LiveAtState: Wildlife Conservation

Kerri-Ann Jones
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Washington, DC
December 4, 2012

This video is available on YouTube with closed captions.

MR. BUFFINGTON: Welcome to LiveAtState, the State Department’s online, interactive video platform for engaging with international media. We’re delighted to welcome participants today from all over the world, and especially as this is Wildlife Conservation Day, we’re very happy to have with us Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Now, before we get started, the participants, go ahead and take a moment to look at the bottom of your window, and you’ll see a little text bar. Go ahead and start sending in your questions now in the little section called “Questions for State Department Official.” And over the next 30 minutes, we’ll get to as many questions as possible. And if you would like to continue engaging with us on this topic, feel free to go ahead and visit us on Twitter @StateDeptOES. You can also visit us on Facebook at And right after you submit your questions, be sure to open up another window browser and type in where you can go ahead and take a pledge to protect and respect the world’s wildlife.

So with that, I’d like to open it up to Dr. Jones.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Thank you, Matt. And thank you everyone for being here today. It’s really a pleasure to talk to you, especially today on Wildlife Conservation Day. I hope we can talk about both marine and terrestrial wildlife conservation.

Here at the State Department with the very strong leadership of Secretary Clinton, we are deeply concerned with protecting the world’s natural resource base, and we recognize this is a finite base. In particular today, we’re going to talk about the importance of conserving the amazing wildlife that surrounds us that is so important for the future of our planet and important for our children to be able to see these wondrous animals that are all about. Here at the State Department, we are looking at this very strategically, and we have committed ourselves to a strategy we’re calling Conservation Matters. And there are really four parts to this that are pretty obvious, but I’ll just tell them to you.

The first is really catalyzing political will, because this is a question about leadership. And the second is really engaging with diplomacy and outreach, and that’s why we’re here to talk to you today and why we’re reaching out to all our embassies around the world to get the message out. The third is to recognize the importance of training and technology in all aspects of wildlife conservation. And the fourth is to recognize that we have a lot of very good partnerships in this area, to build on those, and to really try to develop some new partnerships. So as any good official, I could probably go on speaking for a half an hour about any of these topics, but I really would like a chance to have a conversation with you. So I’ll stop right here and begin to take your questions.

MR. BUFFINGTON: Excellent. Thank you, Dr. Jones. Now, what was the purpose of the Secretary’s call to action kick-off event that was held on November 8th, if you could talk about that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Yes, well thanks, Matt. That was an important event. At that event, what Secretary Clinton was really doing was demonstrating that this issue, wildlife conservation, is a foreign policy issue. It’s long been an issue on the conservation agenda and on the environment agenda, but it is a foreign policy issue because it is a security issue, a stability issue, we know that organized crime is involved, we know that more sophisticated weapons are being used. It’s also a health issue, as we know that when wildlife animal parts are being moved across borders, they’re not being screened regarding health issues or possible contamination with certain infectious diseases. And we know it’s an economic issue because it affects the economic capabilities and viabilities of some of the communities that depend on this wildlife for tourism and other economic resources. So it’s on the foreign policy agenda. It was a call to action to say we’re all responsible for this; what can we do together to make a difference?

MR. BUFFINGTON: Does the high-level interest reflect a change in policy, or is it just a passing interest?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: No, it’s not a change in policy; it’s an elevation of the policy. We have been working with partners around the world on this topic for many years. However, over the past couple of years, there has been a real uptick in the number of serious poaching incidents. There’s been an increase in the trafficking of wildlife. We see more organized crime involved. So it’s really elevating the issue. And this is on the agenda to stay. We really want to make a difference here because it affects so many topics that are important to the State Department.

