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Environment & Energy Report

Congress Urged to Address Wildlife Issues Linked to Virus (1)

March 24, 2020, 4:52 PMUpdated: March 24, 2020, 6:00 PM

Conservation groups and wildlife advocates are asking Congress to earmark money for wildlife conservation and habitat protection in any Covid-19 stimulus package.

More than 100 groups sent a letter Tuesday noting the connections between infectious disease and wildlife policies. The groups are asking that Congress direct 1% of stimulus funds to jobs addressing habitat loss, wildlife trade, and biodiversity.

Legal experts who focus on wildlife trade have long warned that trafficking poses public health risks, facilitating the spread of zoonotic diseases—those that can move between animals and humans. The novel coronavirus is thought to have spread from a live-animal market.

“Global pandemics will likely continue and even escalate if action isn’t taken,” the letter says. “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.”

About 75% of emerging infectious diseases in people originate in animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Western Environmental Law Center, and others argued in Tuesday’s letter that habitat loss and wildlife trade—both legal and illegal—lead to increased human-animal interaction and a higher likelihood of exposure to and spread of new diseases.

Early studies have linked the new coronavirus and pangolins, which are heavily trafficked in China, Southeast Asia, and Africa.

It’s impossible to know which animals will trigger future disease outbreaks, said Brett Hartl, the Center for Biological Diversity’s director of government affairs. As a result, he said, Congress should take “comprehensive, holistic” steps to reduce risks by strengthening wildlife laws and enforcement, and pushing other countries to do the same.

“The question is, can you lower the risk over time if we approach these big issues differently?” he said.

China has added numerous wildlife trade restrictions in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

(Adds detail on novel coronavirus origins, comment from Hartl in paragraphs 7-9.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

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