- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 15, 2003

There is a growing consensus among scientists that conventional approaches to species conservation may not be sufficient to save much. Fortunately, several innovative approaches are beginning to bubble among scientists and policy-makers.

On Friday, two contributors to Science magazine’s ongoing “State of the Planet series” posited that prospects for the planet’s biodiversity are bleak over the next 50 years, an expected consequence of the continued expansion of human populations coupled to the continued reduction of species-rich tropical woodlands.

Those areas are also threatened by poor governance. A paper published Nov. 6 in the journal Nature demonstrated that the governments of developing nations tend to have high levels of political corruption, which can have adverse effects on treaty-based conservation efforts, and suggested that new approaches were needed. Many anecdotes have made the same case.

Laudable as they are, international bans on the trade in endangered species may not be sufficient. In his recently published book, “Win-Win Ecology,” ecologist Michael Rosenzweig suggested that traditional protected areas, such as parks and refuges, may only be sufficient to secure about 5 percent of the world’s species. Steve McCormick, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, has come to a similar conclusion, calling for an integrated, ecosystem-sized approach to conservation. In his speech “Towards sustainable parks in the 21st century” — given to the World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa, this past September — Mr. McCormick said, “In our new concept, other lands are not ‘outside’ a park but connected and complementary to those fully conserved areas. In our new concept, people and their uses of the land are not regarded as hostile but are an inextricable component of the integrated landscape.”

The Interior Department is taking steps in the same direction, most notably through the Cooperative Conservation Initiative (CCI). CCI grants go to projects that conserve or restore wetlands and wildlands. In the Interior Department appropriations bill signed last week by President Bush, Congress funded the CCI’s cost-share grants for $21 million. However, the grants are worth far more, since project partners (whether non-profits, property-owners or even Indian tribes) must match the federal money with either cash or in-kind contributions. The Interior Department has several similar programs that are having a positive impact on preservation.

At least part of the reason for the success of such programs is that they promote citizen stewards. Similar approaches have worked well in some African countries. As Assistant Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett noted, “There’s a recognition that we need conservation in our backyards, in our towns, on lands where each of us work … to not think of conservation as simply the work of government.” Humans may see the extinction of many species if innovative conservation projects are not pursued.

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