FOB signed onto the following letter alongside other environmental protection groups to Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, Leader McCarthy in Washington DC on March 23rd regarding the links between zoonotic diseases, including COVID-19, the trade of wildlife, and habitat destruction.
As you begin to consider additional larger stimulus packages for the U.S. economy to help individual Americans, small businesses, and others deal with the consequences of the deadly coronavirus, or COVID-19, we urge you to also consider the root causes of this emerging zoonotic virus and others like it — the trade of wildlife and habitat destruction in the United States and around the world.
Clearly, we hope that any stimulus package puts the needs of ordinary people first and foremost. The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are being felt now and will continue in unforeseen ways for months and possibly years to come. Legislative provisions that bailout corporations and reward corporate executives are morally wrong and should not be included. Strong labor protections and direct payroll assistance to workers are critical, as is requiring employers to honor existing commitments for health care, pensions and other vital assistance.
Furthermore, we ask that Congress use this opportunity to address the root causes of the problem. Scientists estimate that 60% of known infectious diseases in people can be transmitted from animals, and 75% of emerging infectious diseases originate in wildlife. Emerging zoonotic diseases have quadrupled in the last 50 years, mostly in tropical regions. Like the 2003 SARS epidemic and Ebola, COVID-19 is just the latest zoonotic disease to emerge that has its roots in the rampant habitat loss occurring around the world and the burgeoning wildlife trade. Global pandemics will likely continue and even escalate if action isn’t taken. This Congress has the opportunity to not only address the crisis but reestablish the United States as a global leader in wildlife conservation and the protection of habitat.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, Congress worked to strengthen the economy and reform key regulatory safeguards to prevent similar crises in the future. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided funding across the federal government — including for our environment, public lands and wildlife — to boost the economy. While the coronavirus pandemic is a far different type of crisis, we hope that Congress will act to make these types of pandemics less likely in the future.
Thus, we request that 1% of the total funds in future stimulus packages address habitat loss, legal and illegal wildlife trade, and the protection of biological diversity here and around the world. Adding law enforcement staff, inspectors at our ports of entry, and building global capacity to address the extinction crisis are all needed if we hope to make future pandemics less likely to occur in the first place.
The current pandemic is not only a public health and economic crisis but a conservation crisis as well. It is a sobering demonstration of the consequences of the natural world unraveling. We hope that Congress invests what is needed to help combat this pandemic and reflect on the lessons learned to help avert future catastrophes.