Wildlife Conservation Society

views updated May 14 2018

Wildlife Conservation Society

2300 Southern Boulevard
Bronx, New York 10460
Telephone: (718) 220-5197
Fax: (718) 220-2685
Web site: http://www.wcs.org

Not-for-Profit Organization
Incorporated: 1895 as the New York Zoological Society
Employees: 750
Sales: $78.42 million (1998)
NAIC: 813312 Environment, Conservation and Wildlife Organizations; 71213 Zoos and Botanical Gardens

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is an organization dedicated to saving wildlife and natural environments; in 1999 it boasted about 85,000 members and 140,000 subscribers to its Wildlife Conservation magazine. The Society employs 60 full-time conservationists and over 70 research and conservation fellows, who conduct hundreds of field studies throughout the world. WCS also lobbies for international legislation to protect wildlife and works to increase the publics awareness of the dangers faced as a result of natural resource destruction. WCS highlights this awareness at its urban centers in New York, which include the Bronx Zoo, the New York Aquarium, and the Central Park, Queens, and Prospect Park Wildlife Centers. The Bronx Zoo is the largest urban zoo in the United States and home to about 6,500 animals. More than four million people visited the Societys zoos in 1997, half of them school children.

Eminent Origins

WCS traces its history to the family of venerable environmental groups that sprang up in the late 1800s as a response to the large-scale clearing of American wilderness. Only three other major private conservation organizations in the United States predated WCS: Audubon Society (1886), Sierra Club (1890), and Boone and Crockett Club (1887).

Attorney Madison Grant is credited with the idea of creating a zoological park in New York City. Theodore Roosevelt, as president of the Boone and Crockett Club, itself created to save game animals from extinction, helped sponsor the enterprise. The New York Zoological Society was chartered in 1895, with an aim to create a wildlife preserve in New York City to foster an appreciation of the natural world among the populace. It also aimed to be a kind of Noahs Ark, to shelter representatives of species facing extinction. In 1897 it commissioned its first field study, on the effects of hunting on the Alaskan fur seal population.

In 1906, William T. Hornaday, previously chief taxidermist at the Smithsonian Institution, was named as the first director of the New York Zoological Park (which became known as the Bronx Zoo), a position he would hold for 30 years. Hornaday was an ardent conservationist and helped introduce legislation to protect ducks, bison, fur seals, and other species endangered by overhunting. Hornaday selected the site for the worlds largest zoo, which opened on November 8, 1899. Although New York City provided $425,000 to the Societys building fund for construction of the zoo, prominent citizens such as J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller contributed an additional $250,000 in start-up capital. Moreover, about 1,000 $10-a-year memberships were issued. Moreover, in 1902, the Society gained management of the New York Aquarium, founded in Manhattan in 1896, from the citys government.

The Societys field studies proved valuable from the onset. The findings from the Societys first field study, conducted by Andrew J. Stone, led to the Alaskan Game Act of 1902. Eminent biologist William Beebe embarked upon a massive survey of Asian pheasants in 1909, covering 50,000 miles during his studies. Seven years later, Beebe would be tapped to head up the Societys first Tropical Research Station in British Guiana.

Closer to home, the Bronx Zoo became an important center for animal preservation and study. It was the first zoo to hire a full-time veterinarian and would establish the first modern animal hospital in 1916. In addition, William Hornaday led the Society to help open three bison reserves in the Midwest, beginning with the Wichita Mountains Forest Reserve in Oklahoma, which was started in 1907 with 15 bison supplied by the Bronx Zoo.

In 1913, the Society published Hornadays Our Vanishing Wildlife, a book that would profoundly influence public policy in the United States, helping establish legislation to spare migratory birds from hunting. Moreover, the Society helped form the Save-the-Redwoods League in 1918 to protect that species in California. Aiming to inspire an appreciation of ecological diversity through observation of wildlife in captivity, the Society founded the first formal zoo education program in 1929. Moreover, its commitment to conservation escalated as it fought to save the white rhinoceros from government-sponsored slaughter in South Africa. The New York Aquarium and Bronx Zoo proved popular diversions during the Great Depression, allowing the Society to continue to fund field studies and to enhance its facilities.

A Broadening Society Focus: The 1940s-70s

Although the New York Aquarium in Battery Park closed its doors in 1940 when construction on the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel commenced, the Bronx Zoo was thriving. At this time, the Society received new leadership. Fairfield Osborn and Laurance S. Rockefeller, named Society president and board chairman, respectively, in 1940, would oversee a long period of growth. Under Osborn and Rockefeller, the Society broadened the scope of its mission, building on Hornadays concern for animal species by emphasizing global responsibility for the environment as well.

