Making the next ten years count for protected areas

On the eve of the World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia, ALERT member James Watson tells us about a hugely important paper he and colleagues published this week in the world-leading journal Nature.

Ten years have passed since the last IUCN global conference on protected areas.  During this time we've seen tens of thousands of new protected areas established on land and in the sea. 

Unfortunately, at the same time, protected-area support has fallen off dramatically, with an estimated 80% of such sites now being ineffectively managed.

Needs a home: Mountain gorillas now survive in just a few protected areas in East Africa  (photo (c) Liana Joseph)

Needs a home: Mountain gorillas now survive in just a few protected areas in East Africa (photo (c) Liana Joseph)

It’s a massive shame.  When well administered, protected areas get results.  There is abundant evidence that protected areas, when well managed, protect threatened species and often store large quantities of carbon while delivering key ecosystem services, such as clean water and buffering against extreme weather.

Nevertheless, we show today in a paper in Nature that, while many nations talk the talk on protected-area creation, they often fail to walk the walk when it comes to ensuring these areas have adequate resources and oversight.

Poor financing of many protected areas is a core problem, but thornier challenges include the opening of parks to resource extraction and the loss of their special 'inviolate' status.  In our paper we document many cases where Ministries responsible for mining or logging issued leases on areas already designated as “protected.”

If the nations of the world continue to follow a business-as-usual approach, the broad targets set under the vital Convention on Biological Diversity won't be achieved.

A fundamental step-change is needed to align government policies so that Ministries dealing with development, resource extraction, and agriculture don't undermine those concerned with environment and conservation.

At the same time, there's an urgent need to invest in protected areas to ensure their vital goals are achieved, and to identify new protected areas critical to nature conservation -- areas that can be established and maintained with care and imagination.

Achieving these goals on our increasingly crowded planet will not be easy.  A nation's progress should be measured not merely by the amount of land it protects, but also by the ecological connectivity of its protected lands and their capacity to sustain biodiversity while producing long-term social and economic benefits.

It's a massive challenge, but failure is not an option.  We must succeed -- for the future of nature and for our future as well.


Nature worth "$145 trillion per year" to humanity

Nature isn't priceless.  In fact, economists can give it quite a specific price: about $145 trillion per year, if the net value of all ecosystem services is tallied up.

What's a nice sunset worth?   (photo by William Laurance)

What's a nice sunset worth?  (photo by William Laurance)

Yes, that's 145 trillion dollars -- as in 145 with 12 zeros behind it. 

This new finding--which you can download free here--comes from a major analysis of global ecosystem services led by economist Robert Costanza of Australian National University.

Ecosystem services include a wide array of things such as carbon storage, crop pollination, fisheries, recreational opportunities, flood mitigation, and the provisioning of clean water.

While the new result underscores the astonishingly important role that nature plays in human welfare, there's also a kicker: the annual value of ecosystem services has declined by up to $20 trillion between 2007 and 2011, according to Costanza and colleagues, principally because of habitat destruction and other land-use changes.  And that erosion in value is ongoing.

Putting a price on nature is tricky and inevitably some people will object to the idea.  For instance, how can you place a dollar value on having clean air to breathe, or a wilderness to hike in, or hearing a rare bird sing?

But doing so underscores an important point: Even in the most utilitarian sense, nature has incredible value to humanity, and that value is being eroded.  Like any valuable resource, we're nothing short of foolish if we merely squander it.


Help ALERT combat threats to crucial Malaysian park

Have a look at a global map of imperiled animals and plants.  What jumps out at you is the alarmingly high concentration of endangered species in the Malay Peninsula.  That's why ALERT's latest campaign is so crucial--helping to protect one of the most important nature reserves in Peninsular Malaysia.

