Cost analysis supports restoration strategies
Could this approach have a significant impact? I believe it could, because scientists are struggling to find workable solutions to resolve the biodiversity crisis. The eminent biologist, E. O. Wilson has called for setting aside 50% of Earth for conservation, but this may be unrealistic (Bawden 2014). A more practical approach has been suggested by David Attenborough, who proposes simply using every available patch of land for conservation (Vidal 2014). In this paradigm, restoration strategy makes perfect sense. Rather than trying to fence off half the land, we can use a scientific approach to determine which habitats to focus on and how much of them are needed to conserve the maximum biodiversity. According to Stokstad’s report, “The most important message is that restoration can be targeted in a way that minimizes costs and has a greater likelihood of delivering lasting environmental benefits.”
Implementing restoration strategies
However, obstacles to using the restoration strategy extensively may be more a function of corporate culture than of implementing sound science. Large conservation organizations are heavily invested in an existing fundraising model, which is based on purchase and protection of pristine habitat. The stark reality is that such habitat is becoming increasingly scarce. We need new conservation organizations to step up to the plate and implement restoration measures.
One example of such an organization is SavingSpecies, established in 2009 by Duke University professor Stuart Pimm. Pimm has recently made the headlines through a paper published in Science which highlights a current extinction rate one thousand times the natural background rate (Pimm, et al. 2014). In that paper Pimm mentions SavingSpecies as an example of how new ways of evaluating biodiversity can be used to prioritize biodiversity conservation. In his approach, Pimm emphasizes how SavingSpecies uses restoration as a primary element of its conservation strategy.
SavingSpecies is small and has yet to make a major difference to the current extinction trajectory. But if we are to do that, we need fresh thinking, new technology, better business models and a more informed public (hence conscientious politicians). When all these pieces are in place we will have the new conservation paradigm that is so badly needed. Can it happen? Time will tell.
(Disclosure: Author Roger Harris is a board member of SavingSpecies.)
Stokstad, E (2014) An affordable price tag for saving Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest. ScienceInsider, 29 August 2014.
Bawden, T (2014) Pulitzer-winning scientist warns wildlife face a ‘biological holocaust’ The Independent, 25 August 2014.
Vidal, J (2014) Reserves and parks not enough to protect nature – David Attenborough, 3 September 2014.
Pimm, SL, CN Jenkins, R Abell, TM Brooks, JL Gittleman, L Joppa, PH Raven, CM Roberts, JO Sexton (2014) The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection. Science 344:6187 doi/10.1126/science.1246752 (PDF)