Conservation Influencers

Natural Resources Defense Council

USA

The Natural Resources Defense Council emerged on the back of a hard-fought legal battle to put a stop to a renewable energy project in the 1960s. The project in question was a proposed two-gigawatt hydroelectric power station at Storm King Mountain, New York, on the banks of the Hudson river. The litigants were a group of 12 activists, mostly lawyers and legal students, known as the Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference and the power company was Consolidated Edison. The latter lost.

From the perspective of the activists, the campaign to stop the power station confirmed the efficacy of litigation to achieve their ends. Hence in 1970 they formed the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to pursue future legal actions. NRDC’s website claims that it was America’s ‘first litigation-focused environmental NGO’. Ever since, NRDC has campaigned to either create new laws or to fight legal battles against proposed projects it dislikes. 

According to NRDC’s website, its advocates helped to pass laws in New York and New Jersey that banned almost all ivory, mammoth, and rhino horn transactions, as well to increase the penalties for wildlife traffickers.  

At CITES’ CoP-18, NRDC supported unsuccessful calls to list all elephants in appendix I and opposed proposals to reopen trade, however well regulated, in ivory. It also opposed all attempts to liberalise either trophy hunting or international trade in white rhinos. And it supported calls to list mako sharks in appendix II, against the advice of the CITES secretariat and the FAO Expert Advisory Panel for the assessment of proposals to amend CITES appendices.

Today, NRDC employs seven scientists at its Science Research Center and 32 litigation staff.

Leaders

Mitchell Bernard, President and Chief Counsel

Governance

Board of trustees chaired by Kathleen A. Welch.

Finances

According to Form 990, for the tax year ending June 2018, NRDC total revenue was USD181,821,968 and expenses were USD173,044,173, of which USD88,381,405 went on salaries and other employee related benefits.

About the directory

Conservation Influencers is a searchable directory of the animal activist, environmental and ecological lobby. It examines the history, mission, methodology and reputation of NGOs to assess their impact on the global conservation cause.

Featured

Wildlife Conservation Society

In 1906, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) put an African man on display in Bronx Zoo’s Monkey House. In 1918, one of WCS’s founding fathers, Madison Grant, published Passing of the Great Race, which Adolf Hitler referred to as his ‘Bible’. Another leading creator and early leader of WCS, Henry Fairfield Osborn Sr, was also a founder of the American Eugenics Society. His son headed WCS from 1940 to 1968, overseeing a series of major initiatives in Africa. There, WCS became one of the architects of the prohibition movement, which put wildlife for consumptive use and vast regions of land out of bounds to humanity. In 2020, WCS distanced itself in public from the racist views of Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn Sr. But it has yet to issue a critical account of the legacy of Fairfield Osborn Jr, even though he led WCS into the modern era while sharing similar politically-inspired ecological goals to his father and Grant. WCS devotes considerable financial resources to influencing outcomes at CITES. WCS’s CEO reportedly earns USD$1,320,978.

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