*Update: H.R. 2494 passed the House by voice vote on 11/2. On to the Senate!
There aren't many good days in the current Congress, but today is one of them!
The Global Anti-Poaching Act (H.R. 2494), introduced by Rep. Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Engel (D-NY), is on the House Suspension Calendar for today and is expected to pass. It has been co-sponsored by 43 Republicans and 64 Democrats--nearly a quarter of House members!
As many of you know, the current poaching crisis has reached an unprecedented level, with 100,000 elephants killed between 2010 and 2012 alone--a quarter of the remaining population. Between 2007 and 2014, rhino poaching incidents jumped from just 13 to over 1,200, representing a 9300% increase. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other animals affected by wildlife trafficking that we don't hear about as often like pangolins, sea horses, and abalone.
In the United States and elsewhere, penalties aren't strong enough to deter wildlife traffickers--something we've worked to address through state ivory bans in New York, New Jersey, and California. Indeed, wildlife trafficking is so lucrative that the fines and modest prison sentences enforced under U.S. and foreign laws are well worth the risk for traffickers.
Further, the countries in which many of the species imperiled by poaching live lack the resources to address this growing problem. Specifically, their anti-poaching rangers, who are tasked with protecting animals from poachers, often lack the training and equipment (e.g., night vision goggles) necessary to do their job.
There is also the problem of widespread corruption in many of the African nations these species call home. Indeed, a National Intelligence Council analysis found that certain African government officials facilitated the movement of wildlife products, and that these governments' ability to reduce poaching and trafficking was hindered by corruption.
H.R. 2494 addresses many of these issues. First, in the United States, the bill will make wildlife trafficking cases easier to prosecute and authorize harsher penalties for wildlife traffickers by classifying wildlife trafficking as a predicate offense under federal money laundering and racketeering laws and the Travel Act. The bill will make the penalties for wildlife trafficking equivalent to ones for weapon and drug trafficking.
It will help address the lack of anti-poaching resources in Africa by providing funds (which will come from money seized from wildlife trafficking) and technical and logistical support to combat wildlife trafficking. For example, the bill will professionalize wildlife enforcement in affected African countries through the adoption of international standards, effective training programs, and the provision of surveillance equipment. It will also facilitate information sharing and coordination of large-scale anti-trafficking efforts by establishing new wildlife enforcement networks.
And, finally, it will help address corruption by holding countries accountable for failure to observe international anti-trafficking laws. The Secretary of State will be responsible for identifying and reporting on governments that have not fulfilled their legal obligations to protect threatened and endangered species and will be authorized to withhold certain assistance from them. Additionally, the bill will include the Secretary of State in Pelly Amendment certification procedures and require the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of Commerce to report to Congress on any Pelly Amendment certification.
The number of bipartisan cosponsors on H.R. 2494 and the fact that it is expected to pass the House of Representatives (can we just reflect on that for a minute?) shows just how much support there is in the U.S. for ending wildlife trafficking. Hopefully, a lot more good can come from that.