Cameron Peak Fire

I have known George since 1964. We were 17, working at a youth camp as ranch hands with a couple of other guys who have continued to be lifelong friends, some closer than others, but we continued to stay in touch, brothers in life by any measure, George, Clark, Terry, Stan, the guys I particularly remember. George loves living in the mountains and is a great host. His story is an epic journey like each of ours but suffice it to say that today he lives an idyllic life nestled beneath the Mummy Range on the northern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. Idyllic, but changed for the foreseeable future due to last year’s fires.

Clark, the another ranch hand in the summer of 1964, joined me in a visit to George’s house on a weekend in June, 2021, a year after the fire. George lives on a small parcel of land immediately adjacent to Hourglass Reservoir, a mile or so east of Comanche Reservoir. Although Hourglass is on private land, Comanche Reservoir sits inside Roosevelt National Forest. Unfortunately, the entire terrain around George’s place and the neighboring CSU Pingree Park and Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp was engulfed in the Cameron Peak Fire, the largest fire on record in Colorado, burning 326 square miles of forest.   

The New York Times last week published a full-page story about the effects of fire on water quality from scorching, slow-moving fires. (Google NYTimes “Wildfires threat to urban water suppliers”). The article specifically references Cameron Peak. We experienced the aftermath of such a fire walking to Comanche Lake, our destination for the weekend. While the lake was surrounded by fire, the lake itself survived the burn. Still, after hiking to the base of the last ridge, it was impossible to go further because the trees that were teetering half on the ground were unstable.  Remaining trees, half-dead half-alive were oozing with raw sap. The fire’s extreme heat destroyed everything on the ground incinerating all organic material. It was raining. The soil unable to absorb moisture caused the rain to immediately charge downhill quickly becoming eroding torrents.

The point of all this is to recognize things have and are changing. It’s not like we can go hiking in the 60s and 70s. I generally write about my experiences in Kenya, the people there, their commitment to animal welfare, conservation, and the notion of “one health.” One Health, everything is connected. Habitat, climate, weather, biological diversity, water quality, these are common natural elements changing or under attack. After our Comanche Lake hike I realize and appreciate the efforts in many places to save our environment for our children. We keep at it.

A special THANK YOU to all the Firefighters who worked all summer and into December to bring the Cameron Peak Fire under control. Anyone with buildings still standing owes the government and those involved a ton of gratitude.

BBC News uncovers need for training freight handlers to identify animal trafficing

On February 7, 2015, the BBC News Science & Environment division published a report about the lack of preparedness among freight and shipping handlers for identifying animal parts transported across international boarders.  Among the findings and statements:

  • Poaching of rhinos in South Africa reached a record of 1,215 last year
  • Tigers have been killed off to a level that is 5% of what the population was a century ago.  There are approximately 3,000 tigers left in all the world
  • Smugglers are learning new tricks to disguise horn and ivory
  • Asian ivory carvers are moving into Africa to practice their trade

The article is noteworthy because it is describing the lengths criminals pursue to evade detection.  All this is fueled by consumer demand for animal parts.  Bangles, or bracelets are easily disguised as plastic.  There are few techniques for testing the composition of items declared as something that is not horn or ivory.   Ivory bracelets are labeled  “vintage” or “antique”.  Shipping handlers are stymied and have little recourse but to accept the shipment as is.  How can they question the age of an item?  In practice the burden of proof of age falls to the agent and veracity of the owner shipping the item.

Today, I did a search on eBay and found many bangles for sale that look like ivory.  EBay prohibits the sale of ivory on its site because eBay doesn’t accept the documentation of age from owners.  I wonder if anything slips through and is published for sale?  Perhaps someone reading this blog knows how on-line marketing groups like eBay monitor bangles and ivory-looking objects.  I would be interested in knowing more.  I don’t want to disparage legitimate dealers, but who monitors the claims that ivory is pre-ban and can they prove it?  The volume of pre-ban bangles for sale on the Internet is impressive.  I found one pre-ban bangle priced at $700.

Ivory carvers from China moving to Africa to ply their trade is disturbing.  It puts tradespeople closer to the source of ivory and bone further encouraging demand.  It also suggests the markets in China are expanding.  Edmond and Stiles, in their landmark 2008 publication, Ivory Markets in the U.S.A, identified fewer than 200 ivory carvers in this country (pages 21-23).  In the U.S., carves worked ivory for knife-handles, billiard cues, jewelery, musical instruments, scrimshanders, restored antiques, netsuke and handgun grips.  I’m not aware of an inventory of carvers since this publication which suggests the trades are dying out in the U.S.  The news in the BBC article suggest the trade in carving ivory is far from dead.

This is all the more reason for the bringing attention to the expanding markets worldwide.   We should not be complacent that the poaching of African wildlife is going away.  We might be hopeful the situation is changing.  Fewer elephants were poached in Kenya in 2014 than in 2013.  However, the observations about animal trafficking and general preparedness to identify, arrest and prosecute criminals is not encouraging.

Finally, selling ivory is still a problem for us in the United States.  The purchase of ivory  feeds supply lines and commerce requiring more dead elephants.  A colleague visited San Francisco California last month (January 2015) and took these store front snapshots.  If the American public wants to buy ivory, there still is a lot of it for sale.

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Elephant Poaching Continues

NPR’s story featuring four African Presidents  calls for diplomatic pressure to be brought to bear on China as well as night vision goggles and helicopters.

Poaching elephants continues, even in the face of more publicity and awareness throughout the world.

