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Policy: Environment & Energy

Learning a conservation lesson from Africa

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Opinion,Ron Arnold,Columnists,Africa,Energy and Environment

Federal death squads have killed the first 26 barred owls facing shotguns in a “removal experiment” to help the threatened Northern spotted owl, victim of natural migration, habitat competition, interbreeding and the forces of evolutionary change.

Many are fond of the barred “hoot owl” species for its haunting call and its stellar performance as rodent control in suburban neighborhoods, places it likes better than old-growth forests.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s gun-toting predators plan to shoot hundreds more of the robust barred owls in 2014, blaming global warming for disrupting their migratory patterns.

This wretched USFWS campaign stands in stark contrast to the species conservation that independent scientist Rob Roy Ramey found in Africa. After five weeks of elephant research in Namibia, the Colorado-based expert took his wife and two daughters for a three-week holiday -- a no-guide, drive-the-Land-Cruiser-yourself, camp-out-in-the-rain tour of Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park and other legendary landscapes.

The Rameys ended up on the coast in Pangani, a little tropical town fringed by coconut trees. Daughter Eva had studied abroad at the Maziwe Island Marine Protected Area, some six miles southeast in the Indian Ocean.

Eva told the family how local people are protecting the Maziwe reef, which was declared a no-use zone in 1994 and then neglected with no protection from fishermen who used dynamite to fish. Maziwe Island was larger then, with a tree cover that fishermen cut for firewood, gradually promoting erosion. Now it is essentially a sand bar with a large surrounding coral reef. The island is mostly underwater at high tide, which threatens to submerge green turtle nests on the beaches and rot the eggs.

Big government would have fined and jailed the fishermen and destroyed their boats. Small businesses in Pangani and along nearby Ushongo Beach had a better idea: Educate the fishermen and hire them to protect the island and its reef — no fishing and no dropping anchor on the coral.

Resort owners and diving guides in Pangani and Ushongo Beach came together in a group called Warafiki wa Maziwe (Friends of Maziwe), convened by the local Dorobo Fund. The business owners collect a small fee from tourists, which goes to reimburse resident fisherman for patrolling the reef and for not fishing there — the Tanzanian government gave the fishermen authority to patrol, but no funding.

The Rameys went on a snorkeling tour to Maziwe Island in a wooden boat with a 15-horsepower motor in six-foot swells, guided by Wim van den Bergh and Kerstin Erler of Kasa Divers, who have been the driving force behind Friends of Maziwe in recent years.

Wim and Kerstin told the Rameys about their green turtle conservation program, run with the Ushongo village community and four locally trained turtle conservation officers from Ushongo. The four find turtle nests on Maziwe’s beaches and relocate them to two dedicated areas on Ushongo Beach, where the eggs can hatch and young can scramble safely to the surf. Their Adopt-A-Turtle program raises money to pay for the boat and fuel to ferry turtle eggs to Ushongo and help with Maziwe patrol costs.

The couple explained how Ushongo volunteers chase away 5-foot monitor lizards, mongooses, termites and feral dogs that raid transplanted turtle nests and shoo off other predators including ghost crabs, crows and gulls that prey on the hatchlings as they emerge from the nest.

Rob Ramey told me by email, “For me, the real fascination was this example of a voluntary, private sector conservation effort at work. I became more and more fascinated as we talked along the way there and back. Here were people in the private sector, passionate about conservation, stepping up to the plate and giving their fullest to fund the effort and work with the local community to bring about positive change.

“In contrast, our government, and this administration in particular, has slipped into a command and control mentality, devaluing voluntary, private conservation.”

He added, “We in America sorely need to import and embrace some of these fresh, innovative attitudes toward conservation here in Africa.”

May the New Year belong to such as you, Rob Roy Ramey.

Ron Arnold, a Washington Examiner columnist, is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.
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Ron Arnold

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The Washington Examiner