April 20, 2020

AUDIO: Udall Joins Leading Scientists to Discuss the Nexus of Coronavirus and Nature Crises, Calls for Bold Conservation Vision to Help Prevent Future Pandemics

AUDIO LINK: Udall’s remarks begin at 2:19 here.

WASHINGTON— Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) joined world-renowned scientists Thomas Lovejoy, Senior Fellow on Biodiversity and Environmental Science at the U.N. Foundation, and Enric Sala, Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, during a press call ahead of the release of a new issue brief by the Center for American Progress on the intersection between the coronavirus pandemic and the nature crisis. During the press call, Udall and the scientists called for bold conservation measures to help prevent future pandemics. 

The speakers explored how the global collapse of nature is increasing the risks of pandemics and other disasters across the globe. Habitat loss, overexploitation of wildlife, and climate change have contributed to the increased spread of infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, from animals to humans. Udall also discussed steps the United States must take to better protect people, the planet, and the nation’s biodiversity.

Udall previously introduced the 30 by 30 Resolution to Save Nature in the U.S. Senate to set a national goal of conserving 30 percent of the United States’ land and water by 2030.

“COVID-19 is not the first zoonotic disease to threaten humanity, and it won’t be the last. SARS, MERS, Ebola, and HIV also are zoonotic diseases. The fact is – animal to human diseases represent the overwhelming majority of infectious diseases we face today, and one of the great public health challenges before us,” Udall said. “COVID-19 likely started in a wildlife market – a‘wet’ market – where practices were illegal or condemned by international standards. And now this virus has spread like wildfire across the globe. One lesson of this pandemic: protecting wildlife from illegal trafficking not only protects nature, it protects humanity. We must summon the necessary resources to stop the illegal trade of wildlife.”

Udall continued, “The science is clear that a major factor in the spread of disease is the loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitats and populations. When habitat shrinks and wildlife is exploited, it’s easier for zoonotic diseases to spread among animals and then to humans. We must conserve and protect habitat and biodiversity – if we want to protect ourselves.

“And this pandemic has underscored that we must follow the science and listen to the scientists if we want to protect the public health and our future,” Udall said. “And that we all pay the price when scientists are sidelined. That’s why I’ve introduced my Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature to protect 30 percent of our nation’s lands and waters in the next decade. The United States needs to be a leader in this global effort.”

The press call coincided with the release of a new issue brief from the Center for American Progress that argues the United States can reduce the risk of pandemics by stepping up efforts to combat wildlife and timber trafficking, slowing the destruction of nature, and setting an ambitious goal for nature conservation. 

Listen to the audio from the call here.

Udall’s remarks, as prepared for delivery are below:

2:19 As we approach the 50th anniversary of Earth Day – I’m honored to be here today with the Center for American Progress and two groundbreaking nature scientists – Dr. Thomas Lovejoy and Dr. Enric Sala. 

2:35 Right now, our national focus must remain on keeping American families healthy and financially afloat.

2:42 But it is also critical that we understand the connection between the rise of this pandemic and the imperative of protecting nature. 

2:54 COVID-19 is not the first zoonotic disease to threaten humanity, and it won’t be the last. That’s why today’s report from the Center for American Progress – and the work of Dr. Sala and Dr. Lovejoy – are so important.

3:10 SARS, MERS, Ebola, and HIV also are zoonotic diseases. The fact is – animal to human diseases represent the overwhelming majority of infectious diseases we face today, and one of the great public health challenges before us.  

3:30 COVID-19 likely started in a wildlife market – a “wet” market – where practices were illegal or condemned by international standards. 

3:40 And now this virus has spread like wildfire across the globe.

3:46 One lesson of this pandemic: protecting wildlife from illegal trafficking not only protects nature, it protects humanity. We must summon the necessary resources to stop the illegal trade of wildlife.

4:00 I’ve fought hard as ranking member on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee for robust funding for Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement. This pandemic brings into stark relief the need to increase those resources.

4:17 We have a tradition of bipartisan support for U.S. action on this front, which I have been involved in for many years through the International Conservation Caucus. We will need an increase of that effort, and we will need that increase to be a significant one — and with diplomatic engagement.

4:40 And beyond this – the science is clear that a major factor in the spread of disease is the loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitats and populations. When habitat shrinks and wildlife is exploited, it’s easier for zoonotic diseases to spread among animals and then to humans.

5:01 So, lesson two is we must conserve and protect habitat and biodiversity – if we want to protect ourselves. 

5:10 The science tells us that at a minimum, we must conserve 30 percent of the Earth’s lands and waters by 2030. 

5:20 And this pandemic has underscored that we must follow the science and listen to the scientists if we want to protect the public health and our future. And that we all pay the price when scientists are sidelined.

5:35 That’s why I’ve introduced my Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature to protect 30 percent of our nation’s lands and waters in the next decade. The United States needs to be a leader in this global effort. 

5:51 You know, staying at home really makes us all appreciate the gift – and health benefits – of being outside, in nature, even more.  

6:02 Like the rest of Congress, I am focused on the public health and economic relief efforts right now.  

6:08 But when the time is right, we must act on the historic bipartisan deal to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and our national parks backlog. That was just a few weeks ago — even if it feels like much longer.  

6:23 Earth Day has always been a call to action.  

6:28 Taking on this pandemic together, as a nation, shows us how interconnected we are.

6:35 And that – if we act together to meet the moment, with science as our guide– we can save nature for the sake of humanity.

6:50 Thank you.