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Yesterday, December 3, the UNM Biodiversity Webinar Series with U.S. Senator Tom Udall as honorary co-host presented our fourth and final webinar of the series “Transforming State Wildlife Management to Protect Biodiversity in the U.S.” I’ll share more on that soon but first, a significant news from yesterday on biodiversity conservation public policy in the United States.

On September 14, we launched the UNM Biodiversity Webinar Series—Fall 2020. One of its explicitly stated aims was to “help lay the foundation for developing a much needed and long-awaited national biodiversity action plan for the United States.” The title of the inaugural webinar was “Building a National Biodiversity Action Plan: Science, Policy, and the Grassroots.” During that inaugural webinar, as moderator, I posed the following question to two of the panelists, Senator Tom Udall and Congresswoman Deb Haaland: “The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has been ratified by 196 nation states and the European Union—the exception is the United States—and the vast majority of signatories have developed national biodiversity action plans. What can all levels of government in the US, including tribal governments do—to develop and promote a national biodiversity action plan for the United States? Should the United States sign on to the CBD, or can we make sufficient progress on protecting species without international cooperation even though wild animals know no national borders?”

You will find their answers in the archived webinar video HERE.

Fast forward to yesterday—we hosted the concluding webinar of the UNM Biodiversity Webinar Series—Fall 2020. Call it uncanny resonance of cosmic proportion if you like but this is what happened yesterday.

Yesterday, Congressman Joe Neguse (D-CO) introduced a legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives “calling for a national biodiversity strategy.” A press release from the Congressman’s office states this: “The resolution, introduced by Congressman Neguse, calls for a national commitment to addressing the biodiversity crisis by establishing a strategy that would ideally be developed through an interagency process announced by the president in an Executive Order. The Strategy process would encourage agencies to identify and pursue a full range of actions within existing laws and policies and encourage consideration of new ones. It would also promote accountability and progress in addressing the biodiversity crisis through a new quadrennial assessment.”

WOW—our heartfelt “Thank you” to you, Rep. Neguse!!

In August, Rep. Neguse partnered with Senator Tom Udall to introduce landmark pesticide reform legislation to reduce levels of dangerous pesticides to protect farmers, children and consumers. One of the key threats to the intensifying biodiversity crisis is the indiscriminate use of pesticides in industrial agriculture—a crisis that Rachel Carson first sounded the public alarm on in her landmark book Silent Spring first published in 1962. Rep. Neguse also supports the 30x30 initiative that was first introduced by Senator Tom Udall in October 2019, which calls for protection of 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 to mitigate both the climate and the biodiversity crises.

Later today, December 4, fourteen students in a class on biodiversity crisis and conservation that I’m teaching this semester at UNM will make final presentations on a project they have been working on—building a national biodiversity action plan for the U.S. This group of students come from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds including, arts, humanities, social sciences, law, planning and public policy. I look forward to sharing more what they have come up with later this month. 

Back to our concluding webinar from yesterday, “Transforming State Wildlife Management to Protect Biodiversity in the U.S.” You will find the video of the webinar on Species in Peril YouTube channel and on the WEBINAR VIDEOS page in the Species in Peril website.

YouTube Link:

We thank the three distinguished panelists, Professor Adrian Treves, founder of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Louisa Willcox, co-founder of Grizzly Times and a passionate advocate of protecting grizzlies, wolves and other large carnivores; and Dr. Fred Koontz, field biologist and conservationist who retired after a 35-year wildlife conservation career but is still very active; and moderator Kevin Bixby, founder and executive director of Southwest Environmental Center—for an expansive, informative, and inspiring conversation, and for the generosity with which the panelists shared their knowledge, experiences and passion of conserving the living Earth of which we are a part.

We thank Senator Tom Udall for his welcome message, and for his leadership on advancing the “30x30 Resolution to Save Nature”—a bold proposal to protect 30% of land and 30% of ocean in the United States by 2030—to help mitigate the intensifying biodiversity and the climate crises. President-elect Joe Biden has “pledged to sign an executive order on his first day to support” the 30x30 resolution as part of his “$2 trillion program to slow global warming,” the Associated Press reported on November 13.

We thank the nearly 200 attendees who joined us live last evening. 

The UNM Biodiversity Webinar Series—Fall 2020 was co-organized by the Species in Peril project at UNM in partnership with the Office of the U.S. Senator Tom Udall, Office of Congresswoman Deb Haaland, New Mexico BioPark Society, Southwest Environmental Center, and the Indigenous Design + Planning Institute at UNM. We thank you—Senator Udall, Congresswoman Haaland, Clayton Meredith (moderator of webinar #2), and Elspeth Iralu (moderator of webinar #3). We also take this opportunity to thank all our Partners in Education in New Mexico and across the country for your support of our webinar series. We thank all the panelists who took time out of their busy schedule to join us, particularly in the midst of a very challenging pandemic. And, I thank artist Ragini Bhow for your skillful work on public communication of the webinar series. Ragini graduated in spring with an MFA in Art & Ecology from UNM; I was honored to serve as chair of your graduate thesis committee. 

The seed for organizing the UNM Biodiversity Webinar Series—Fall 2020 was planted over a burrito breakfast smothered with New Mexico green and red chilies in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in November 2019—when Rene Romo, Field Representative with Senator Udall’s office in southern New Mexico, Kevin Bixby, and I started to co-conspire efforts to foster conversations on the crisis. I could not have hosted this series without your vision, hard work, and passion for conservation. Thank you, my friends!

I will be eternally grateful to you, Senator Udall for agreeing to serve with me as co-host of the webinar series. You will soon be retiring from the U.S. Senate but certainly not from conservation. I wish you my very best in the journey ahead. 

As I always like to say, whenever we organize an event—a conference, an exhibition, a webinar series (first for us)—it is not the end but the start of something to come. So, stay tuned my friends.

Be safe, be well!

Subhankar Banerjee

Director and Founder, Species in Peril project at UNM

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