The zoos next projects focused on the creation of natural environment exhibits. An innovative, open habitat known as African Plains was installed at the Bronx Zoo in 1941, a savanna environment recreated for zebras, antelopes, and other grazing animals and birds, with lions kept apart on an island on the other side of a moat. One year after the installation of the Bronx Zoos first Childrens Zoo in 1941, a Farm-in-the-Zoo was opened as well with a similar educational mission.

The Societys global conservation concerns were discussed in the Society-sponsored book Our Plundered Planet, published in 1948. Also that year, the Society established a division devoted to conservation issues, which would become the Conservation Foundation. Moreover, the Society began backing the operation of a research station at Wyomings Jackson Hole Wildlife Park. Research would become a hallmark of the modern WCS. Other projects included supporting the work of Olaus and Margaret Murie, who did exploratory studies in Alaska, leading to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In 1957, the Society celebrated the opening of a new aquarium on Coney Island. The city and the Society had agreed to share the expense of building the new facility, which had been many years in the planning stages.

Financial support for the Society, its causes, and its facilities continued to gain momentum, as generous donations were received from wealthy philanthropists, corporations, and general membership drives. In the 1960s, the Society was able to establish funds for several of its efforts, including the African Wildlife Fund, which supported studies and preservation projects in Kenya, Zaire, and Uganda, and a general fund for new and improved zoo exhibits. In 1964, a newly renovated Aquatic Bird House reopened to the public at the Bronx Zoo, 65 years after its original debut. Other new zoo exhibits and facilities followed, notably the World of Birds in 1972. Like African Plains, the new additions sought to recreate as faithfully as possible the residents natural living conditions.

The Societys commitment to the study of wildlife continued during this time. Field biologists backed by the Society focused on seabirds, African elephants, humpback whales, primates populations, and tropical rainforests. At the Bronx Zoo, scientists studied social behavior among animals with the aim of improving breeding success; for some species, this represented the last chance before extinction.

Renovations in the 1980s and a New Name in the 1990s

In 1980 the City of New York turned to the Society for help in renovating three aging municipal zoos. The Central Park, Queens, and Prospect Park Wildlife Centers opened under Society management between 1988 and 1993. The three zoos focused, respectively, on tropical, temperate, and polar habitats; North American habitats; and childrens exhibits. The Society also implemented an active outreach program in city schools during this time.

A cooperative effort among zoos and aquariums in breeding endangered species was initiated by Society President William Conway. It was known as the American Zoo and Aquarium Association Species Survival Plan. Politically, the Society remained active as well, helping sponsor legislation in New York to curb the trade of exotic birds.

To better reflect its role in saving wildlife across the world, and not just as the operator of a New York zoo, the New York Zoological Society became known as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in 1993. By this time, WCS was funding studies and developing nature preserves in Brazil, Tibet, Zaire, Papua New Guinea, and the Congo. The protected acreage established by WCS during the 1990s amounted to an area the size of California.

Among its many notable successes in the 1990s was in establishing its historic Paseo Pantera (Path of the Panther) program in 1994, which united the Central American nations in preserving a corridor of tropical habitat where panthers and other large wildcats resided. WCS also launched the Global Tiger Campaign to protect the species by preserving its prey and educating Asian consumers about the illegal tiger trade. Moreover, in 1998, a WCS biologist uncovered a new deer species in Burma, known as the leaf deer among locals in the remote Himalayan region. By this time, the conservationists art had expanded to include comprehensive medical care, elaborate breeding programs, and genetic engineering in some cases. Closer to home, WCS continued to study amphibians in the Great Swamp north of New York City.

Company Perspectives:

The Wildlife Conservation Societys mission is to save wildlife, to teach ecology, and to inspire care for nature.

WCS had expanded its global conservation efforts into more than 50 countries by the late 1990s, reaching even into the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, where land mines and barbed wire from the Korean War had kept developers out of the habitat of tigers and cranes. Political conflict complicated WCSs efforts in Rwanda, Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). WCS planned to open a six-and-a-half acre exhibit called Congo Gorilla Forest at the Bronx Zoo to raise public awareness for that areas unique, dense rain forest. WCS also planned to give zoo visitors the option of earmarking their admission fee for a particular field project.

In addition to preserving wildlife at home and abroad, WCS sought to educate the public, particularly children, about the importance of conservation. Toward that end, a new Childrens Zoo was opened in 1997, and WCS even began educational programs for schoolchildren in Papua New Guinea and in China. WCS hoped to engender in future generations an appreciation for wildlife, and in June 1998 it held its second Pan American Congress on the Conservation of Wildlife through Education. Interestingly, the conference was conducted entirely on the Internet, using chat rooms for live chats with important figures in the conservation business as well as electronic bulletin boards for posting important papers on a variety of subjects.