MR. BUFFINGTON: What are Wildlife Enforcement Networks, and specifically why does the U.S. support them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, these are networks that recognize the importance of being able to enforce the rules and regulations that are in place in countries around the world to protect endangered or threatened species, and so these enforcement networks work among countries to sort of share experiences, look at technical capacity, see what can be learned from each other, see how they can be strengthened. And we’re very pleased to be able to support a few of these around the world. And the Secretary in her speech called for an effort to really connect these into a system of networks so that we can be more effective in stopping poaching and sort of stopping the trafficking that goes on from the poaching.

MR. BUFFINGTON: And how will you measure progress against wildlife trafficking exactly? Do you have a timeline?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, I think that’s a really good question. It’s also a hard question. It’s one of those things where you just have to track what’s being moved around the world. But when the killing stops, when the animals are no longer being killed, that’s when really we know we will have made some success. We see the numbers of some of the very famous, iconic species like elephants and rhinos really decreasing, and we need to sort of stop that decrease and turn it around and hopefully put in place activities and systems that will let these animals thrive.

MR. BUFFINGTON: Patricia Oben of Cameroon Radio and Television, she asks: I would like to find out the position of the U.S. Government on the U.S.-based company Herakles Farms’ project in Cameroon. They will destroy 70,000 hectares of land and said to be in a biodiversity hotspot to set up the farm.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, thanks for that question, Patricia. I think you raise an important issue that is a concern for us, and our Embassy in Yaoundé has been very aware of that issue involving the palm oil company you mentioned. And it’s a sensitive area that the concession is being looked at. We have had – the Embassy has had many meetings with the interested parties, and we do encourage that there are more meetings and more discussions about the topic. I would suggest that you really reach out to our Embassy on the ground to – specifically I think the political and economic section chief would be the best person to contact. Issues like this require exactly what you’re doing, a lot of attention, but they really need to bring the parties in to discuss the different interests and sort out what’s the best way forward.

MR. BUFFINGTON: Now, why is the marine protected area in the Ross Sea so important?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, the Ross Sea is the southern ocean around Antarctica, and it’s important because it really is a biodiversity-rich area. And there are many different species there, birds and pelicans[1] and things that we value when we see them, but we need to protect where they live, and this is a very, very rich area. It’s also an important area for study in terms of how climate change may be affecting the ice down there and how that is affecting the different ecosystems.

So we’ve been working very hard through one of the committees that is under the Antarctic Treaty to put forward a proposal to protect a large area there, a marine protected area. And the U.S. and New Zealand have been able to put forward such a proposal, and we are optimistic that this will gain more support by the members and be able to become an established marine protected area.

MR. BUFFINGTON: Excellent. And also I’d like to as a reminder to our participants out there, you can continue following us on Twitter @StateDeptOES. You can also follow us on Facebook at And of course, as mentioned before, you can always go to to go ahead and pledge your commitment towards protecting wildlife conservation.

Dr. Jones, turning over to the Phoenix Ocean Arc, now is that an attempt to extend U.S. control over, like, over Pacific territory?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: No, no, this is an area where the United States has had a marine protected area that has been supported by our Fish and Wildlife Service, and the island of Kiribati has an area in the same region, and it’s connecting those to make a larger area. And so the Secretary worked with the leadership in Kiribati, I think it was in August when they met, and we have agreed to link these two areas together. And we’re just beginning discussions to see how we can cooperate to make that joined area a richer protection activity and understand what’s going on in that really important yet vulnerable area.

MR. BUFFINGTON: Now looking at unreported fishing, what does the United States do to combat illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Yes, that’s one of those acronyms, IUU, which comes up in many different places. We deal with it through treaties, through regional fisheries management organizations, through really working in the world community. And I think it’s an area that will require increasing attention from two perspectives. I mean, one is the conservation perspective because it really puts pressure on fisheries, and the other is that it causes a great deal of economic loss to the legitimate fisheries industry. So it’s an area that we have as a high priority because it’s something that we see as important from very different perspectives.

