BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (American Forces Press Service, Aug. 23, 2007) - In a country that has seen constant war for decades, it is easy for environmental issues to fall to the wayside.

But U.S. officials are working to bring the issue to the forefront. U.S. Embassy and Environmental Protection Agency officials hosted a class here Aug. 13 to raise awareness of illegal fur trading.

Environmental and wildlife agencies are hoping to prevent further damage to habitats and endangered species in Afghanistan. "It all feeds into rebuilding the country and trying to establish some sort of rule of law within their government," said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas A. Lockhart, customs noncommissioned officer in charge for the Provost Marshal Office of Combined Joint Task Force 82.

After six years in Afghanistan, officials now are looking at environmental issues while still implementing and executing tactical operations and reconstruction projects, he said.

To halt the production of illegal furs, steps have to be taken to decrease the market for them. "I think people just don't know," said Alex Dehgan, country director for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Afghanistan. "They don't realize that buying one of these skins increases demand for the wildlife, and that means someone else is going to go out and hunt more of these animals."

Endangered animals native to Afghanistan include brown bears, leopards, snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep and wolfs. These animals are protected under Afghanistan's constitution, in agreement with the multinational Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and under several U.S. laws and military and postal codes.

"I think people don't realize the consequences," said Clay Miller, a representative for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. "There's a $100,000 fine if you are knowingly bringing in or shipping endangered species to the U.S.

"Many people just don't know the U.S. laws and the trouble they can get in," he said. "They have never been exposed to furs before and just figure, 'Hey I'm in Afghanistan, and furs are kind of cheap here.'"

Beyond the legal ramifications, soldiers who know they can't get the items back to the United States will be more cautious with their purchases. "Ultimately, what we're trying to do is get the soldiers to realize they're wasting their money on this," Sgt. 1st Class Lockhart said. "Since they're focused on the soldiers to purchase these furs, they will see the soldiers aren't going to buy them any more and try another avenue."

Along with decreasing the market for the illegal furs, the EPA has been working to inform the Afghan people about endangered animals. "We have an education campaign working with the Ministry of Education where we've been writing articles for Afghan newspapers," Mr. Dehgan said. "We have posters that we have been putting up throughout the country in English, Dari and Pashto.

"We've had a lot of support from the Afghan people," he added. "They actually want us to help protect their wildlife, and a lot of time they realize the plight that it's in."