In 1998 WCS reported an operating deficit of about $24,000, a relatively small amount that WCS attributed in its annual report to a three-year trend bringing operating revenue and expenditures in line with one another. WCS stressed that visitors to the zoos, aquarium, and parks contributed 36 percent of the Societys revenues and that those facilities were all experiencing healthy sales. The WCS operating budget included about $19 million in funding from the City of New York, and an additional $2 million from Federal funding for conservation and education programs. The remainder of WCSs 1998 revenues of $78 million was generated through contributions, investment income, grants, and subscriptions to the Societys publication Wildlife Conservation.

Further Reading

Goddard, Donald L., ed., Saving Wildlife: A Century of Conservation, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.

Frederick C. Ingram

Wildlife Preservation

views updated Jun 27 2018


WILDLIFE PRESERVATION. In the colonial and early national period, a distinctively American conception of nature combined spiritual and aesthetic appreciation with antipathy and exploitation. Despite public outcries and literary appeals for the preservation of American forests and wildlife, economic considerations often took precedence over social concerns. By the twentieth century, this struggle between ideals had evolved into a central debate in the American conservation movement between utilitarian conservationists intent on scientific control and idealistic preservationists committed to wilderness protection from, rather than for, humans. This conflict can also be seen as a direct result of the relationship between human and nature that emerged from the scientific revolution. The confident push to gain control over natural processes reached its height during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when it was believed that through human ingenuity and the application of reason one could gain mastery over and understanding of nature. The widespread belief in the Baconian creed that scientific knowledge meant technological power was still tempered, nevertheless, by the ideal of stewardship.

Scientists and artists alike challenged the exploitative nature of American forestry and hunting practices on religious and spiritual grounds. While Baconians justified the power of science as the culmination of a fallen but redeemed humanity, English Romantics brought a revival of interest in the physical and spiritual links that had once existed between nature and society. The Romantic writers, combining a heightened sense of self with a heightened sympathy for the otherness of the natural world, celebrated the individuality of living things. This interest in nature was shown in Victorian times in plant and animal collections and conservatories.

Following the tradition of his transcendentalist mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) and a generation of English Romantics, Henry David Thoreau (1817– 1862) went beyond his predecessors' discussion of the wilderness and embarked on a journey to uncover the universal spiritual truths to be found in natural objects. Thoreau argued that by uncovering all the laws of nature, the harmony and the interrelationships that had been lost to the misuse of the powers of civilization could be rediscovered. By affirming the call to rebel against the commercial and industrial interests in society and promoting the simplification of life through the contemplation and appreciation of the wild, Thoreau came to embody the pastoral tradition. Thoreau has been subsequently hailed as the originator of the deep ecology and biocentric philosophy that finds in nature moral instruction.

In creating a national identity associated with nature, earlier Americans had underlined the incomparable size of its wilderness and added to it European deistic ideas and Romantic assumptions about the value of wild country and species. This made American wilderness not only a cultural and moral resource but also a basis for national pride. The appreciation of nature's beauty, however, was insidiously combined with the widespread image of nature as an abundant and inexhaustible storehouse of resources. Her inexpressible beauty was only overshadowed by her fecundity.

This faith in ever-renewing nature concealed the problem of slaughtering wildlife. Consequently, wildlife preservation efforts in the colonial and early national period reflected the limits of legislative reform and the primacy of commercial prerogatives. As overharvesting represented the biggest threat to wildlife, restrictions on hunting were justified on protective grounds. Deer, buffalo, or water fowl were preserved and the financial future of the hunter secured. Colonial wildlife legislation, such as the first game law passed by the town of Newport for the protection of deer in 1639, regulated the killing of wildlife but was confined to the protection of traditional game species. Ordinances provided for a closed hunting season, but lack of enforcement made these laws ultimately ineffective.

By the early nineteenth century, reformers had advocated the need to encourage not only aesthetic appreciation of nature but also responsible governance. In his best-selling series Leatherstocking Tales, James Fenimore Cooper expertly combined a Romantic vision of the wilderness as a valuable moral influence, a source of beauty, and a place of exciting adventure with an emphasis on the uniqueness of the American environment. Cooper employed the idea that man should govern resources by certain principles in order to conserve them.