MR. BUFFINGTON: Now kind of in a similar vein, there’s already a ban on shark finning. What else does the United States want for shark conservation specifically?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, I think specifically we want to see that the shark finning ban sort of is really enforced, and that it is something that is taken widely around the world as a practice that is really a threat to sharks, because clearly when their finned they can no longer navigate and swim and they drown. But also we’re concerned about some specific species which we anticipate will be discussed at the upcoming CITES meeting. So shark is an important fish because it’s a predator and it affects the food chain, the whole ecosystem of fisheries when you begin to threaten that, a very important species and the different multiple shark species that have been threatened over the years. And we’re hoping that the shark finning, the banning of that, will make a big difference, but then also beginning to look more specifically at the data we have on specific species should make a difference as well.

MR. BUFFINGTON: And why is the United States interested in conserving coral?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Oh, well, coral is always discussed, and I think one of the things we realize is that coral is a living organism, so in and of itself it represents a tremendous amount of biodiversity and it’s something that we should be protecting to maintain the base of biodiversity. However, it’s also a real element of a broader ecosystem. Many, many fish species spend part of their lives in coral or around coral, either when they’re mating or when they’re young, and so it’s part of a much broader ecosystem. And so when you begin to lose coral, you can really begin to affect your coastal areas and affect not only the coral but the broader species that depend on coral for thriving really.

MR. BUFFINGTON: We have another question from one of our participants, Mr. Paul Bedard: What agenda changes are expected in your area during President Obama’s second term? Is there going to be a change of focus?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: That’s a very good question. And right now, what we are doing is staying the course with many of the topics we have been engaged on. Clearly, climate change is a high priority and we have our team out in Doha, as everyone’s team is out there working hard to make some progress.

We also will continue this area which we’ve just been talking about, conservation and wildlife protection. There are areas in the environment where we want to see some movement forward. We’re working very hard on moving forward on a mercury treaty. As you know, mercury is a neurotoxin – very important that we deal with that.

And we are looking broadly at this whole issue of which is biodiversity conservation writ large, which certainly encompasses conservation but is much, much broader. Another topic where I think we will continue to go forward is the issue of water as both an environmental issue and a security issue. So I would think that many of the topics that you have seen on our international environmental agenda will remain there because these are tough problems and they are front and center for many of our countries around the world. And so we look forward to continued engagement and progress.

MR. BUFFINGTON: As we get close to wrapping up over here, finally, can you tell us about more of the specific activities the U.S. is doing to combat wildlife trafficking and to promote conservation?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Certainly. I mentioned the strategy that we are trying to really move forward on, and so activities like today, the Wildlife Conservation Day, is our effort to sort of move this out in terms of worldwide attention and outreach. We have certainly tried to put it on the agenda in many of the high-level meetings that the Secretary has been attending when she was out with the APEC leaders just a few months ago. Everyone worked to make sure that wildlife trafficking was on that agenda. We are using every opportunity to keep it in the spotlight as a foreign policy issue, and as I said, put it out in many of the engagements that we have.

We are supporting the WENs, as we talked about, the Wildlife Enforcement Networks, and we’re looking at new technology that can be used, the use of advanced research to identify where things come from as well as, as I said, building on partnerships like the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking and others that are out there.

And of course, we are working very closely with the NGO community, who plays such an important role and have done so much important work already. So that’s sort of where we are, and what we hope to do is really strengthen and continue our efforts on all this, and we look forward to working with all of you to get the message out and your ideas as to how we can really address this problem from both the source where the animals are taken but also the markets where the products end up going to.

MR. BUFFINGTON: Thank you so much, Dr. Jones, for visiting with us today and taking the time to answer some questions from our participants. Again, to our participants, you can continue following Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones on the Twitter feed which is @StateDeptOES, also at Facebook which is And of course, there’s no better way to commemorate Wildlife Conservation Day than going to to go ahead and put in that pledge to respect and protect our wildlife. Thank you.

[1] “Penguins” intended.