Notes on a meeting with Mexican President-Elect Vicente Fox and US Environmental and Human Rights Leaders

by Mark Van Putten, NWF President

Mark Van Putten, National Wildlife Federation President, was among the environmental and human rights leaders who met in Washington, DC, Aug. 24 with Mexican President-elect Vicente Fox, prior to his discussions with President Clinton. Rodolfo Ogarrio, a member of NWF volunteer Board of Directors, also attended as part of President-elect Fox's delegation. During the 90-minute meeting, Van Putten surveyed the range of environmental issues that present opportunities for progress in US-Mexican relations.

resident-elect Vicente Fox's decision to meet with environmental and human rights leaders in Washington in advance of his discussions with President Clinton is indicative of the fresh political winds blowing north from Mexico.

The signal from this meeting is that the new government in Mexico is prepared for a new and more open relationship with its neighbors.

The initiative should be welcomed. The environment presents a ripe field in which to test the potential of Fox's proposals.

From the skyways that Monarch butterflies and scores of migratory bird species have followed for millennia, to an atmosphere that is warming from our common contributions of greenhouse gases, we already share an environment that by its very nature is borderless. The aquifers quickly being drained to quench our common thirst are not defined by political boundaries. The sea turtles that roam our coastlines are but one imperiled form of wildlife for which we have joint responsibility.

Several opportunities for US-Mexican engagement over the environment are immediately at hand, and could act as a proving ground for Fox's vision of openness and a new partnership.

On trade, both nations can energize the institutions created by the North American Free Trade Agreement to address a host of shared environmental problems. In conservation, a first step is simply to recognize the borderless reality of watersheds, aquifers and ecosystems and to deal with them cooperatively on that basis.

Additional specific steps can be taken. All six sea turtle species that migrate within US and Mexican waters are imperiled. Kemp's Ridleys are widely considered to be the most endangered sea turtle on earth.

Mexico is a leader in promoting the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles. Senate ratification of the agreement before Congress adjourns in October will be a clear signal endorsing cooperative approaches to cross-border environmental issues.

This agreement, and a similar one that Mexico has also joined protecting dolphins, are windows to the future in dealing with shared environmental concerns that transcend our borders. They emphasize cooperation. They adjust international trade practices (shrimp and tuna fishing that respectively kill sea turtles and dolphins) by accepting the enforcement of constraints for legitimate environmental protections.

A less well-known example involves the fate of the black-footed ferret that, in 1987, was at the brink of extinction when the last remaining 18 animals were withdrawn from the wild in an emergency effort to revive the species in a captive breeding program. Since then, ferrets have regained only the most tenuous hold on landscapes where they have been reintroduced in this country.

In fact, one of the largest remaining suitable habitats for black-footed ferrets in North America is in northwestern Mexico, in Chihuahua. If Fox's government and the United States work together, a black-footed ferret recovery program could begin there, one that could serve as a model for cross-border cooperation in wildlife conservation.

The environment is a natural place to see President-elect Fox's vision of a borderless future become a reality, because it is common ground we share without borders. It is within our joint capacities to move forward on this front now, without delay. Fox has made an auspicious opening by making the environment a priority concern of his soon-to-be inaugurated government, and by promising policies based on inclusion, consensus and open dialogue. The United States should greet his initiative with the openness of neighbors who share a common future.

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