In 1842, the Supreme Court upheld the doctrine of state ownership of wildlife in cases like Martin v. Waddell. In the decision, Chief Justice Roger Taney argued that the state of New Jersey had jurisdiction over oysters in a mudflat claimed as property by the landowner because the interest of the public trust prevailed over that of the individual. The few additional Supreme Court cases to follow that considered the validity of state authority unanimously supported the decision. In 1896, state jurisdiction was expanded in Geer v. Connecticut, which upheld a conviction under state law for possessing game birds with the intent to ship them out of Connecticut. The Court's opinion provided a historical treatise on governmental control while sparking a long and continuing debate about the respective powers of the state and federal governments over wildlife.

Lacey Act

The decision set the stage for the Lacey Act (1900), the first step in the field of federal wildlife regulation. By the end of the nineteenth century, the federal government had finally responded to the mobilization of preservationist interest groups and the public outcry against overexploitation. In the 1870s, sportsmen groups, although engaged in hunting and fishing, had both realized the need for conservation and had tripled in number to more than three hundred. Sportsmen clubs created a powerful lobby that pushed for game laws, facilitated the development of Yellowstone National Park and similar game preserves, and played a crucial role in the expansion of the outdoor recreation industry. Prominent members of the Boone and Crockett Club, established in 1887, included President Theodore Roosevelt, Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot, and Representative John F. Lacey, sponsor of the Lacey Act that ended massive market hunting. The Lacey Act made it illegal to transport birds across state boundaries if they had been taken in violation of any other law in the nation. While it faced stiff opposition from states rightists, the Act passed behind the growing support of established groups like the League of American Sportsmen and northeastern chapters of the Audubon Society. Although limited to the regulation of interstate commerce in wildlife and initially criticized as a toothless legislative measure, subsequent amendments strengthened enforcement and extended provisions to all wild animals and some wild plants. Most important, the Lacey Act served as the cornerstone of federal efforts to conserve wildlife. The Act notonly gave the federal government broader enforcement powers in the area of interstate commerce, it also gave the secretary of agriculture the power to influence foreign commerce by prohibiting the importation of animals deemed a threat to agriculture or horticulture.

As a number of economically and aesthetically important species received increasingly widespread public attention in the second half of the nineteenth century, the federal government was compelled to expand its role. Beaver had become virtually extinct east of the Mississippi River and scarce nationwide by the mid-1800s. The decline of salmonids in the Pacific Northwest prompted the U.S. Fish Commission to send an ichthyologist to the Columbia River in the 1890s. The precipitous decline of bird species was reflected with the heath hen, a heavily hunted subspecies of prairie chicken, which disappeared around the turn of the century, in the death of the last clearly identified passenger pigeon in the wild in 1900, and in the warnings of famed ornithologist James G. Cooper that the California condor was on the verge of extinction. In response to the depletion of several bird species, the Lacey Act authorized the secretary of agriculture to adopt all measures necessary for the "preservation, introduction, and restoration of game birds and other wild birds" while remaining subject to various state laws. Although this was a cautious move toward wildlife management by the federal government, it was an unequivocal statement of public over private authority.

The widely publicized plight of the buffalo also signaled the ineffectiveness of state jurisdiction over wildlife, the results of commercial overexploitation, and the potential value of federal intervention. Heavily hunted for the hide market and slaughtered in the campaign against Native Americans, the buffalo, which had been so plentiful within living memory, was nearing extinction; the fight to save this symbol of America brought wildlife preservation dramatically to the attention of the public.

National Parks and Scientific Management

Following the Homestead Act of 1862, an immense public campaign to make citizens landowners, American land use philosophy shifted toward preservation. The first federal attempt to protect wildlife on a designated area appears to be the 1864 transfer of Yosemite Valley from the public domain to the state of California. The creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 followed, but the end angered buffalo were not adequately protected until the passage of the Yellowstone Park Protection Act of 1894. Preservation efforts were also strengthened by the Forest Reservation Creation Act of 1881, which allowed the president to set aside areas for national forests. President Benjamin Harrison quickly created the Afognak Island Forest and Fish Culture Reserve in Alaska by executive order, making wildlife concerns a central element in the proposal. These types of preservation efforts became an international phenomenon in the opening decades of the twentieth century, with national parks established in Sweden, nature preserves set aside in the Netherlands, and the National Trust set up in Great Britain. The second American response to the sudden realization that resources were limited was to develop techniques for the scientific management of wilderness areas in order to maximize yields and eliminate waste. These methods included the utilitarian ethic embodied by forestry guru Gifford Pinchot(1865–1946), who endorsed as the main principle of economic development the preservation of the greatest good for the greatest number.

