Protecting the land of highest priority for biodiversity conservation also delivers significant, life-sustaining services and income to the world’s most impoverished people, according to a new study published this month in the journal, BioScience. Yet conservation efforts and poverty alleviation efforts are both at risk of failing, since this ‘natural capital’ is grossly undervalued in the global marketplace.
The ground-breaking study, Global Biodiversity Conservation and the Alleviation of Poverty, was led by a team from Conservation International, and co-authored by scientists at NatureServe, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The scientists analyzed the value of benefits the world’s poorest people receive from priority areas for biodiversity conservation. They assessed a broad range of ‘ecosystem services’, the benefits people receive from natural habitats—from local benefits including crop pollination, foods, medicines, and clean, fresh water, to global benefits such as climate regulation.
Dr. Will Turner, lead author and vice president for Conservation International, emphasized the strong correlations his team discovered, showing the high value of effectively managing the stocks of natural capital to ease poverty—the world’s top conservation priorities (less than a quarter of Earth’s land surface) provide over half (56-57 percent) of the world’s ecosystem service value, directly supporting the world’s poorest people, who generally struggle to survive on less than one dollar a day.
“What the research clearly tells us is that conserving the world’s remaining biodiversity isn’t just a moral imperative, it is a necessary investment for lasting economic development. But in many places where the poor depend on these natural services, we are dangerously close to exhausting them, resulting in lasting poverty,” said Turner.
The study also found that when all 17 ecosystem services they examined are totaled, the benefits of these areas are more than triple (326 percent) the costs of conserving them.
“We have always known that biodiversity is foundational to human well-being, but we now have a strong case that ecosystems specifically located in the world’s biodiversity hotspots and high-biodiversity wilderness areas also provide a vital safety net for people living in poverty," said Dr. Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and a co-author of the paper. “Protecting these places is essential not only to safeguard life on earth but also to support the impoverished, ensure continued broad access to nature’s services, and meet the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.”
The scientists analyzed four different scenarios for the links between biodiversity conservation and human poverty—(1) potential ecosystem services, the range of services that nature provides whether or not people use them; (2) realized ecosystem services, which are directly available to local, downstream or global populations; (3) essential services, representing the immediate and critical benefits available to poor individuals (wood for shelter, water for drinking, etc.); and (4) essential services with transfers, or those which compensate local stewards of natural resources with market or incentive mechanisms.
In the last scenario—transfers of benefits from ecosystem services—the researchers reported that markets and other financial mechanisms that provide compensation to local populations who take on the responsibility of protecting and sustainably managing nature at its source (such as Payments for Ecosystem Services or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) have the potential to provide a 50 percent increase in benefits to poor communities, delivering up to an additional half trillion USD per year to the people who need it most.
To put this in context, the scientists calculated that if the value generated by ecosystem services to local people were distributed effectively and equitably, it would exceed $1 per-person per-day for nearly one-third of the world’s poorest people (331 million of an estimated 1.1 billion living in poverty).
“Developed and developing economies cannot continue to ask the world’s poor to shoulder the burden of protecting these globally important ecosystem services for the rest of the world’s benefit, without compensation in return,” added Turner. “This is exactly what we mean when talk about valuing natural capital. Nature may not send us a bill, but its essential services and flows, both direct and indirect, have concrete economic value.”
Co-author Dr. Claude Gascon, executive vice president of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation said, “This paper clearly shows that the natural world provides huge benefits to humanity by contributing to the well being of local and global communities. Moreover, areas of high biodiversity importance are disproportionately critical in providing these benefits and should therefore be a high priority for protection.”
“The study also demonstrates that the collection of biodiversity data yields great benefit,” said Tom Brooks, chief scientist at NatureServe. “Not only in guiding conservation in its own right, but also—when analyzed alongside socio-economic datasets—in informing policy across the board.”
Addressing gaps that still remain in the science, Turner added, “Is natural capital alone sufficient to alleviate poverty? The answer is no. Our existing information of the value of ecosystem services is grossly insufficient, and we have much work ahead of us to quantify these services. But the magnitude of synergies between priority biodiversity conservation areas and poverty alleviation goals is so large, that we really must work on them together.”
Mittermeier concluded, “We have learned a lot in understanding how ecosystem services flow to people, but in many ways, the world’s economic compass is broken—we are undervaluing and overspending our planet’s natural capital. That is why it is so important for decision-makers to integrate conservation of nature as a critical component of economic and poverty-alleviation policies this decade. ”
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For more information about the methodology or specific findings of this research, download the full text of the paper by clicking here.
Conservation International (CI)—Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the long term well-being of people. Founded in 1987 and marking its 25th anniversary in 2012, CI has headquarters in the Washington DC area, and 900 employees working in nearly 30 countries on four continents, plus 1,000+ partners around the world. For more information, click here, or on Facebook or Twitter.
NatureServe—NatureServe is a non-profit conservation organization whose mission is to provide the scientific basis for effective conservation action. NatureServe represents an international network of biological inventories-known as natural heritage programs or conservation data centers-operating in all 50 U.S. states, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. The objective scientific information about species and ecosystems developed by NatureServe is used by all sectors of society-conservation groups, government agencies, corporations, academia, and the public-to make informed decisions about managing our natural resources. For more information, click here.
