The Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act have been cornerstones of federal wildlife conservation policy in the United States since their enactment in the early 1970s. These laws prohibited the taking of members of protected populations without a permit, where “taking” was defined so broadly as to include harassment or disturbance, as well as capture or killing. Because most forms of biological research on protected species involved some sort of taking, and because such research was deemed vital to the achievement of conservation goals and the advancement of human knowledge, the laws established procedures under which proposed scientific takes could be permitted after review by federal regulators, scientists, the public, and, in some cases, the courts. Although there was relatively little controversy over the need for or nature of these permit procedures during the debates leading up to the enactment of the laws, they became the source of concern on the part of many zoologists, biologists, and ecologists as soon as federal agencies began to implement them. From these scientists’ perspective, certain forms of environmental regulation undermined their professional autonomy and threatened to hamper the production of the very knowledge necessary for effective environmental protection. Their efforts to block, weaken, or work around such regulation brought them into conflict with environmental and animal rights activists, regulators, and other members of the scientific community and resonated with a broader backlash against environmental regulation.

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