President Theodore Roosevelt embodied the ideal of progressive reform and signaled a dramatic change in federal policy and environmental ethics. Roosevelt declared that conservation of natural resources was central to American life and put the issue of conservation at the top of the country's agenda. Supporting an environmental ethic based on stewardship, utility, and scientific management, Roosevelt revolutionized American conservation efforts by taking more action than any prior president to preserve wildlife habitat. By the time he left office, he had created the first official wildlife refuge at Pelican Island, Florida, expanded the national wildlife refuge system to fifty-one protected sites, increased the size of national forests from 42 million acres to 172 million acres, and preserved eighteen areas as national monuments, including the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest.

Expanding Federal Authority

In response to the public mood recognized by Roosevelt, Congress continued to expand federal holdings by establishing the Wichita Mountains Forest and Game Preserve in 1905, the National Bison Range in 1908, and the National Elk Refuge in 1912 (the first unit officially referred to as a "refuge"). Then in 1913, an expansive 2.7 million acres were set aside by President William Howard Taft when the vast Aleutian Island chain was added to the system. In the wake of the Lacey Act, the Supreme Court secured the constitutional authority of federal wildlife regulation with a series of judgments cementing the government's role in preservation. The constitutionality of the landmark Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was first upheld in Missouri v. Holland (1920). The case established the supremacy of federal treaty-making power by upholding the protective duty of the federal government over state claims of ownership of wildlife. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes disposed of the ownership argument in two ways. First, he explained that wild birds were not the possession of anyone. Second, he insisted that the Constitution compelled the federal government to protect the food supply, forests, and crops of the nation. The federal government assumed unprecedented responsibility for wildlife jurisdiction due to the migratory nature of the protected species and employed the first federal wildlife enforcement officers through the Biological Survey. In 1934, the passage of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act (known as the Duck Stamp Act) created a major stimulus for funding the refuge system. What remained unclear was the extent of federal obligation and affiliated power.

The government had prohibited all hunting in Yellowstone National Park since 1894 without officially sanctioned jurisdiction, but a more concrete answer to the issue of property rights and responsibilities was provided by Hunt v. United States (1928). The case involved the secretary of agriculture's directive to remove excess deer from the Kaibab National Forest. While the secretary insisted that the deer threatened harm to the forest from overbrowsing, state officials arrested people for carrying out the orders. The Supreme Court decision was explicit. The power of the federal government to protect its lands and property superseded any other statute of the state. The relationship between federal and state authority, nevertheless, remained a hotly contested issue to be revisited by the Court for decades.

Kleppe v. New Mexico (1978) provided a firm foundation for the basis of federal authority in property disputes. The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, designed to protect all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands as living symbols of the historic West, was upheld with the argument that the federal government had the power to regulate and protect its wildlife regardless of state interests. Palil v. Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (1981) carried Kleppe's suggestion of federal ownership a step further. Upholding the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the judgment found that preserving a natural resource may be of such importance as to constitute a federal property interest.

These decisions illustrate changes in the focus of wildlife preservation policy from preventing overharvesting to addressing the larger problem of habitat destruction. While the first acknowledgment of the federal responsibility to protect habitats on a national scale can be traced to late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century presidential and congressional efforts, a series of legislative landmarks in the following decades extended the scope of federal preservation efforts. The Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 established a special commission for the review lands to be purchased by the Department of the Interior to protect areas crucial to waterfowl reproduction and remains a major source of authority for refuge acquisition. The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1934 also set an important precedent by requiring water development agencies to consider wildlife preservation in the planning process. The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 provided the necessary fiscal foundation for wildlife administration by setting aside funds from taxes on ammunition for state agencies.

Legislation and the Professionalization of Ecology

The profession of wildlife management also evolved in the 1930s as Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) taught the first courses in wildlife management at the University of Wisconsin and his Game Management (1933) became the first textbook. In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Leopold, Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling, and Thomas Beck to a special committee to study and advise him on the waterfowl problem in 1934. The committee undertook a campaign to alert the nation to the crisis facing waterfowl due to drought, overharvest, and habitat destruction. Darling was subsequently appointed head of the Bureau of Biological Survey in 1935. J. Clark Salyer was brought in to mange the fledgling refuge program, and for the next thirty-one years had a profound influence on the development of the refuge system. The Biological Survey subsequently established ten land grant universities equipped with research and training programs. Leopold was one of the first to recognize the shift from overharvest to habitat degradation as the primary threat to wildlife, his recommendations as chairman of the American Game Policy Committee established a new land ethic and fostered the blossoming of a new expertise in ecology. Along with the professionalization trend, new scientific organizations proliferated, among them the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the Conservation Foundation, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. With the merging of the Biological Survey and the Bureau of Fisheries in 1940, to form the Fish and Wildlife Service, which presided over an expanding system of wildlife refuges and sanctuaries, the stage was arguably set for a broader view of wildlife preservation.

