Humans have always depended on the environment to fulfill their most basic needs. Before the Industrial Revolution, fulfilling those basic needs generally occurred at sustainable levels. Over the last few centuries, however, exponential human population growth and rates of resource extraction have put enormous pressure on the environment. Today, many wildlife populations and ecosystems are unable to cope with these pressures. Increased globalization has exacerbated many of these problems. For example, with most Asian rhinoceros and pangolin populations on the brink of extinction (IUCN, 2019), Asian traders are increasingly filling their orders for elephant (Figure 16.2.1), rhinoceros, and pangolin body parts from African suppliers (Biggs et al., 2013; Wasser et al., 2015; Heinrich et al., 2016).
Identifying which species and ecosystems need to be prioritized for legislative action can be confusing, and sometimes even seems in conflict with more readily available information at hand. For example, many hunters believe that the animals they target persist in healthy numbers despite claims to the contrary from conservation biologists. In other areas, logging companies claim they operate sustainably, yet tropical forests continue to shrink. In the face of conflicting information, it is critical for conservation biologists to rely on consistent, repeatable, and transparent methods to identify those populations, species, and ecosystems that may need (additional) regulatory protections.
Currently, the most popular method to identify legislative priorities is to use the IUCN’s Red List criteria, developed to reflect a taxon’s risk of extinction. Following these criteria (which can be applied on a global or local scale), species that are considered Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable are officially considered “threatened with extinction” and would thus receive higher priority than species that are Near Threatened or Least Concerned.
Although coarse filter approaches, which focus on groups of species and threatened ecosystems, have been a catalyst for many international treaties and protected areas, legal mechanisms at the national and regional level do not always allow for its use. Through lobbying and education, these legislative branches will hopefully improve their receptiveness for coarse filter approaches in setting future legislative agendas.