Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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NOTE: This position statement just came to my attention. I wish I had learned about it on 10 August, since I would have shared it immediately on that day.


August 10, 2009

Public Comments Processing
Attn: FWS-R9-IA-2009-0016
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive
Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203

As president of Parrots International I am forwarding the official position statement of Parrots International in opposition to the proposed addition of 14 species to the Endangered Species Act (FWS-R9-IA-2009-0016).

Parrots International is a non-profit organization dedicated to field research and conservation of endangered parrot species. We have extensive experience regarding in situ parrot conservation. We work in strategic international partnerships to promote parrot conservation in the wild. We presently have over 14 field research and parrot conservation projects in Central American, South America and the Caribbean. The USFWS awarded Parrots International the “Partnership in Conservation” award in 2006 for our support of the USFWS captive breeding and recovery efforts for the Puerto Rican Parrot, and, Parrots International is an official USFWS fundraiser and consultant for the USFWS Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Project.

Parrots International is funding and involved in active conservation projects in the field (in situ) with the following species proposed for addition to the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA):

— Blue-throated Macaw (Ara glaucogularis) — Beni Department, Bolivia
— Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus) — Costa Rica
— Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) — Pantanal, Mato Grosso de Sul, Brazil
— Military Macaw (Ara militaris) – Oaxaca State, Mexico
— Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) – Guatemala and Nicaragua

The Parrots International Position Statement
From the perspective of Parrots International, a parrot conservation organization, there is no arguable substantial scientific value to adding these 14 parrot species to the Endangered Species Act.

An examination of the potential value (conservation) of the addition of additional exotic species to ESA:

  1. Will the addition of these species to the ESA decrease illegal trade? No.

      a. Listing under the U.S. ESA will not decrease illegal trade in these species. The Wild Bird Conservation Act and CITIES [sic] are the proper vehicles to decrease illegal trade. Of the 14 proposed species additions, ten are CITIES Appendix I listed, the highest protection afforded by CITIES, which presently requires both import and export permits for international trade and commerce. Furthermore, under current CITES resolutions, all commercial trade in these species is prohibited.

      Blue-throated Macaw (Ara glaucogularis)
      Blue-headed Macaw (Primolius couloni)
      Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus)
      Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus)
      Military Macaw (Ara militaris)
      Philippine Cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia)
      Red-crowned Parrot (Amazona viridigenalis)
      Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)
      Thick-billed Parrot (Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha)
      Yellow-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea)

      The remaining four species are CITIES Appendix II (which only allows sustainable trade). But virtually all commercial trade in these CITES Appendix II species is still prohibited under our own Wild Bird Conservation act of 1992.

      However, the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 (WBCA) prevents the importation in all 14 species into the US. Therefore, addition of these species to the U.S. ESA will provide no additional trade restrictions.

  2. Will the ESA provide protection on lands under United States control? No.

      a. None of the 14 proposed species are endemic to lands controlled by the US. Nor is the US likely to control these foreign lands in the distant future.

  3. Will the ESA provide funding for recovery of these 14 species? No.

      a. There are no appropriations or funding for exotic species listed under the U.S. ESA. Congress had failed, since 1972, to provide funding for this law to protect, enhance, or otherwise conserve exotic, listed, species.

An examination of the drawbacks (negative conservation) of the addition of these 14 species, or any exotic species, to the U.S. ESA:

Parrots species not presently listed on the ESA are represented by genetically healthy viable populations in US aviculture. The founder birds of these healthy US captive populations were imported prior to the WBCA in 1992. The WBCA act has successfully prevented importation of these species since 1992 (protected wild parrot species from trafficking).

Every parrot species currently listed under the ESA has suffered severe negative consequences in efforts to maintain a captive-bred genetically viable population within the US. In fact, due to the onerous placed on breeders to obtain Interstate commerce permits or Captive-bred wildlife registrations to sell birds across a State line, inbreeding coefficients of species currently listed are very high. Furthermore, the captive populations of many species listed on the ESA have decreased. Captive, responsibly bred, populations of these parrots may be very important in the future. The USFWS Puerto Rican Parrot captive breeding program is a case in point. Without captive breeding and supplementation of the tiny wild population, the Puerto Rican Parrot would most certainly be extinct today. The proposed legislation would unilaterally negatively affect captive breeding efforts of these species with no foreseeable positive consequence on the wild populations:

  1. Adverse effect on captive-bred populations of past ESA listed (exotics) parrots:
    1. The Golden Conure (Guaruba guarouba) example:
      Listing of the Golden Conure has had a severe detrimental effect on its captive breeding. Listing on the ESA places severe restrictions on the sale and movement of this species within the US and between states. This legislation, which was in fact intended to conserve the species, has resulted in a detrimental decline in the captive population size and genetic viability.
    2. The Cuban Amazon (Amazona leucocephala) example:
      The Cuban Amazon has become one of the most poorly represented parrots in US captive breeding efforts.
    3. The Thick-billed Parrot (Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha):
      The Thick-billed Parrot is almost unknown in US aviculture and captive breeding efforts.