The professionalization of ecology, the exposure of widespread environmental degradation in Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962), and the subsequent dawning of the American environmental movement collectively pushed the legislative evolution of wildlife preservation forward at an increased pace in the 1960s. The Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 had established a comprehensive national fish and wildlife policy, making increased acquisition and development of refuges possible. The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 provided further guidelines and directives for administration and management of the refuge system. In 1966, Congress passed the Endangered Species Preservation Act in an attempt to protect habitat for endangered vertebrate species by creating new wildlife refuges. The 1969 Endangered Species Conservation Act extended the policy to invertebrates and directed the secretary of interior to facilitate an international convention of species preservation. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which convened in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1973, set the stage for the most far-reaching wildlife statute in U.S. history.

In an attempt to bridge the gaps between competing interests, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 intended to recognize the aesthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value of wildlife and plants. The ESA went beyond many earlier preservation efforts by mandating the conservation of entire ecosystems and requiring all federal departments and agencies to utilize their authority to further the purposes of the Act. Although it passed amidst a wave of environmental lawmaking in the early 1970s, the near unanimous support of Congress, and the endorsement of President Richard Nixon, debates continued in the wake of ESA. The longstanding issue of federal and state regulatory authority remained but was overshadowed by competing private interests. Conservationist organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Nature Conservancy, along with activist organizations like the Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation, utilized the ESA as an effective tool to protect threatened and endangered species like the highly publicized northern spotted owl. Meanwhile, the loose-knit but wide spread Wise Use movement led efforts to stop ESA's intrusion into the lives of private landowners. As special interest groups have consistently shaped wildlife preservation efforts since the nineteenth century, confronting the relationship between social and economic prerogatives, the formation of powerful lobbying groups on each side of the debate in recent years has ensured that wildlife preservation will remain a pivotal political issue for decades to come.


Bean, Michael J., and Melanie J. Rowland, eds. The Evolution of National Wildlife Law. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997.

Czech, Brian, and Paul R. Krausman. The Endangered Species Act: History, Conservation, Biology, and Public Policy. 3d ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Matthiessen, Peter. Wildlife in America. 3d ed. New York: Viking, 1987.

Reiger, John F. American Sportsmen and the Origins of Conservation. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2001.

Tober, James A. Who Owns the Wildlife? The Political Economy of Conservation in Nineteenth Century America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981.

Eric WilliamBoyle

See alsoEndangered Species .

Wildlife Refuge

views updated Jun 27 2018

Wildlife refuge

When President Theodore Roosevelt issued an executive order making Pelican Island, Florida, a federal bird reservation, he introduced the idea of a national wildlife refuge . Nearly 90 years later, Roosevelt's action has expanded to a system of more than 400 national wildlife refuges with a combined area of over 90 million acres (36 million ha).

Roosevelt's action was aimed at protecting birds that used the islands. Market hunters had relentlessly killed egrets, herons, and other aquatic birds for their feathers or plumes to adorn women's fashions. The first national wildlife refuge, like other conservation practices of the early twentieth century, emerged in reaction to unregulated market hunting . Pelican Island became a sanctuary where wild animals, protected from gunfire, would multiply and then disperse to repopulate adjacent countryside.

States followed suit, establishing protected areas known variously as game preserves , sanctuaries, or game refuges. They were expected to function as breeding grounds to repopulate surrounding countryside. Although protected populations usually persisted within the boundaries of such refuges, they seldom repopulated areas outside those boundaries. Migratory waterfowl enjoyed some success in repopulating because they could fly over unsuitable habitats and find others that met their needs. Nonmigratory or resident species often found themselves surrounded by inhospitable tracts of farmlands, highways, and pastures. Dispersal chances were limited. Resident populations, particularly those of deer and other large herbivores, built up to unhealthy levels, depleting natural foods, becoming infested with heavy parasite loads, and leaving the animals susceptible to starvation. In short, refuges proved to be too small and too scattered to compensate for changes in the overall landscapes imposed by expanding human populations.

Yet elements of the refuge idea proved to be sound, even critical, under some conditions. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers the National Wildlife Refuge System and, in keeping with its legal responsibilities, designed the system to provide crucial habitat reserves for migratory waterbirds. Roughly 80% of the refuges in this system were established to provide breeding grounds, wintering grounds, or migration stopover sites for aquatic migrants. The task of providing critical habitat for threatened and endangered species , another area of federal commitment, has been added to this mission.

As wildlife researchers learned more about habitat needs, survival rates, and the dispersal abilities of birds and mammals, wildlife managers began to redefine refuges more in terms of meeting habitat needs than in providing sanctuary from hunters. Without considering habitat quality both on the refuge itself and along its boundaries, no level of protection from gunfire could ensure perpetuation of native wildlife.

