- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

A global analysis by more than 200 scientists shows wilderness areas cover nearly half of Earth's land surface and are inhabited by a small part of the population of humans.
The comprehensive analysis lead by Conservation International identified 37 wilderness areas on 46 percent of the Earth's land, which are occupied by 2.4 percent of the world's population, excluding densely populated urban centers.
"These very low density areas represent a landmass equivalent to the six largest countries on Earth combined Russia, Canada, China, United States, Brazil and Australia but have within them the population of only three large cities, a truly remarkable finding," said Russell Mittermeier, a primatologist and president of Conservation International.
Wilderness was defined as areas of approximately 4,000 square miles with 70 percent or more of original vegetation intact.
Republicans in the West welcomed the research and said they were surprised an international environmental group would agree with them on the abundance of wilderness left on the planet.
"Clearly this report debunks the claims of extremist environmentalists that the sky is falling when it comes to protecting our environment," said Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican and chairman of the House Resources subcommittee on forests and forest health.
Rep. George P. Radanovich, California Republican, called it a "sad day" for environmentalists.
"I guess the world isn't coming to an end after all. Send Greenpeace and the Sierra Club my condolences," said Mr. Radanovich.
"I am always pleased when sound science and research defeats liberal political science and hyperbole. As this analysis demonstrates, there is a very definite global balance between preservation and development," Mr. Radanovich said.
Scientists who conducted the two-year study say the areas are threatened by population growth and agriculture, noting that only 7 percent of the wilderness is protected from development.
"These wilderness areas are important for any global strategy of protecting biodiversity, since we have the opportunity to save large tracts of land at relatively low costs," said Peter Seligmann, chairman of Conservation International.
"The areas are also critical for Earth's remaining indigenous groups, which often want to protect their traditional ways of life from the unwanted byproducts of modern society," Mr. Seligmann said.
The wilderness areas include diverse habitats including the largest remaining population of African elephants in Southern Africa's Miombo-Mopane Woodlands, and the Gila woodpeckers and giant cacti in Arizona, California and Mexico.
Scientists discovered five wilderness areas that contain at least 1,500 plant species restricted to those areas and found nowhere else in the world. Those five areas are: Amazonia, the Congo forests of Central Africa, New Guinea, the North American deserts and the Miombo-Mopane Woodlands and Grasslands.
Mr. McInnis said protection is necessary, but maintains that a balance can be reached between preservation and limited use of wilderness areas.
"As we strive to preserve more of the environment, we must work to ensure that we are able to protect this nation's, indeed the world's, use of vital natural resources, notably water," Mr. McInnis said.
"By no means does this information infer that we should stop our efforts to protect more land. In fact, I believe we should continue to explore options for wilderness designations while considering the hard truth that many environmentalists choose to ignore: We can't protect all public lands at the expense of the needs of humanity," Mr. McInnis said.

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