In the upcoming issue of the journal Bioscience, I review the new edited book Protecting the Wild: Parks and Wilderness, the Foundation for Conservation. It is one of many new books and papers that are entirely motivated by a supposed fracture in environmental conservation. If a young aspiring conservationist did not know better, she would think that there are thousands of scientists and conservationists in the streets, calling for the end of protected areas. Of course, this is far from reality. As I describe in the review, there are some great and not-so-great chapters in the volume. And as I suggest in the short review, I think the conservation community needs to move beyond the ideology, cherry picking, and name-calling. In my view, we also need to stop dogmatically promoting "silver bullet, let's do it our way" solutions." How could the Yellowstone model possibly be the “gold standard by which the world's conservation efforts are measured”?
Both land-sparing and land-sharing strategies are underperforming when it comes to biodiversity protection. Not surprisingly, in almost all cases, a land-sparing approach results in more biodiversity gains. Also not surprising, the approach often has substantial opportunity costs. Meanwhile, a land-sharing approach under certain conditions results in some biodiversity benefits and fewer opportunity costs. Importantly, those opportunity costs often include improving the lives of poor people. What seems to be largely missing in the debate is talk of place-based solutions and innovation. “Nature needs half” is not a solution. It is a bumper sticker that appeals to the converted, and many of the people we need to be co-designing solutions with do not have cars. We need to design and create incentives for protected areas and working landscapes to function better. We need better thinking on how to integrate these strategies in a way that takes into account local ecological, socioeconomic, and political conditions. Only then will we better protect biodiversity in an equitable way while making lives better, which is a requisite for building broad support for environmental conservation.
In Protecting the Wild, there are some great, insightful chapters by some authors that have thought deeply on how to improve biodiversity conservation - both inside and outside of protected areas. Whereas Jane Goodall recognizes the irreplaceable value of protected areas, she is realistic in her strategies: “The days in Africa when wilderness areas could receive total protection from national legislation alone are vanishing.” Therefore, much of her focus is on improving the lives of the people living near parks. Of course, protected areas are necessary for conservation, but they do no exist in isolation. Respecting and understanding local context, Anthony Sinclair thoughtfully reflects on why protected areas are underperforming and how human-dominated landscapes can be integrated with parks into a single strategy that delivers better outcomes.