Pelican Island is a true island off the Florida coast; other refuges are, or soon will be, habitat islands surrounded by a sea of farms, ranches, forest plantations, shopping malls, and suburbs. There is increasing evidence that even those refuges providing the highest quality habitat may simply be too small to sustain many of their wild species under conditions of isolation.

But how much is enough? How large must a habitat refuge be to ensure that its populations will survive? Nature provides a clue through an experiment that began 10,00011,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age . As the glacial ice melted, sea levels rose. Coastal peninsulas in the Caribbean and elsewhere became chains of islands as the rising waters covered lower portions of the peninsulas.

The original peninsulas presumably had about the same number of vertebrate species as did the adjacent mainland. By comparing the numbers of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians present on the islands within historical times with those on adjacent mainlands, biologists have found that the islands contain consistently fewer species. Furthermore, the number of species that a given island maintained was correlated directly to island size and inversely to distance from the mainland.

The most likely explanation for this pattern is that the smaller the island, the less likely that species will survive in isolation over long periods of time. The greater the distance, the less likely that wild animals will re-colonize the island by making it across from the mainland.

Should we consider this analogy realistic? After all, most refuges are surrounded by land, not water. Several studies from national parks in the American West, areas protected from both hunting and habitat alterations, have compared the number of large mammal species surviving in the parks. These studies show consistently that the bigger the park, the greater the number of surviving species of large mammals.

Large carnivores such as wolves , bears, lions, tigers , and jaguars need the largest expanses of protected areas. Because they attack livestock (and occasionally humans), large carnivores have long been subjected to persecution. However, there are biological reasons for their rarity as well. Any given level in the food chain/web can exist at only a tiny fraction of the abundance of the level beneath it. It may take 100 or more moose (Alces alces ) to support a single wolf (genus Canis ) or 1,000 Thompson's gazelles (Gazella thomsonii ) to sustain one lion (Panthera leo ). These conditions mean that large carnivores occur at low levels of abundance and range over large areas. Simulation models that take into account the areas needed for long-term perpetuation of lions or bears suggest that even the largest national parks and other protected areas may be too small. Either the protected areas themselves will need to be expanded substantially or the populations will have to be aided by reintroduction of individuals from outside the protected zones.

Although large carnivores remain controversial, they also offer popular appeal to a growing segment of the public. Refuges, parks, and other protected sites large enough to support a population of tigers or wolves, even for a short time, will almost certainly be large enough to meet the needs of other wild species as well. Thus, Project Tiger in India helped sambar (Cervus unicolor ) and chital deer (Axis axis ) populations by defining areas as tiger preserves.

In the United States and Canada, people tend to think of national parks as scenic areas for tourism and recreation . But national parks also act as refuges by protecting wildlife from direct exploitation and by attempting to preserve original habitat conditions. The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos )once ranged from the western prairies to the Pacific Ocean. By the end of World War II, the only grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states occurred in and around two large national parks: Yellowstone National Park and Glacier. Had it not been for these parks, the grizzly bear would have become completely extinct in the United States, exclusive of Alaska, during the first half of the twentieth century.

Worldwide standards for refuges, parks, and other protected areas have been developed by the United Nations (UN), the IUCNThe World Conservation Union , and the IUCN's World Commission on Protected Areas. These agencies compile listings every five years according to three general criteria. To be included, an area must be at least 2,500 acres (1,000 ha) with the exception of offshore islands of at least 250 acres (100 ha), have effective legal protection and adequate de facto protection, and be managed by the highest appropriate level of government.

The 2000 tally by the IUCN/UN lists over 30,000 protected areas with a total area of 5.1 million sq mi (13.2 million sq km), about 9.5% of the earth's land surface, or roughly the size of China and India combined. Of the 193 major habitat types, 183 are represented by at least one protected area.

The number of internationally recognized areas of protected habitats grew from about 1,800 in 1970 to nearly 7,000 by 1990 and 30,000 by 2000. This expansion resulted from improved cooperation between nations and from the growing realization that without protected areas, the earth's wildlife would be in peril. During the next quarter century, the list of protected areas will likely continue to grow, especially in developing nations. They will become increasingly valued for tourism and for national prestige. The effectiveness of refuges in the more distant future will depend on population growth and on how quickly people shift from extractive to sustainable land use practices. The current tendency to view habitat protection as the antithesis to economic development will fade as people recognize the importance, both ecologically and economically, of maintaining the world's wildlife.

[James H. Shaw ]



Shafer, C. L. Nature Reserves: Island Theory and Conservation Practice. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990.

