12/14/2011 04:32 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2012

The Extinction List: Who's Up Next in 2012?

As most of us already know, 2011 marked the devastating announcement that the Western Black Rhino -- one of Africa's most treasured species -- is now extinct. This new member of Club Extinction begs the question, "who will join the extinction list in 2012?" And, more importantly, "how can we stop this rapidly growing list?"

Elephants, tigers, rhinos, great apes, and marine turtles are all candidates for this gruesome list, but Congress has the power to stop that. The House of Representatives is currently stalling on a bill that would reauthorize funds to protect all of the aforementioned animals, a bill that has received strong bi-partisan support for over 14 years. This should be an easy choice.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Multinational Species Conservation Funds -- known in Congress as "H.R. 50" -- would not only save the few remaining members of these species but is vital for American trade, diplomacy, national security. H.R. 50 would conserve the shrinking wildlife habitats in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America, reduce wildlife-farmer conflict to improve economic fortunes, and stop pelt and ivory poachers. But the benefits of these efforts go far beyond making sure these animals are around for our grandchildren to see.

Tigers, Asian elephants and other iconic species live in numerous countries that have significant economic and national security implications for the US. Natural resource conservation efforts in these emerging economies -- such as Vietnam, India, and Indonesia -- positively impact the financial sector by creating new jobs, providing a means for upward economic mobility, and preventing illegal goods from flooding the markets. Continued support for these economic gains benefits both U.S. trade and U.S. national security.

Additionally, the animals protected under H.R. 50 often provide the only common ground upon which the U.S. and other governments can relate. Eliminating these conservation funds would endanger the dialog and diplomacy that has been established through agreement over species protection. The US has had rocky relationships with many of these governments so any issue on which they can see eye-to-eye is vitally important for our national security.

National security and wildlife conservation aside, simply the size of these programs makes them poor cost-saving measures. For example, only $1.9 million a year is appropriated for the Asian Elephant Conservation Fund but will preserve the lives of this precious species. And, for every dollar spent by the U.S. government for these conservation funds between 2006 and 2010, the program raised two dollars in matching funds from private or international donors, making this a very sound investment of taxpayer dollars. Even eliminating the program altogether would only save $19 million over the next ten years: a mere drop in the bucket compared to our national debt of $15 trillion.

Furthermore, these savings would only be a one-time venture verses preserving the lives of millions of animals. In June, I traveled to Trinidad and Tobago and saw first-hand how protecting the existence of one species has a domino effect that positively impacts hundreds of other species, including humans. For example, the loss of the marine turtles leads to an explosion in the jellyfish population, which, in turn, kills lower-level food chain small fish like sardines. These fish serve as food for tuna and swordfish, large contributors to the human diet.

Upon my return to the US, I testified before a House Natural Resources Subcommittee, alongside Wildlife Conservation Society Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science Dr. John G. Robinson, to make this exact case to Chairman John Fleming of my home state of Louisiana. I write today to continue this push, and to urge congress to do their part in saving the world's most charismatic and iconic species by reauthorizing the Multinational Species Conservation Funds.