Tall claims

Land conservation policies replete with flaws

Published: Sunday 15 August 2004

Soaring land prices adversely< comprehensive modelling efforts aimed at conserving land result in plans that are not in tandem with the goal of protecting plants and animals. This claim has been made by researchers from the National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, the us.

When faced with the dilemma of when, where and how to invest limited funds to maximise conservation benefits, policymakers invest millions of dollars to design blueprints to optimally protect 'land' or the 'natural habitat' of species. But 40 per cent of the world's highly threatened vertebrates -- mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles -- are not found in these 'preserved' lands, termed as national parks or sanctuaries.

The authors of the study -- ironically who have been at the forefront of these modelling efforts -- decided to figure out how to improve the system. They found that an opportunistic approach -- based on scientific information about the abundance and distribution of plants and animals, along with being heavily focused on how landowners react to market forces -- would be far effective in protecting biodiversity over time.

"For the last 20 years, we identified priority areas for protection without taking into account opportunities in the real world -- the rise and fall of property values (land), which induces individuals to misuse or exploit the protected areas," says Hugh Possingham, one of the study's authors. The scientists now call for a new approach to conservation -- one designed more like a dynamic business plan than a static scientific assessment. The authors state that this approach does not diminish the need for accurate information on the distribution of plants and animals and the activities that threaten their survival. "But just like any business plan, we need the best background research -- data about distribution of species melded with a better understanding of market dynamics and landowner's choices and needs," says Possingham.

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