Western, D., and M. C. Pearl. Conservation for the Twenty First Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

World Resources Institute. World Resources 199293. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.


1990 United Nations List of National Parks and Protected Areas. Gland, Switzerland: IUCNThe World Conservation Union, 1990.

Wildlife Refuge

views updated May 17 2018

Wildlife Refuge


A wildlife refuge is land that has been set aside to help protect wild animals, birds, reptiles, and plant species that reside in that area, or that use the area during migration.

Although some wildlife refuges or portions of the land remain undeveloped and in a natural state, other portions may be altered. Alterations are usually made to assist certain species of wildlife. An example is the planting of rice in areas that contain populations of water birds.

Other alterations are permitted for commercial purposes such as lumbering, mining, and oil exploration. These uses are contentious and must be carefully monitored and controlled to prevent overexploitation and land degradation.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

The first wildlife refuge in the United States was Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge located on the Atlantic coast of Florida was created by American President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) in 1903.

The idea of setting land aside from development as a haven for wildlife began over 50 years earlier, when explorers returning from the western United States reported on the mass slaughter of species such as the buffalo. Even then the realization was growing that without human intervention in the form of protected lands, animal and bird species could become threatened or extinct.

In 1864, an act of Congress transferred Yosemite Valley to the State of California with the condition that fish and animal species within the allotted area be protected from harm. The area subsequently became a federal government responsibility. In 1872, the first national park was established (Yellowstone National Park), although no provisions were made for the protection of wildlife until passage of the Yellowstone Protective Act in 1894.

Following the establishment of the Pelican Island refuge, wildlife refuges were soon established on many other parcels of land and water. By 1905, the Bureau of Biological Survey (one of the predecessors of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which now manages federal wildlife refuges) had been created in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with the responsibility for managing the refuges.

Passage of the Migratory Bird Act in 1918 spurred the creation of refuges specifically for the protection of waterfowl; the first was the Upper Mississippi River Wild Life and Fish Refuge established in 1924. Passage of the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act in 1934 authorized the acquisition of land specifically for the protection of fish and wildlife.

The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act passed in 1966 has been very influential in guiding the development of wildlife refuges in the United States; the act specified the guidelines and policies for the creation of refuges.

As of 2008, there are over 500 sites designated as a National Wildlife Refuge, comprising over 96 million acres in all 50 states and in U.S. territories including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, almost 46 million acres of which are wetlands. In addition, the various refuges contain undisturbed wilderness (almost 21 million acres), islands, lakes, forests, deserts, and mountainous regions.

Impacts and Issues

Wildlife refuges have played an influential role in the conservation of land and natural resources in the United States. Their role in the protection of non-migrating wildlife and migratory species has been invaluable in protecting many species from the assaults of land development and pollution that has accompanied the growth of the United States.

For example, the Blackwater Refuge located in eastern Maryland, which was established in 1933 as a haven for ducks and geese during their migrations along the Atlantic Flyway, is used as a rest and refueling stop by an estimated 35,000 geese and 15,000 ducks during their November southern migration. Without the availability of this region, the massive development that has taken place along the northeastern seaboard of the United States would hamper the success of duck and geese migration.

The state of Alaska alone contains 77 million acres of refuge land. The Alaska National Wildlife Reserve,


EXTINCTION: The total disappearance of a species or the disappearance of a species from a given area.

LAND DEGRADATION: Gradual land impoverishment caused primarily by human activities such as agriculture.

WETLAND: A shallow ecosystem where the land is submerged for at least part of the year.

which lies entirely north of the Arctic Circle, has become a flashpoint between environmentalists and those who feel that such reserves can be used both for wildlife protection and for commercial gain. In this case, the commodity is oil; interested companies have estimated that upward of 16 million barrels lies beneath the tundra of the refuge. In 1995, Congress approved oil drilling in the refuge, only to have the initiative vetoed by President Bill Clinton. In 2005, approval for drilling was passed by Congress during budget proceedings, but an outcry led to blockage of the bill by the Senate.

Although no further movement to authorize drilling has been made as of 2008, some environmentalists caution that the growing need for new oil reserves, along with the rising price of oil, will see the return of pressure to drill in the Alaska reserve.

See Also Conservation; Wildlife Population Management; Wildlife Protection Policies and Legislation



Bass, Rick. Caribou Rising: Defending the Porcupine Herd, Gwich-’in Culture, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2004.

Butcher, Russell. America’s National Wildlife Refuges: A Complete Guide. Lanham, MD: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 2003.

Waterman, Jonathan. Where Mountains Are Nameless: Passion and Politics in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007.