I thought we’d try something new for this post and instead of giving you my opinion or sharing some knowledge of a subject, I will solicit the help of the reader. Last week the editorial board of Nature’s Confluence (i.e., The Schwartz lab meeting) was discussing what at first might seem like an obvious question: What is the principal driver of conservation land preservation? Put another way, why are some lands (or waters) purchased or otherwise partially or completely removed from economic use? We are specifically thinking of modern acquisitions (let’s say the last couple of decades) with the ultimate goal being biodiversity conservation. So what do you think?
This short survey is intentionally over simplistic. I’m sure there are multiple reasons for any individual land acquisition, and the above list is not exhaustive (And as a note to our many readers among the current residents of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, I apologize for not including “government tyranny” as an option for the first question). I’ll report back with your aggregated answers in a week or so.
In the mean time lets do a brief mental exercise. If our goal is biodiversity conservation, and more specifically, the preservation of habitat for threatened and endangered (T&E) species, is land acquisition the best strategy? If we make the assumption that it is, then a nation-wide coordinated land acquisition approach might be most efficient. Under such a scenario an omnipotent conservation body would focus on lands that contain the greatest number or most imperiled T&E species first, then would look for areas that are complementary to the initially preserved lands. Complimentary in this case refers to locations that support species poorly covered by the initial suite of protected lands. The hope of this approach would be to protect the most species with the least amount of land acquired and consequently the least amount of money spent.
But of course in reality things are much more complicated. Much of the land in the US is not available for acquisition either because it is simply not for sale, or if it were the cost would be prohibitive. In addition, a desire to protect species is not the only consideration in land management. The perpetual conflict between humanity’s need for natural resources and the needs of all other species results in myriad economic, political and legal barriers to land preservation. An additional challenge is that with rapid global climate change, for many species we expect to see suitable habitat effectively move in the coming decades. If species shift their ranges in response, static reserves may no longer be as effective at helping to protect them. Given all of these challenges, how would an omnipotent conservation body go about preserving land? Or is land acquisition even the best way to approach conservation in our modern, complex world?
As promised, I leave you with no answers this week, but thank you for your participation in the survey and potentially in the comments. If you want to dive in a bit deeper, check the article titled “Conservation for the land or for the species?” by Alexandra Peers and Maria Santos, and a review of the performance of Endangered Species Act by our own Mark Schwartz.
Peers, A. & M. J. Santos. 2012. Conservation for the land or for the species? Spatial History Project. https://web.stanford.edu/group/spatialhistory/cgi-bin/site/pub.php?id=111
Schwartz, M. W. 2008. The Performance of the Endangered Species Act. Annu. Rev. Ecolo. Evol. Syst. 39:279-299. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.39.110707.173538
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