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)—The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is made up of 80 professional staff in four offices across the country: Washington, D.C.; St. Paul, MN; Portland, OR; and San Francisco, CA.Our Board of Directors is made up of 30 members, all confirmed by the White House. Learn more about the people at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation by clicking here.
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The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities announced the release of the National Conservation Easement Database, the first resource to offer detailed information on the nearly 18 million acres now protected by more than 80,000 easements across the U.S. Until its development, land and natural resource practitioners and decision-makers lacked a single system for sharing, accessing and managing nationwide information about conservation easements.
Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements through which landowners, public agencies and land trusts protect essential natural resources like drinking water, wildlife habitat and land along lakes, rivers and streams. By bringing together easement data that was previously scattered and incomplete, the database serves conservationists, planners and policy-makers across the country.
“For the first time,” said Carlton Owen, president and CEO of the endowment, “it will be possible to see the location, size and purpose of conservation easements on a nationwide basis. By having all this information in a single place, the easement database will save organizations precious time and money, because each won’t have to create their own system.”
The National Conservation Easement Database provides government agencies, land trusts and conservation professionals with new insights for strategic conservation efforts. Users can search for individual properties by date, property size and other characteristics, or view a state report for a quick summary of the area. Map-savvy practitioners can benefit further by choosing to download geographic datasets for advanced analysis . This wealth of information identifies those who have conserved nearby lands, reveals critical lands that are not yet protected, and presents new opportunities for collaboration. Such information is essential, for example, in effective planning of wildlife migration corridors or prioritizing critical lands and waters to protect.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) noted, “the easement database is a great example of government and the private sector working together to save money, increase efficiency and deliver better results.” Sen. Baucus is an ardent supporter of conservation easements, which help ranchers, farmers and other private landowners to continue working the land and building strong communities.
Combining the easement database with data on America’s public lands reveals the most complete picture yet of protected areas across the country. “We’ve had to work for years without information on privately held easements,” said Jim Hubbard, deputy chief for State and Private Forestry, U.S. Forest Service (USFS). “Creation of the easement database fills a critical gap of information that we need to make better ecological and financial decisions.”
The easement database balances public interests in land conservation and management with respect for the confidentiality and rights of private owners. The database currently has information on an estimated 60 percent of all easements, a percentage that will continue to grow.
Three federal agencies—the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the U. S. Forest Service—partnered with the endowment in support of the easement database. Other key partners include The Nature Conservancy, the nation’s largest private lands conservancy, and the Land Trust Alliance, which represents the views and concerns of the nation’s 1,700 land trusts.
“We think creation of the National Conservation Easement Database will serve everyone’s interests and needs,” said Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance. “Hundreds of land trusts rely heavily on volunteers, and have limited access to technology and planning tools. The easement database, a state-of-the-art technology available for free online, offers a new dimension never before accessible to local conservationists and planners.”
To create, design and implement the easement database, the endowment assembled five conservation organizations with extensive local and regional experience working with conservation easements and data systems—Conservation Biology Institute, Defenders of Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, NatureServe and The Trust for Public Land. These partners will continue to collaborate to maintain and update existing information.
Envisioned and funded by the endowment, this important project received generous support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation, the Knobloch Family Foundation, the Graham Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service. Find the easement database online here.
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The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities is a not-for-profit public charity working collaboratively with partners in the public and private sectors to advance systemic, transformative, and sustainable change for the health and vitality of the nation’s working forests and forest-reliant communities. www.usendowment.org .
The Conservation Biology Institute (CBI) is a conservation non-profit that provides scientific expertise to support the conservation and recovery of biological diversity in its natural state through applied research, education, planning, and community service. Through a growing staff of scientists, CBI works throughout the United States as well as internationally on important conservation issues. CBI has become a leader in addressing conservation problems using computer mapping technologies, and has managed the development and distribution of the PAD-US (CBI edition) since 1998. www.consbio.org
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. www.defenders.org.
Ducks Unlimited is the world's leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation. Ducks Unlimited conserves, restores and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America's waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people. DU has conserved over 12 million acres in North America. www.ducks.org
The Land Trust Alliance is a national conservation group that works on behalf of America’s 1,700 land trusts to save the places people love by strengthening conservation throughout America. The Alliance works to increase the pace and quality of conservation by advocating favorable tax policies, training land trusts in best practices, and working to ensure the permanence of conservation in the face of continuing threats. www.landtrustalliance.org .
NatureServe is an international conservation nonprofit dedicated to providing the scientific basis for effective conservation action. Together and individually, NatureServe and its network of more than 80 member programs in the United States, Canada, and Latin America deliver detailed biodiversity conservation information and expertise about the plants, animals, and ecosystems of the Western hemisphere. www.natureserve.org
The Trust for Public Land is a national land conservation organization dedicated to conserving land for people as parks, greenways, wilderness areas, and natural, historic, and cultural resources for future generations. Founded in 1972, TPL has protected more than 2.8 million acres nationwide. TPL depends upon the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations. www.tpl.org
The United States Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Forest Service manages public lands in national forests and grasslands, which encompass 193 million acres of land.