Like everything to do with sustainable management and conservation, it's a tricky road to walk, I think.
Orchid (or any) conservation should never be a single effort - you need in situ
conservation and habitat protection in the wild; without removing massive numbers of plants, it's going to be tricky to conserve an adequate gene pool in "captivity".
On the other hand, I definitely think that the demand for plants within the trade must be met from artificially propagated specimens rather than wild collection. I'd love to see that countries could benefit from their indigenous flora in being able to cultivate and sell "their" species on the international market through carefully regulated channels. Outfits like Ecuagenera seem to be a very excellent route to take with this sort of thing, but it would be nice to see more community involvement and/or some way of having smaller farming concerns involved. Tricky, of course...
On the other hand, CITES makes this quite tough. I'm not sure quite how sensationalist it is, but I just finished reading Orchid Fever by Eric Hansen
, which takes a pretty dim view of CITES and the way it's implemented (and some of the people involved). It's an interesting book which leaves you quite angry at some of the characters in it, but you have to wonder how much of it is simply good story-telling and how much is fact!
There should definitely be a way of encouraging an international trade in sustainably cultivated plants without too many hurdles, which would not only mean people that love orchids can get their fingers on them, but that the countries which have high biodiversity, and are generally "poor" economically can benefit from that biodiversity sustainably and create employment based on such a renewable resource. I think it's very unfair that the vast majority of such biodiversity gets channelled into a few overseas nurseries which then make all the money based off a few plants they manage to get their paws on and then propagate on a (sometimes vast) scale. Much like how almost everyone uses Kenyan biodiversity (the enzymes in biological washing powder are usually from a Kenyan hot spring bacterium) every time they do the washing, yet Kenya has never seen a cent from this. Or how there's a huge trade in for example Hoodia gordonii
for weight loss, and neither the countries where it grows, nor the indigenous peoples whose knowledge it was that lead to the discovery have really benefited.
Many people involved in conservation take a somewhat perverse view that allowing any
legal trade whatsoever will "inevitably" lead to poaching and unsustainable impacts on wild populations. I think this is why so many plants have ended up on Appendix I or II without even having any data on quite how rare or vulnerable or endangered a particular species might be. I don't think it's helpful or fair, but on the other hand you do have to weigh up the fact that most customs officials don't know an orchid from an onion, nor would they be able to distinguish an endangered species from one that isn't.
Ultimately, people will get their fingers on the plants they want, no matter how much red tape you put in the way. Make the red tape hard enough, and people will circumvent it entirely, and you stand to lose more than you gain in the long run.
I think important parallels should be drawn to the fact that many large wildlife preserves were originally for hunting, and that much conservation is sustained by continued sustainable wildlife hunts.