Efforts to Protect Species
Many local, national, and international organizations, such as Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and the National Audubon Society, work to preserve habitats and heighten public awareness. Conservationists have pressed for habitat preservation through the establishment of new wildlife refuges and wilderness areas and for public and private land-use planning that would provide for development without habitat destruction. Some wildlife conservation organizations try to keep seriously endangered species viable with captive breeding programs, releasing new offspring into the species' native habitat when breeding is successful.
U.S. legislation affecting endangered species includes the various federal antipollution laws, the banning of DDT, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, and the Endangered Species Acts of 1966, 1969, 1973, 1978, 1982, and 1988. The landmark 1973 Endangered Species Act prohibits any trade in endangered species or their products and requires that federal agencies assess the impact on wildlife habitat of proposed projects—much as NEPA requires an environmental impact statement. These laws are often the only tool that conservationists have to prevent the development or other exploitation (e.g., logging or mining) of important habitats, but enforcement is also hampered by litigation and a lack of funds. Despite these problems, in the years since 1973 the status of a number of species, including the bald eagle, American alligator, and black-footed ferret, became stable or improved.
The protection of species in the United States has, however, become highly politicized. Asserting that the enforcement of environmental rules unfairly burdens business, the Republican 104th Congress prevented any further species from being added to the U.S. list of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants for 13 months from 1995 to 1996. Despite the perception that enforcement of the laws affects the economy and impedes progress, only 1% of the 50,000 projects that raised endangered-species questions between 1976 and 1986 required further investigation because of possible serious impact on a species; most of those moved forward after some modification.
On the international scene, efforts have been made to halt the trade in spotted cats and crocodiles and to curtail whaling and the taking of porpoises in tuna seines. A conference in Washington, D.C., in 1973, attended by 80 nations, drew up the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which protects more than 600 species of animals and plants. By the early 1990s some success had been achieved in banning the trade in rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory, South American parrots, bird eggs, and rare orchids, but poaching—for the high profits that can sometimes be gained from these items—continues to be a serious threat. In addition to CITES, the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the "Earth Summit") produced an agreement to stem the depletion of the world's diverse species (see biological diversity). See also conservation of natural resources.