Why Protect Wildlife?
Photo Credit: Michael Peck
America's wildlife enriches the Nation in a multitude of ways. Many of us enjoy recreational activities that depend on wildlife or wildlife habitat. In 2001, for example, 34 million Americans went fishing; 13 million of us hunted; and over a third of us (66 million) watched or photographed wildlife.
But we need not be anglers, hunters, bird watchers, or amateur photographers to treasure wildlife and the wonders of the outdoor world. Millions of us hike, bike, climb mountains, camp, boat, canoe, shoot rapids, and sail, finding renewal and relaxation in the places that hundreds of animal and plant species call home.
We turn to "wild things" and "wild places" for esthetic pleasure, spiritual inspiration, and a way to connect with nature. Some of us find religious meaning in the animals and plants that are the Nation's living legacy or express our cultural heritage by using species to celebrate, pray, heal, or sustain health. Others see intrinsic value in all life and life forms and define conservation as a moral or ethical imperative.
Our economy and the job market benefit from consumer spending on wildlife-related recreation and from the sustainable harvest and sale of native species. In 2001, for example, Americans spent $108 billion on wildlife-related recreation; trips alone cost us $28 billion while we bought $64 billion worth of equipment for fishing, hunting, and watching wildlife.
Americans who make their living from wildlife not only include hunting guides, outfitters, and eco-tour companies but also an array of businesses that supply fish, wildlife, and plants to markets here and abroad. Watermen harvest crabs from the Chesapeake Bay, lobsters off the coast of Maine, and abalone from the Pacific. The Great Lakes commercial fishing industry hauls in perch, chub, and whitefish, while in Alaska wild-caught salmon dominate the catch. Mussels from U.S. rivers provide shell for buttons and the production of cultured pearls; American paddlefish caviar competes with imported varieties in the gourmet marketplace; and U.S. trappers supply furs to clothing manufacturers. We harvest alligators to produce leather goods and export hundreds of thousands of turtles for the pet and food trades. Ginseng, goldenseal, and more than 170 other plants native to North America stock the over-the-counter medicinal market, a U.S. business worth more than $3 billion a year.
The health and vitality of fish, wildlife, and plant populations provide a telling barometer of the quality of the environment we share. We function with the millions of other species that inhabit the planet as part of a complex, delicately balanced, and infinitely diverse network of life – a network so tightly interrelated that the loss of any single species can set off a chain reaction with long-term consequences that are virtually impossible to predict.
In the preamble to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, Congress declared that fish, wildlife, and plants "are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people," recognizing that our natural heritage is an invaluable and irreplaceable resource. Our quality of life — and that of future generations — depends on our wise stewardship and effective protection of this inheritance.