The Wall Street Journal publishes an Opinion piece by Tony O. Elumelu, a philanthropist in Lagos, Nigeria.  Mr. Elumelu’s comments are about the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington D.C. that is going on this week.  It is the coincidence that brings together the panel of four African Presidents interviewed by NPR.

Elumelu’s headline is “Africa is Open for Business, Ready for Investment”.  He extolls the ventures of entrepreneurs across the continent and the shift for companies like General Electric, Wal-Mart and IBM to expand efforts for capital investments and ideas impacting Africa’s economy.

Still, Africa experiences internal grabs for power and land, overwhelming population growth, the drought and mass killings of wildlife.  These are factors requiring continued focus by the developed economies of the world if Africa is to grow a middle class.  Hostilities need to be squelched for tourism to return, a significant employment engine throughout Africa but especially the in coastal locations on the Indian Ocean.   And in all this, Africa’s strategic importance to the United States becomes more evident.

Saving wildlife is not a simple task.  It will take support of richer countries to encourage rule of law and the development of governance systems in countries as young as the ones in East Africa.  The world seems more complicated everyday.  Somehow the countries that are rich, through policy as well as philanthropy, must transfer its capitalistic systems with sufficient vigor to build a middle class or the alternative of poverty, chaos and division between the haves and the have-nots is all that will be left.

Unfettered Global Capitalism

A recent Washington Times article by a Senior Fellow at the CATO Institute caught my eye this week.  BANDOW: Obama’s ivory-trade regulatory overkill – Washington Times.  

I’m a free-market, private property advocate, but this report about President Obama’s move to ban ivory sales in the U.S. doesn’t dig deep enough into what is really transpiring in Africa.  I am disappointed that the article misses the point about our national security interests.  Having lived in Kenya last year during the Westgate Mall massacre, I can tell you there were several observations about Al Shabab’s involvement in elephant poaching and killing rhinos for quick cash to buy weapons and ammunition.

Another omission was the fact that sports hunters, individual Americans, will be permitted to bring their ivory trophies back to the States.  Each hunter can kill two elephants per year under the proposal and keep the tusks as long as they are not commercialized.  Actually, this is not a change from the previous rules.

And I have to take issue with the claim that it is easy to determine the age of ivory. There are many ways new ivory can treated to look old.   The end-stream-market-price is as high as the price per ounce of gold.  Demand and price motivates counterfeiters.  The flow of merchandise to high-end stores from Manhattan to low-end garage sales and flea markets in Arizona and Colorado continues unabated.  The U.S. is the second largest consumer of ivory.  China is the first.

The last issue I have with the CATO article is how it dismisses the problems another country experiences in controlling animal crime.  It is troubling to see a respected bastion for conservative American ideals and thought demonstrating such lack of civility, or is it humanity.  What right do we have to weigh-in on the topic of killing iconic animals to the brink of extinction when a country like Kenya is demonstrating the will to stop the slaughter?  I can only assume the Institute’s argument rests on the belief that private individuals can, in the pursuit of happiness, kill these animals, 1) because they can afford to do it and, 2) it is a positive function of the free market and invisible hand, that forces of capitalism will generate conservation funds to save the rest of the species.  Regrettably the past 50 years of Kenyan independence doesn’t support this notion.  Kenya embraces democracy and socialism.  In the gap between democracy and socialism there is the ugly head of corruption.  The rules don’t play out the same way under these circumstances.

Let me point out that Kenya does not permit hunting.  Yet, the demand for ivory is so strong, curbing the slaughter of animals in Kenya is very very difficult to accomplish.  Last month, January 2014, a rhinoceros was killed in Nairobi National Park for its horn. Some people were bold enough and knew enough about the landscape to enter the gated and guarded park, find the rhinoceros, kill, butcher and escape. The park shares its boundary with the largest city in East Africa.  How does this happen? Where does it end?

Poaching ends, in part, with symbolic gestures like banning the sale of ivory in the United States, to show solidarity with other countries, that America stands behind efforts to save the species.  The truth be known, if you read the small print, real antique ivory like a world-class collection in Denver, Colorado, is safe from destruction and eligible for sale.  So  to is the right of hunters to bring legally harvested ivory back to this country.

Support the ban.  Stop the criminals.  Find the middle.

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Photo: D.Gies 2010, Tsavo East National Park, Kenya

U.S. Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking

This week the White House released a new get-tough policy on wildlife trafficking. The director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that his agency will use its existing legal authority to stop virtually all commercial trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn with the United States.

This is more than chest-beating. The outcry of citizens in Africa, Europe, the United States and around the world is finally tipping the scale in the right direction.

This is exactly what Daniel Ashe, the director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, promised last November when six tons of elephant ivory was crushed at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Denver. Congratulations to Ashe and his agency for this action.

The U.S. Departments of Justice and State are also joining in the combined effort to detect and prosecute any movement of ivory within the U.S. and across its borders.

Elephant and rhino horn trafficking involve two species of note but hundreds of other endangered and protected species are going to get the same attention.

Ashe’s announcement demonstrates widespread regard for protecting endangered species, especially elephants and rhinos. While the announcement   doesn’t describe in detail the talks that must have taken place with hundreds of conservation groups, it is obvious from the wellspring of support among hunters and animal rights advocates that it is high time for the U.S. to take deliberate action to bring criminals into account.

This is about illegal trade. Legal possession of limited horn and tusk is permitted under CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species) guidelines. But sports hunters and animal rights advocates stand on mutual ground – at least today – to bring an end to the decimation of the world’s iconic animals and all endangered species.