The Wildlife Conservation Society thanks the U.S. House of Representatives for including key amendments that address global pandemics of zoonotic origins at the source, biosecurity and marine mammal protection in the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed yesterday.

H.R. 4350, the National Defense Authorization Act, included an amendment sponsored by Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) that added the text of the Global Pandemic Prevention and Biosecurity Act. The amendment addresses the source of highly infectious diseases originating in animal species internationally, including by ending the sale and trade of live and fresh wildlife for human consumption and addressing food insecurity associated with a reliance on local game and wildlife around the world. In addition, it authorizes programs to prevent the spillover of diseases of zoonotic origin from animals to people, similar to the virus that causes COVID-19, and to monitor these diseases where they are most likely to occur, ensuring that the U.S. military can be best prepared for any future spillover events.

In addition, the National Defense Authorization Act included an amendment sponsored by Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IN), Fred Upton (R-MI), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) that directs the United States Government to work with state and non-state partners to shut down certain commercial wildlife markets, end the trade in most live wild birds and mammals for human consumption, and build international coalitions to reduce the demand for wildlife as food to prevent the emergence of future zoonotic pathogens. It authorizes USAID to undertake programs to reduce the risk of endemic and emerging infectious disease exposure and to help transition communities globally to safer, non-wildlife sources of protein. Further, it addresses the drivers of zoonoses transmission and spread in developing countries.

Ecological degradation is one of the most under-appreciated national security threats facing the United States, according to a recent report from the Council on Strategic Risks, “The Security Threat that Binds Us: The Unraveling of Ecological and Natural Security & What the United States Can Do About It”.

Said John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President for Public Affairs: “The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the planet and the U.S., killing more than 670,000 Americans—more than the number of combat deaths incurred by our country in any war we have fought. The pandemic also continues to wreak havoc on both the U.S. and global economy. Addressing this pandemic and preventing future ones by shutting down certain commercial wildlife markets, and ending the trade in most live wild birds and mammals for human consumption is clearly important to the national security of the United States. WCS is grateful that the House has taken strong actions to protect American citizens.”

H.R. 4350 included two other amendments that addressed wildlife and conservation issues. A second amendment sponsored by Reps. Quigley, Upton, Khanna and Fitzpatrick expands the existing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement attaché program to support efforts to combat wildlife trafficking in countries around the world suffering most from the illegal trade.

The other amendment, sponsored by Reps. Rick Larsen (D-WA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), Suzan DeBene (D-WA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), and Kim Schrier (D-WA), adds many of the marine mammal provisions of the Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act.  This advances smart and proven solutions to make our seas safer for marine mammals by protecting whales from ship strikes, and focuses investments in critically important programs intended to mitigate the impacts of ship traffic, including harmful underwater noise, on the marine environment.

From transporting goods and passengers, to catching and processing seafood, to providing recreation, U.S. economic security relies heavily on shipping. These vessels share space with important marine habitats and, often, endangered marine mammals. Vessels can negatively impact marine ecosystems and marine mammals in multiple ways: from ship strikes that injure or kill whales, to underwater noise pollution that interferes with communication, foraging, and socialization, to the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change that is already altering ocean habitats.   For example, since 2016 there has been an Unusual Mortality Event for humpback whales along the entire east coast—from Florida to Maine.  Of the 153 humpback whale mortalities to date, 50 have occurred in the New York Bight off the coasts of New York and New Jersey—and half of these show signs of vessel strike or net entanglement.

Added Calvelli: “By maximizing opportunities for ships and whales to co-exist, the NDAA advances ocean-based solutions that will make shipping safer for marine mammals, vessel operators, and the climate.”

The passage of this legislation is a significant milestone for Protect Wildlife. Protect Us. This WCS initiative is aimed at preventing future major viral outbreaks such as COVID-19 by supporting the enactment of U.S. policies to end the commercial trade in live wildlife for human consumption and close associated markets.