PERC Research Fellow Testifies on Wildlife Conservation and Zoonotic Disease Risks

Catherine Semcer testifies before the U.S. Senate on the importance of habitat conservation in preventing disease transmission from wildlife to humans.

News for Immediate Release
July 22, 2020
Contact: Hannah Downey — 406-587-9591, hannah@perc.org

(Washington, D.C.) — Catherine Semcer, a PERC research fellow, testified on Capitol Hill today on the importance of wildlife conservation to prevent zoonotic disease transmission. 

Semcer appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works as an expert witness for a hearing on “Stopping the Spread: Examining the Increased Risk of Zoonotic Disease from Illegal Wildlife Trafficking.” Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important that we reduce the risk of future disease spread between wildlife and humans. 

Semcer explained that using market approaches to conserve wildlife habitat will reduce interactions between humans and high-risk wildlife, ultimately reducing the opportunity for disease transfer. 

“The United States recognizes wildlife trafficking, ecosystem degradation, and pandemic disease as interrelated threats to national security,” explained Semcer. “Habitat destruction and direct human contact with some species of wildlife increases the risk of zoonotic disease transmission from wildlife to humans, so our environmental stewardship will determine whether or not the scale of these threats increase or diminish.”

She also highlighted ways the United States can lead on conserving habitat while respecting local customs and property rights. 

“The United States, through the programs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies, must take an increased leadership role in efforts to secure global health by conserving ecosystems and curtailing wildlife trafficking, especially in and from Africa. Policies under the Endangered Species Act can play a key role in delivering the necessary U.S. leadership,” testified Semcer.

Her testimony highlighted several key points: 

  •  Zoonotic disease spillover and the potential for pandemic is a national security threat to the United States.
  • Conserving intact wildlands in regions like Africa is essential to preventing such spillover and discouraging the wildlife trafficking that amplifies the risk.
  • Chinese companies and consumers remain key players in the degradation of African wildlands and trafficking of African wildlife.
  • Longstanding efforts of the Chinese government to decrease involvement of their citizens in these harmful activities have not met with desired levels of effectiveness at the necessary speed.
  • The United States must assume a greater leadership role in discouraging the degradation of African wildlands and trafficking of African wildlife. These efforts should be careful to avoid overreach and should emphasize market and rights based approaches that increase the opportunity costs of activities that amplify the risk of future disease outbreaks and pandemic.

Catherine Semcer’s full written testimony is available here, or see video of the hearing here.  

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