President’s Council on Wildlife Trafficking draws on work of Law School students

Elephant Ivory Cyberspace

Courtesy of Naftali Honig

On March 20, President Obama’s Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking met in Washington, D.C. to put forth recommendations for the implementation of its “National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking,” in a session that drew on the work of a group of Stanford Law School students.

This past winter quarter, nine law and master’s students participated in a two-credit practicum offered through the Stanford Law School to devise the recommendations submitted to the Advisory Council. David Hayes J.D. ’78, a distinguished visiting lecturer at the Stanford Law School and current co-chair of the council, led the practicum.

Hayes, who worked previously with the Obama administration as Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior, drew attention to the practicum’s timeliness.

“It was the perfect time to have a policy lab and focus on how to actually implement a national strategy for this serious, global problem,” Hayes said. The administration announced the national strategy at the beginning of winter quarter. “The practicum plays an important role here at the outset of the president’s focus on the issue.”

The advisory council, whose members include experts in wildlife conservation-related fields like World Wildlife Fund President Carter S. Roberts, and African Wildlife Foundation CEO Patrick J. Bergin, will hold another public meeting this June to consider the students’ recommendations.

Hayes highlighted the complexity of tackling an ongoing issue like wildlife trafficking in a classroom setting.

“Part of the challenge is that these are issues that are unfolding as we speak. [Students need] to gather information in real time…[this] requires a different type of nontraditional research,” Hayes explained.

The students in the practicum came from academic backgrounds ranging from law to African Studies to Earth Systems, a diversity reflected by their respective roles in the generation of the recommendations.

Patrick Freeman ’13 M.S. ’14, who has been involved in elephant conservation efforts since he was a child, described the cyclical nature of wildlife trafficking and resultant public attention to conservation efforts.

According to Freeman, students in the practicum found that one of the biggest drivers of the recent resurgence in demand for ivory is the deregulation of domestic ivory markets.

“Most countries in Africa that have elephants are touted to have some controlled system on ivory exports and imports, but a lot of them don’t have the capacity to manage all of that infrastructure,” Freeman explained.

He noted that government corruption is also a systemic contributor to wildlife trafficking.

Laura Sullivan J.D. ’15 researched legal enforcement, including potential amendments to existing criminal codes to allow for stiffer penalties and expansion of the offenses for which wildlife traffickers can be charged.

“[We were] increasing the tools law enforcement can use to better investigate and prosecute offenders,” Sullivan said. “The thought is that if [the United States] does that, then other countries will follow suit and that [wildlife trafficking] will no longer be a low-risk, high-reward crime.”

Freeman elaborated on the hope that U.S. efforts to clamp down on illegal ivory trading will create a domino effect in demand-side countries by augmenting public awareness of wildlife trafficking issues.

He cited a recent ban on trophy imports from Tanzania and Zimbabwe implemented by the U.S. Fishing and Wildlife Service as an example of national traction against illegal ivory trading.

“The U.S. is basically putting diplomatic and economic pressure on them,” he said.

Though Hayes reported that the students’ recommendations have received generally positive feedback, Freeman and Sullivan commented on backlash from sellers who will be affected by increased restrictions on ivory.

“I didn’t realize that there are people whose livelihoods are tied up in this,” Sullivan said, citing a businessman who sold antique walking sticks containing ivory who spoke at the advisory council meeting in March.

“Their attitude is that dealing with old ivory doesn’t kill any elephants, but it does because it just provides a way to launder it,” Sullivan explained, though she added that “we’re going to have to wait and see” how the new restrictions on the ivory trade are handled because of their novelty.

Hayes, who will be giving a campus-wide lecture on the wildlife trafficking crisis on May 20, elaborated on the importance of spreading awareness about wildlife trafficking not only through legislation but also through general publicity.

“I hope the students and anyone who comes in contact with [wildlife trafficking] will take away…an appreciation for the fact that we can’t take for granted that our wildlife and natural systems will always be there,” he said. “We all have to be mindful of the impact that we’re having on the health of our wildlife and our environment.”

 

Contact Madeleine Han at mhan ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.