Selangor Park, along with Malaysia's Central Forest Spine, is prime habitat for endangered species (photo by Gopalasamy Reuben Clements)

Selangor Park, along with Malaysia's Central Forest Spine, is prime habitat for endangered species (photo by Gopalasamy Reuben Clements)

ALERT member Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, who lives and works in Peninsular Malaysia, is helping to promote a campaign to protect iconic Selangor State ParkPlease spend 30 seconds to sign this petition--and also 'like' and 'share' this blog on Facebook and other social media.

Gopalasamy shares his thoughts with us:

The Coalition for the Protection of Selangor State Park is greatly concerned with the proposal to degazette part of the park to make way for the proposed Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road.

Selangor State Park is the largest intact forest tract remaining in Selangor and the third largest park in Peninsular Malaysia.  It forms part of Peninsular Malaysia’s Central Forest Spine and functions as the most important watershed for Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, and Putrajaya.

The park protects forests that are not only rich in biodiversity and imperiled species but provide crucial ecosystem services such as clean water to many residents and businesses in the greater area.

The recent dry spell in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor highlights the need to hold on to every  square inch of catchment forest.  And putting more roads through the Central Forest Spine, a vital habitat for Malaysia's wildlife, will expose endangered species to more threats from habitat loss and poaching.

Selangor Park is a vital source of clean water for a large and growing populace (photo by Gopalasamy Reuben Clements)

Selangor Park is a vital source of clean water for a large and growing populace (photo by Gopalasamy Reuben Clements)

Since 2009, many members of the public and NGOs have voiced growing concerns about the proposed road project, calling on the government to change the road alignment and not allow it to slice through the park.  But all efforts so far have been to no avail.

Now, with the project about to proceed, we need your help.  Please sign the above petition and help us raise the international profile of this vital area.  You could help us save one of Earth's most important ecosystems.



We must save logged tropical forests

Four hundred million hectares--an area bigger than Mexico and Indonesia combined.  About the size of the Brazilian Amazon.

That's how much of the world's tropical forests are being selectively logged.  Unfortunately, these logged forests are intensely vulnerable to being cleared for oil palm, slash-and-burn farming, and other land-uses.

Logged forests... lots of biodiversity here

Logged forests... lots of biodiversity here

In the past, biologists have often emphasized the negative impacts of logging on biodiversity.  But a growing body of evidence shows that even heavily or repeatedly logged forests still retain most of their species and ecological functions. 

That's a vital conclusion because it underscores just how valuable these logged forests are

In a recent editorial, ALERT director Bill Laurance and his colleague David Edwards argue that protecting logged tropical forests should be very high on the agendas of conservationists.

With the rapid decline of old-growth tropical forests, retaining logged forests--and devising economically viable ways to manage them over the long term--are key priorities for the future.


How does forest fragmentation affect birds?

ALERT member Dr Cagan Sekercioglu has just sent us an extremely interesting global meta-analysis of bird responses to habitat fragmentation.  It's a massive study, incorporating data on nearly 3000 bird species from almost 300 sites on five continents.

The paper is coauthored by Cagan as well as Tom Bregman and Joe Tobias, and was just published in Biological Conservation.  You can download it here.

Fragmentation is bad for tropical birds (photo by Susan Laurance).

Fragmentation is bad for tropical birds (photo by Susan Laurance).

Among the study's key findings:

- Fragmentation affects bird communities in tropical forests much more strongly than those in other ecosystems

- Among different types of birds, insect-eating species and large-bodied birds that eat fruit are most vulnerable

- The decline of birds in fragmented habitats can impact a number of important ecosystem functions, especially in the tropics

-Bill Laurance

Forests reduce flooding

A longstanding debate in hydrological science is the degree to which forests actually limit downstream flooding.  Now a mega-study in Panama provides the strongest direct evidence to date that forests do indeed soak-up massive amounts of rainfall and then release it gradually over time.

Destructive floods cause billions of dollars of damage and likely kill thousands of people each year.  An earlier, global-scale statistical analysis suggested forests do indeed limit flooding and now the Panama experiment seems to seal the case.

The message is clear: retain forests to reduce floods

A torrent in the central Amazon

A torrent in the central Amazon