Regarding the Blue-headed Macaw. Recent wild population estimates of the Blue-headed Macaw by Brightsmith, et. al have demonstrated that the wild population is far larger and more widespread than previous estimates. Based on this recent data, Bird Life International is presently considering “downlisting” the species from its Red List, from “Endangered” to “Vulnerable”.

In summary, there is no viable scientific value in adding these 14 species to the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Conversely, there is a predictable detrimental consequence of this addition, whereby the captive breeding population and domestically supported genetic diversity of these species will be negatively affected.

Currently, captive breeders and aviculture in general, are the main potential contributors of reintroduction captive individuals to in situ conservation efforts of exotic parrot species. To further limit their commerce here in the United States through listing under the U.S. ESA would begin to erode that financial base of support. Is Congress willing to pick up the tab for exotic species conservation and captive breeding of these species?

If the addition of these fourteen species to the Endangered Species Act guaranteed substantial funding for the recovery and conservation of these species, then the benefits might outweigh the liabilities and detrimental effects on the captive breeding populations. Since there is no available funding, and no foreseeable source in this economic climate, then the liabilities severely outweigh the assets, as the genetic pool and diversity of these species in US aviculture and captive breeding programs would be severely, negatively affected.

All the Best,

Mark Stafford
President, Parrots International
mark@parrotsinternational.org
www.parrotsinternational.org
(310) 393-8317

The wildlife service is accepting comments and information concerning this petition [free PDF] regarding these 14 parrot species until 14 September 2009. To comment, write to:

Public Comments Processing
Attn: FWS-R9-IA-2009-0016
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive
Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203

Comments will not be accepted by e-mail, phone or fax.

Comments

  1. #1 Dan Frisby
    August 30, 2009

    At the Summer Annual Convention of the Humane Society of the US in Alexandria,VA I learned about the trafficking of parrots that I had no idea of before!

    Your work is appreciated even thought it may often feel like ‘spitting into the ocean’ to get awareness for the ways these magnificent creatures are treated by humanity.

    Bless you in your courage & endurance to keep humans aware of the abuse parrots experience in the name of PROFIT!

    Respectfully,
    Rev. Dan J Frisby
    retired United Methodist minister
    Oklahoma City,OK

  2. #2 "GrrlScientist"
    August 30, 2009

    reverend: you are mistaking me for a wingnut.

    parrot trafficking? in the USA? prove it.

  3. #3 Don Wheeler
    August 30, 2009

    Dear Devorah,
    Thank you so much for bringing this position paper to my attention. My thanks to Parrots International for stating the obvious and not buckling to the political winds against responsible methods of both conservation and parrot ownership. The gene pool contraction is a critical problem that will doom many captive bred species in the future if not scientifically addressed. I have and will continue to support this worthy organization. For those that truly love and care about these birds, the best payback is helping to maintain and increase their numbers in the wild through legitimate means such as P.I.

    With regards to the H$U$, anyone who has the mistaken belief that they represent animal welfare should take a close look at their finances and learn how little is actually spent on conservation. H$U$ and PETA exist to fund raise for the primary purpose of supporting their executive staffs in a very comfortable manner.
    Yours,
    Don Wheeler

  4. #4 travc
    August 30, 2009

    Thanks for posting this. I doubt I’d run across it otherwise.

    Props to Parrots International on this. Yet another example of environmental/conservation groups being serious about actually doing good and not just feeling good (with simplistic knee-jerk reactions).

    PS: A quick technical question. The listing of “Scarlet Macaw: Guatemala and Nicaragua” confuses me a bit. Is the ESA proposal to only list the populations in Guatemala and Nicaragua? Habitat destruction is a big problem, but picking this particular species seems odd since they range very widely and poaching/trade has been really reduced by CITES.

    Smells like picking a particularly charismatic species to ‘rally’ support for conservation around. Sometimes effective, but ultimately a bad idea IMO.

  5. #5 Firebyrd
    August 31, 2009

    Ugh, not this again. Who comes up with these things? It’s like they want these birds to go extinct. Yeah, I’m sure Laney Rickman is going to have a great time trying to keep her blue-throat macaw conservation efforts going if she can’t get birds across state lines.

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