Organizations in Biodiversity The Role of

There are many types of organizations that are actively involved in biodiversity conser vation. They fall into several categories based on their policies, expressed perspectives, or programs. Although many organizations are difficult to place in one particular category, this article discusses the following categories based on the primary purpose of the organization:

Religious organizations: based on a shared belief in and reverence for God, a deity, or a supernatural power; this belief is central to the attitudes and conduct of these organizations and their members.

Government and governmental agencies: formally represent local, regional, or national government interests, having jurisdiction over such issues as national parks, forest and wildlife management, and community development. Academic and research institutions: primarily nonprofit, scientific institutions (including natural history museums, botanical gardens, aquaria, and zoological parks) and universities that conduct a range of biological, social, economic, and political studies. Nongovernmental organizations: private, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that may pursue a range of strategies to achieve an institutional goal, including working in communities, conducting research, analyzing policy, and lobbying for legislative action.

Although these types of organizations may have different agendas, they are increasingly finding common ground in their shared concern for the environment and conserving biodiversity. These links are important for conservation. In addition to discussion of the distinctive roles of organizations, cases illustrating complementary efforts and alliances among organizations are included below.

Religious Organizations

The teachings and programs of religious organizations are critical for influencing the underlying values of human societies. Inasmuch as billions of people around the globe count themselves as members of the world's major faiths, religious organizations play a significant role in influencing attitudes, and in inspiring and mobilizing communities to action. Religions provide their faithful with the ethics, or codes, that serve as goals for human behavior and norms by which behavior is evaluated. They can also offer an organized view and powerful voice to influence policy, as well as what is taught in schools.

The role of religion in biodiversity conservation is controversial. The Judeo-Christian tradition, predominant in the United States, has been held responsible by some people for the current environmental crisis. Controversy has centered on the interpretation of the relationship between God, humans, and nature as set out in Genesis 1:26-28. Here, God created humans in his own image and gave them dominion over other creatures. Environmentally concerned Christians and Jews have emphasized that "dominion" does not give humans license to abuse or destroy God's creation. Rather, humans have responsibility to care for this creation that God declared to be very good. Organized religion in the United States is taking environmental stewardship seriously, preaching on the environment in churches and synagogues, and training seminarians about the interface between religion and the environment.

Other major world religions have examined the relationship between their faiths and the environment. Leaders of three of the world's major faiths—Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam—joined with those from Christianity and Judaism in Assisi, Italy, in 1986 to discuss their religions in relationship to conservation. Religious leaders made declarations about the intrinsic relationship between faith and the environment, briefly summarized here: • For Buddhists there is a natural relationship between a cause and its resulting conse quences in the physical world. Buddhism is a religion of love, understanding, and compassion. It is committed to the ideal of nonviolence and attaches great importance to wildlife and protection of the environment upon which every being of this world depends for survival.

• In Hinduism, humanity, though at the top of the evolutionary pyramid, is not seen as something apart from the earth and all other life forms. The Hindu viewpoint on nature is permeated by reverence for life, awareness of the forces of nature, with the orders of life bound to each other. The divine is not exterior to creation, but expresses itself through natural phenomena.

• In Islam, the entire universe is God's creation and belongs to God. Humanity's role is to be God's stewards on earth, to oversee what God has entrusted to us, not to do with it as we wish. Allah is Unity; his trustees have responsibility for maintaining the unity and integrity of the earth, wildlife, and the environment.

Three more faiths—Baha'i, Jainism, and Sikhism—have since produced their own declarations to accompany those of the other religions.

• For the Baha'i, the grandeur and diversity of the natural world are reflections of the majesty and bounty of God. Thus nature is to be respected and protected; it is a divine trust for which we are answerable.

• Since the beginning of the Sikh religion in the late fifteenth century, the faith has been built on the message of "oneness of Creation." The universe was created by almighty God, who sustains, nourishes, and protects it.

• The term jain means "the follower of Jinas (spiritual victors)," human teachers who attained omniscience. Jains practice the principle of ahimsa (nonviolence) toward all humans and all nature. The Jain cosmology recognizes the natural phenomenon of mutual dependence; all aspects of nature belong together, bound in a physical as well as a metaphysical relationship.

Subsequently, representatives from these faiths have reconvened to evaluate their conservation record since Assisi and to develop plans for the future. They agreed to establish the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), an international organization that works with religious communities and environmental groups to improve the effectiveness of conservation activities. In November 2000, a joint effort of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and ARC convened leaders of the previous eight faiths with Shintos, Taoists, and Zoroastrians in Katmandu, Nepal.

