Wildlife protections were quite limited in the early 1900s. Lands, including federal land, were open and unprotected from settlements, farming, hunting and mining. Wildlife was freely hunted until the Lacey Act which prohibited interstate trafficking of wildlife. This began the beginning of wildlife conservation in the United States. The Lacey Act set a precedent for President Roosevelts decision to set aside land as federally protected. In 1903 the first wildlife refuge, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, was established.
In 1905 the Game and Bird Preserves Act was passed. This act provided authority for managing uses on reservations making it a crime to disturb birds or their eggs on Federal wildlife reservations.
In 1918 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act aimed to protect specific species of wildlife. Due to their role in agriculture migratory birds became especially important and needed to be protected from hunting. The act was challenged in the Supreme Court case of Missouri v. Holland where the Supreme Court held up the legislation against Missouri’s case that it had the power to regulate wildlife within its borders. In 1967, federal court case Swan Lake Hunting Club v. United States confirmed the federal government has the authority to set aside land for wildlife refuges.
In 1934 The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act passed promoting federal research and programs for wildlife conservation.
In 1937 The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act imposed taxes on hunting as well as setting aside money for state conservation efforts. This support was provided because the power and responsibility to conserve wildlife remained with the state.
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was passed in 1966. This law seeks to protect animals in zoos, lab, and commercially bred. Standards are set in relation to handling, care, and treatment. It also prohibits acts such as dog fighting.
In 1973 the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed protecting animals and plants which are considered threatened or endangered around the world.
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 was ineffective at protecting wildlife although it was aimed to protect people and the environment. In 2016 this law was reformed with the passing of the Frank R Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.
In 1997 The National Wildlife Federation proposed the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act. This aimed to unify policy and plans surrounding their refuges.
In 2000 the Wildlife Action Plans were established. These provide federal funding to states for the use of wildlife conservation. This ignited states to create conservation strategies across the nation for the first time.
In 2015 the Paris Agreement which targeted combatting climate change was passed by the United Nations. Climate change is one of the largest threats to wildlife and their habitats.
Currently the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is being proposed. This addresses the threats facing fish and wildlife in the United States. It dedicates $1.3 billion annually to agencies and tribes for conservation projects which restore and maintain American wildlife. The goal is to bring many species back from the brink of extinction.
Another proposed bill is the Wildlife Corridors Conservation which advocates for wildlife resources to include habitat space and infrastructure to create better cohabitation with humans.