March 22, 2012

Efficient Nature Conservation Policies Require Sharp Focus

People have always known that their survival depends on something that is outside of their control — that is, nature. Nature regulates human life, and from it people have tried to derive rules for proper behavior. This is the historical starting point of nature conservation.

The intellectual roots of nature conservation are diverse. In Europe, the ideal took shape in the 19th century from such elements as concern over human-caused extinctions, excessive hunting and cruelty toward animals, from utilitarian care for natural resources, and from growing appreciation of nature as a source of human health and inspiration. More recently, the ideal gained support from growing awareness of the dependence of humanity's future on global-scale changes in ecosystem services.

In what ways do alternative conservation policies help to protect biodiversity? How can conservation policies be extended to those sectors of social and economic activity that most directly affect biodiversity? The whole legacy of conservation science needs to be harnessed to answer such questions.

Modern nature conservation requires efficient governance, built upon competent administrative bodies with sufficient authority. However, the scale and diversity of the problem makes efficient governance difficult. First of all, nature conservation regularly drifts into conflicts with other ideals, revealing conflicting aspirations and vested interests. Another difficulty is that nature conservation aims at a moving target: when certain objectives succeed, new types of problems arise. For example, successful protection of large predators from persecution may create new rounds of protest.

The author of this study, Yrio Haila, from the University of Tampere, Finland, says "It is nowadays possible to come to agreement about ambitious general declarations on biodiversity preservation, but shaping an efficient policy that could possibly halt the deterioration of biodiversity remains difficult. There is simply no straightforward way of halting the expansion of use of the natural resources by the current world society!"

"A wise rule would be to focus on such activities that cause most damage. We are well aware of practices in forestry, agriculture, fisheries and so forth that bring about threats of immediate collapse: Such threats should be firmly addressed, to begin with" adds Dr Klaus Henle from UFZ — Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, Editor-in-Chief of Nature Conservation.


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