Indigenous peoples have been voicing concerns about maintaining their cultures and traditions—often intertwined with religion. Religious sanctions may be invoked to protect areas and species. For example, sacred groves throughout the world have cultural and religious significance, and also serve to protect the biodiversity within them. According to criteria adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, indigenous peoples are: descendants of groups inhabiting an area prior to the arrival of other groups; politically not dominant; culturally different from the dominant population; and they identify themselves as indigenous. The world-view of many indigenous peoples includes the concept of a community-of-beings, including humans, animals, and plants. Traditional societies are highly varied; some have used the resources of their environments sustain-ably, and many have played an integral role in shaping the composition of their environments through selective hunting and

Joining the Forces of Faith and Science

In 1991, thirty-two scientists wrote an "Open Letter to the American Religious Community" expressing grave concern about humankind's understanding of its place and purpose in the web of life. They recognized that scientific data, laws, and economic incentives were not a sufficient response to the environmental crisis, and that a change in the values of society is a moral issue requiring an active role by the religious community. Religious leaders responded enthusiastically, and in 1993 they established the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE) across a broad spectrum of faith groups that collectively serve more than 100 million Americans. The NRPE's mission is to integrate care for creation throughout organized religion, contributing to moral perspective and breadth of constituency in efforts to protect the natural world and human well-being.

gathering and agricultural practices. These relationships of indigenous peoples with their environment have shifted over time, and today traditional societies often face rapid changes as they come increasingly into contact with outside influences.

Government and Governmental Agencies

Governments make laws and policies, set regulations, and enforce them. Although the actions of private companies, landowners, fishermen, and farmers have the most direct effect on biodiversity, governments need to provide leadership in setting rules to guide natural resource use and protect biodiversity. This takes place at local, regional, national, and international (intergovernmental) levels.

One of the greatest challenges to political action at any level, however, is that governments are often compartmentalized with mandates covering education, environment, agriculture, energy, or health, while concerns such as biodiversity conservation are affected by, and affect, more than one of those areas. In many cases it appears that federal and state governments place more importance on protecting current economic growth and private property rights than on protecting biodiversity.

In addition, ecosystem concerns are measured in decades or generations, while the political agendas of particular agencies are measured in months or years leading up to the next election or budget cycle. Agencies may also work at cross purposes. For example, the U.S. Forest Service has a mandate to produce timber for harvest at the same time that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works to protect biodiversity dependent upon the forests that are being cut.

Conservation action is typically carried out within national policy and legal systems (in some cases by state or provincial governments). With the exception of Antarctica, virtually all of the world's terrestrial biodiversity occurs within national boundaries, and thus measures taken by national governments are critical. Many countries set tolerance limits on environmental pollution, have legislation that regulates wildlife use, and are increasingly including the protection of endangered species in these laws.

In the United States, there are laws directly affecting biodiversity within the country's borders. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), signed into law by President Nixon in 1970, requires thorough environmental impact assessments of all major programs, a cornerstone of environmental law today. In addi tion to NEPA, important legislation includes amendments made in 1970 to what came to be known as the Clean Air Act. Following that and the Clean Water Act, a number of laws were passed including: the Consumer Product Safety Act (1972), the Environmental Pesticide Control Act (1972), the Endangered Species Act (1973), the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976), the Superfund legislation to clean up hazardous waste sites (1980), and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (1986). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), also created under the Nixon administration, was established to administer the new statutes.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is the principal conservation law protecting species in the United States. Although it has served as a model for other countries, its implementation has often been controversial.

There are also many fisheries laws, principal among them being the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, which provides for a governing structure for fisheries management by establishing regional fisheries management councils throughout the coastal areas of the United States and its territories.

According to the U.S. Constitution, all powers that are not given to the federal government are retained by the states. State governments have an important role to play in protecting people's health, safety, and welfare—and have primary responsibility for stewardship of biological resources within their borders. Federal laws define the minimum standards for states to follow. States can then pass laws to protect plant and animal species, wetlands, forests, and other ecosystems within state lines. Local governments (for example, municipalities, towns, cities, and counties) can undertake comprehensive municipal plan ning to address specific human activities that affect biodiversity within their jurisdictions.

In addition to local, state, and federal laws, international treaties or agreements are important for conserving biodiversity because many species and ecosystems are not contained within political boundaries, and the increasing movements of people and globalization in trade have far-reaching impacts on biodiversity.

