodiversity Assessment published by
the United Nations Environment Program.
The Global Biodiversity Assessment, however,
cited invasive species as only one among
five major threats to endangered species, also
including loss of habitat, changes in habitat
quality, habitat fragmentation, and persecution
and exploitation of populations.
From that relatively conservative
position, the SBSTTA agenda now asserts,
“It is common scientific understanding that,
globally, the negative impacts of alien species
on native communities are second only to
habitat destruction,” lumping all three forms
of habitat damage together.
“These threats are particularly serious
on oceanic islands of small area and characterized
by species having a highly specific
ecological function,” the SBSTTA agenda
continues. “However, even in ecosystems
covering larger areas there is no guarantee of
durability of the native species once alien ones
have been introduced. In addition to those
alien species interacting with the native

species’ ecological niches, the latter species
are also threatened by hybridization,” a position
seeming to ignore that hybridization is one
of the major engines of evolution.
“When addressing the issue of alien
species,” the SBSTTA agenda stipulates, “it
is important to differentiate between natural
invasions and human introductions of species.
Species do spread naturally,” SBTTA concedes.
“For example, climatic variation provides
opportunities for the introduction of
species into new ecosystems. As a general
rule,” SBTTA adds, “when a species enters
an ecosystem in which it previously did not
occur, it has some effects on the ecosystem
composition, but not always large, observable
effects on the ecosystem processes.”
Thus the SBTTA agenda stops short
of slating all species introductions for attempted
reversal––because to target agricultural
introductions, for instance, including genetically
modified species, would be to take on
foes of vastly greater clout than anyone
defending feral wildlife.
“Most of the invasions are humaninduced,”
the SBTTA agenda proceeds. “In
most cases, species are introduced for food
purposes and for providing other services to
people. In most of the world it is indeed
imported species that provide the large extent
of food sources. Further, to maintain the
health of economically important introduced
species, the introduction of additional species
is often required, the latter being used in biological
control programs.”
The SBTTA agenda even acknowledges
that, “Human introductions may have
enriched the biological diversity of certain
geographical areas, such as in the case of the
British mammalian fauna and the central
European flora.”
In other words, the CBD does not
propose to take on either British animal rights
activists or horticulturalists.
The SBTTA agenda further admits
that, “There are no records of global extinction
of a continental species as a result of invasive
species.” The SBTTA agenda cites
instead local declines to argue that non-native
species may harm continental biodiversity.
Finally, the SBTTA agenda states,
“Eradication of invasive species using currently
available methods can be very expensive or
even impossible. While large mammals can be
reduced in numbers and even exterminated on
small islands or in restricted areas, smaller
animals and invasive plants are almost impossible
to eradicate in any situation. The cost of
finding and introducing natural parasites and
predators for the large number of invasive
species is also prohibitive, bearing in mind
safety considerations for other species, and
such procedures have often resulted in further
ecological disasters. Additionally, when local
species have been exterminated (such as in the
case of island and aquatic systems), recovery
proves to be impossible. Measures to prevent
the introduction of species into new environments
are therefore to be preferred.”

If the Invasive Species Council
chose to emphasize a preventive approach,
instead of trying to wipe out feral animals, the
humane community might hope for new
restrictions on the exotic pet traffic, and an
end to introductions of species to be hunted,
such as Sika deer and Chinese pheasants. The
focus of the Invasive Species Council might be
on such matters as the arrival of microorganisms
with ballast water from foreign vessels.
Currently, observes Jim Brewer,
cofounder of Pigs: A Sanctuary, and now
coordinator of an ad hoc committee seeking to
gain humane representation on the Invasive
Species Council advisory panel, “It would
appear that the focus presented to the public is
going to be weeds. I doubt that we are going
to hear anything about the eradication of animals,”
even though “the executive order pertaining
to noxious weeds and invasive plants
pertains also to animal pests and predators.”
But Brewer thinks the Invasive
Species Council is unlikely to stop at weeds.
The efforts of the American Bird Conservancy
and National Audubon Society to promote war
on feral cats are ongoing, as is the disregard of
The Nature Conservancy for humane standards
in its 20-year push to kill feral pigs and goats
in Hawaii, and pigs, goats, and sheep in the
Channel Islands off southern California.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
has since 1993 urged a boycott of TNC over
conduct of the Hawaiian purges.
Audubon and other conservation
groups also pushed the proposed extermination
of mountain goats in Olympic National Park
for allegedly harming rare native plants, even
though the goats documentedly killed only six
endangered milkvetch plants in 10 years.
On environmental matters, Albert
Gore makes no secret of taking his cue from
the hunter/conservationists.
Says Brewer, “I cannot understand
why the multi-million-dollar animal groups
with multi-person offices aren’t jumping on
this. Just from my brief readings of the preliminary
documents, non-native animals are in

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