Greens Sue USA for Info on Wildlife Trade

     TUCSON (CN) — Millions of plants and wildlife from around the globe make their way into the country every year, and the Center for Biological Diversity has sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to find out how many of those imported species may be rare or imperiled.
     “These imports include everything from python-skin boots, to parrots and turtles destined for the pet trade, to corals, orchids, and shells used for home decor, to lions killed as hunting trophies, as well as zoo and scientific specimens,” the environmental group says in its Aug. 9 lawsuit in Federal Court.
     Its Feb. 24 Freedom of Information Act request sought information on which species are allowed into the United States as hunting trophies or for commercial trade and scientific research.
     “Wildlife trade is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity around the world and one of the key things is to determine how much of it is going on,” Brendan Cummings, an attorney for the center, said in an interview. “By doing so, we can assess the level of threats and the role the U.S. market is playing for different species.”
     The complaint states that public records such as those requested once were routinely disclosed, including the value and quantity of specimens and names of importers and exporters.
     “Rather inexplicably they decided not to provide that information and adopted a policy saying it’s all confidential business information,” Cummings said.
     Nor has Fish and Wildlife responded to an administrative appeal the center filed in April.
     Christine Tincher, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
     The center calls the data critical to its operations, saying it relies on federal records to track which species are traded most, evaluate trade as a threat, and determine whether trade is for medicinal or decorative purposes, among other reasons.
     “The data and our subsequent analysis informs the center’s organizational strategy, including for determining which species may require additional study and scientific research, advocacy for both domestic and international protections, or increased public awareness,” the lawsuit states.
     Plenty of species coming into the U.S. are recognized by scientists as imperiled, “yet trafficking them is still legal,” Cummings said.
     One such species is the nautilus, a mollusk harvested in Indo-Pacific nations whose prized shell is often used as decoration.
     Between 2005 and 2014, the U.S. imported more than 900,000 specimens of nautilus, which is increasingly endangered, the center says in its lawsuit. The most-trafficked mammal on earth — the pangolin, or scaly anteater — also has been brought into the country.
     “The U.S. in many respects is often considered the largest player in the wildlife trade after China when you add all the components of wildlife trade — whether aquarium trade, pet trade, dead animal products, trophies, things of that sort,” Cummings said. “The U.S. consumes a huge percentage of the world’s wildlife.
     “For many of these species, the U.S. market should simply be shut down. For others, the data may show the U.S. has a tiny part of the market.”
     But without the data, the attorney said, it’s difficult to figure out how the U.S. can help stem wildlife trade, which is the second largest threat to the animals. The first is habitat destruction.

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