At the 1992 Summit in Rio, one of the key agreements adopted was the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD establishes three main goals: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources. Some 180 countries are now a party to the convention. Although it is international, however, the responsibility for achieving the goals of the agreement lies within the countries that signed the agreement. Governments are required to develop national biodiversity strategies and action plans, and integrate these into broader national plans for the environment and development. The success of the CBD depends upon the combined efforts of the world's nations. Ratification of a treaty by each country is voluntary, and enforcement can be difficult. The United States signed the CBD in 1993, but approval by two-thirds of the Senate, needed to ratify international agreements, has not yet occurred. Although the CBD is not recognized as law in U.S. federal and state courts, the policy actions of federal agencies conform to the treaty to the extent possible. However, U.S. influence on the actions and policies of the CBD are limited because it is not a party to the convention.

Other important international treaties concerning biodiversity conservation include: • Convention on International Trade in

Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna

(CITES). Drawn up to protect wildlife

Conservation Qroup Sets Precedent by Suing in the Public Interest

Precedent for environmental law in the United States was set in 1965, when a landmark decision was made in favor of a conservation group that sued to protect a natural area in New York state from the development of a power plant. Consolidated Edison, New York's utility company, announced plans to build a hydroelectric power plant on Storm King Mountain near the Hudson River. The plan was intended to meet the increasing demand for energy and was welcomed by many residents as a source of new jobs and a benefit to the local economy. Others saw the prospect of a new power plant as a threat to the mountain, the surrounding Hudson Highlands, and the entire Hudson Valley, a wilderness area that had figured prominently in U.S. literature and culture. The latter view had little support until Con Ed made the mistake of publishing a drawing that exaggerated the size of the power plant in relation to its surroundings. Opposition to the plant grew and organized as the "Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference." Hearings before the Federal Power Commission (FPC) focused on the technical questions of whether the plant was needed and whether Con Ed was capable of running it. Aesthetic questions were not considered. When the judge ruled in favor of Con Ed, Scenic Hudson appealed the case on the grounds that the FPC had failed to protect the public interest in accordance with its mandate. In circuit court, Scenic Hudson was granted "standing to sue" as an "injured party" in the case. Although litigation went on for many years afterward before Con Ed was forced to abandon plans for the plant, the ruling helped establish the legitimacy of environmental issues and opened the way for lawyers and the courts to play a role in conservation cases. (See

Center for Biodiversity and Conservation

The American Museum of Natural History's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation is an example of an effort to bring the expertise and resources of natural history museums into conservation decisions and actions. The center's programs integrate research, training, and outreach so that people, a key force in the rapid loss of biodiversity, will become participants in its conservation. The center works with governmental agencies, universities, and NGOs to expand scientific knowledge about diverse species in critical ecosystems and apply this knowledge to conservation. Center projects are in the Bahamas, Bolivia, Madagascar, the Metropolitan New York City region, and Vietnam. In Bolivia, for example, Bolivian and U.S. museum scientists are conducting surveys of species found in selected protected areas to help advise the government in managing those areas. Working with nearby community groups, the project also aims to increase participation in conservation.

cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are 123 parties to the convention, with 1,060 wetland sites, totaling 80.6 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage). Agreed to at the general conference of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization meeting in Paris in 1972, this treaty is unusual for its emphasis on the cultural as well as biological significance of natural areas. There are 162 parties to the convention. Convention on Migratory Species. One of a small number of intergovernmental treaties concerned with the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats on a global scale, this treaty aims to conserve terrestrial, marine, and avian migratory species throughout their range. Since the convention's entry into force in 1983, membership has grown to include seventy parties from Africa, Central and South America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania.

against overexploitation and to prevent international trade from threatening species with extinction, CITES entered into force on July 1, 1975, and now has a membership of 152 countries. These countries act by banning international commercial trade in an agreed list of endangered species ("Appendix I") and by regulating and monitoring trade in others to ensure their sustainable use and prevent them from becoming endangered ("Appendix II"). Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar). Signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, this treaty provides the framework for national action and international

Academic and Research Institutions

Academic and research institutions have an important role to play in increasing our understanding of biodiversity and how to conserve it. Natural history museums are the principal institutions through which past and present biodiversity is preserved, interpreted, and presented. The museum's role in gathering and maintaining collections is critical as biodiversity is lost from nature. Scientific collections provide primary evidence for the existence and identification of different species; offer reliable documentation of past extinctions; record approximations of past abundance and the distribution of extant species; document the responses of organisms to environmental stress; and provide researchers with a historical perspective on contemporary biological questions.

Long viewed as dusty storehouses of the past, natural history museums are now providing leadership in bringing the scientific knowledge derived from these collections to bear in biodiversity conservation issues. Museums as well as botanical gardens, aquaria, and zoological parks play an important role as scientific, educational, and social institutions. They sponsor expeditions to survey biodiversity; make recommendations for managing wildlife resources and habitats based on data collected; organize and communicate information; serve as a location for convening people for conferences, workshops, and discussions; and focus attention on issues through exhibitions.

