Wildlife Protection Policies and Legislation

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Wildlife Protection Policies and Legislation


Wildlife protection involves policies and legislation to govern land use; hunting and trapping of animals; illicit trapping and trade of animals, reptiles, and birds or products; and other goals that are intended to preserve or restore habitats, protect species that are threatened or in danger of extinction, and enable restoration of populations at risk.

Wildlife protection policies and legislation spans a wide range, from the local level to the international level. Locally, for example, municipal committees can consider development projects in terms of the potential for degradation of watercourses and land as part of an environmental assessment. Such assessments are also required for federal government projects in many countries including the United States. Also, at the federal level, a variety of environmental legislation helps safeguard wildlife.

Policies and legislation also extend to the international level, reflecting the multinational movement of some migratory species and the increasing recognition that environmental preservation, including protection of wildlife, is a global responsibility.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

In the United States, few laws or regulations on the hunting of wild animals existed at the beginning of the twentieth century. Hunting of virtually all animal and bird species had no regard for numbers killed or any seasonal timing of hunting, even during breeding periods.

In the United States and other industrialized countries, land use patterns changed from predominantly rural and locally based agriculture to larger, corporate controlled farming and expanding urban centers. Previous pristine territory was lost. By the mid-twentieth century, the need to protect wildlife populations had been recognized.

An important influence in wildlife protection efforts was the 1962 publication of Silent Spring. American author Rachel Carson (1907–1964) warned of the consequences on the natural environment and humans of the widespread and extensive use of chemicals such as the pesticide DDT. The book was prophetic, with DDT exposure subsequently being linked to adverse effects in humans, animals, and birds.

In the intervening decades, a variety of policies and laws to protect wildlife were implemented. One example is the environmental assessment process. The multi-step assessment helps identify areas of environmental concern in a project, which can lead to modification of the project or withholding of approval.

In Canada, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) is federal legislation that targets bird, animal, reptile, fish, mollusk, and plant species whose existence is threatened. The act, which was passed by the House of Commons in 2002 as part of the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy and the government’s response to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), is intended to prevent extinction of the species and to do whatever is deemed necessary to ensure their recovery including appropriating land and compensating those affected by the changed land use. As part of the legislation, a committee of experts who are independent of government was established. It is the committee’s task to identify species at risk. As of 2008, there are over 200 species on the list including the grizzly bear, Arctic walrus, swift fox, burrowing owl, piping plover, and spotted turtle.

Internationally, the CBD was signed in 1992 at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It represented the first global agreement focusing broadly on biological diversity, and the convention contains provi-


BIODIVERSITY: Literally, “life diversity”: the wide range of plants and animals that exist within any given geographical region.

ECO-TOURISM: Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas that promotes conservation, has a low visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.

HABITAT: The natural location of an organism or a population.

sions pertaining to conservation, environmental sustainability, and the open and fair use of benefits of genetic resources. The convention is coordinated and administrated from a United Nation’s office in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

The CBD assists nations in identifying and implementing strategies to protect habitats and preserve biodiversity through scientific research, economic incentives to encourage land use protection, and the legal means to prosecute if necessary.

Another international agreement is the Convention on Migratory Species, which was struck in Bonn, Germany, in 1979 under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Also known as the Bonn Convention, the agreement is concerned with preserving habitats that are vital for migratory species as well as protecting the species themselves. As of 2008, 104 nations have signed the Bonn Convention.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands was signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971. The treaty is intended to facilitate national and international actions to preserve wetlands. The 158 signatories represent nearly 1,750 wetland sites that total over 620,000 square mi (161 million hectares).

Impacts and Issues

The many policies and laws concerned with wildlife protection that are in effect globally help preserve habitats, sustain the populations of species at risk, and help in efforts to increase the numbers of species in decline. These efforts have broader benefits. A healthy habitat is better able to support human activities such as agriculture, reduces the development and spread of infectious diseases, and can encourage eco-tourism.

In 2002, the member nations of the CBD committed “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the

current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth.” Although progress at the global level can be hard to gauge, the CBD 2010 biodiversity target has increased awareness of the importance of wildlife protection and has spurred protective efforts.

See Also Biodiversity; Ecosystem Diversity; Sustainable Development



Adams, Clark, Kieran Lindsey, and Sarah Ash. Urban Wildlife Management. Boca Raton, FL. CRC, 2005.

Bolen, Eric, and William Robinson. Wildlife Ecology and Management. New York: Benjamin Cummings, 2008.


Complying with a federal judge’s order to make a decision, in May 2008 the United States designated the polar bear as a threatened species and entitled it to Endangered Species Act protections. Federal officials asserted that a two-thirds reduction of the current population level (estimated at 25,000) was possible by 2050. Among the reasons cited was loss of Arctic sea ice that constitutes an essential part of the bear’s habitat. The U.S. action further pressured Canada, which as of May 2008 had not listed the polar bear as a threatened species.

Sinclair, Anthony, John Fryxell, and Graeme Caughley. Wildlife Ecology, Conservation and Management. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.