Although universities cover a wide variety of disciplines that are relevant to understanding and conserving biodiversity, research has traditionally been based within a particular discipline, limiting communication across disciplines as well as limiting relevance to complex problems relating to conservation. Increasing emphasis on interdisciplinary work gives university faculty and students the tools and perspective to examine real world problems. Biology, economics, sociology, education, and communications are among the many disciplines that help us to understand biodiversity.

Many universities are research institutions, but they are first and foremost educational institutions, offering formal training to prepare students for jobs in which they will make decisions that affect biodiversity. Universities are increasingly offering interdisciplinary programs with practical experience. In many countries, university-level programs to train conservation biologists have grown rapidly.

However, in developing countries—often among the richest in biological diversity— there is a critical need to expand and improve university-level training.

University extension programs address community issues, generally in the state in which they are located. These programs often utilize information that is derived from research conducted by university faculty and students and apply it (through educational activities, training, and demonstrations) to improve agricultural methods and yields, to assist community health programs, or in other endeavors to improve the quality of life.

Nongovernmental Organizations

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are difficult to categorize as one organizational type. They come in many sizes and represent a wide variety of agendas, ranging from global concerns to a specific issue or community, and thus they play different roles in relation to biodiversity conservation. Some NGOs are affiliations of professionals, some plan and carry out programs, and others lobby for a particular policy. Some NGOs conduct research in much the same way as a university or museum, while others take the results of research and utilize them in analyzing policy; they then package information for various audiences, often working closely with the communities they serve. In many cases, NGOs provide a link between government and a particular segment of the population.

In the United States, NGOs play an important role in the success and evolution of regulation by lobbying for new or amended legislation, and overseeing how government agencies are interpreting and implementing legislation. Internationally, NGOs are active in conservation in many ways. They support various international treaties by providing data, training, financial resources, and publicity.

Specialist groups made up of scientists from research institutions and NGOs offer critical expertise and advice for CITES and the CBD.

—Meg Domroese

See also: Ethics of Conservation; International Trade and Biodiversity; Museums and Biodiversity; Sustainable Development


American Museum of Natural History. 1997. Biodiversity, Science, and the Human Prospect. New York: Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American

Museum of Natural History; Biodiversity Project. 1999. Spirituality Outreach Guide: A Guide for Environmental Groups Working with Faith-based Organizations. Vol. 1. Madison, WI: Biodiversity Project; Defenders of Wildlife. 1996. Saving Biodiversity: A Status Report on State Laws, Policies, and Programs. Washington, DC: Defenders of Wildlife; Gottlieb, Roger S., ed. 1996. This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment. New York: Routledge; Margoluis, Richard, et al. 2000. In Good Company: Effective Alliances for Conservation. Washington, DC: Biodiversity Support Program; Meffe, Gary K., and C. Ronald Carroll. 1997. Principles of Conservation Biology, 2d ed. Sun-

Selected Directory of Organizations

Academic and Research Institutions

Academic Programs in Conservation Biology Lists more than 60 graduate programs in conservation biology American Museum of Natural History's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Directory of Environmental Programs Lists more than 200 undergraduate and graduate environmental programs

Government and Governmental Agencies

Convention on Biological Diversity Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Flora and Faun (CITES) Convention on Migratory Species Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar) World Heritage Convention

Nongovernmental Organizations

National Wildlife Federation

Conservation Directory: A Guide to Worldwide Environmental Organizations. Print and on-line versions published annually.

Religious Organizations

Alliance of Religions and Conservation National Religious Partnership for the Environment

With links to Evangelical Environmental Network, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, United States Catholic Conference, and National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Religions of the World and Ecology, Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions Publications exploring specific religious traditions regarding their views of nature, ritual practice, and ethical constructs Web of Creation Information and links to resources relating to a variety of environmental topics, including an overview of major biodiversity concepts and a list of books and Web sites. WWF International's Sacred Gifts for a Living Planet

derland, MA: Sinauer; Natural Resources Defense Council. 2000. "E-law: What Started It All?"; Primack, R. 1993. Essentials of Conservation Biology. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer; Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. 2000. Sustaining Life on Earth: How the Convention on Biological Diversity Promotes Nature and Human Well-being. Montreal: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. (; Tucker, Mary Evelyn, and John Grim. 1998. "The Nature of the Environmental Crisis." Religions of the World and Ecology Series. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (; UN Environment Programme. 1999. Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity. London: Intermediate Technology.

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