Tag Archives: national parks

The Conversation: We have more parks than ever, so why is wildlife still vanishing?

By Bob Pressey, James Cook University and Euan Ritchie, Deakin University.

Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largest – but we need to make sure parks are actually protecting wildlife from threats. Rita Willaert/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largest – but we need to make sure parks are actually protecting wildlife from threats. Image credit: Rita Willaert via Flickr

While we can never know for sure, an extraordinary number of animals and plants are threatened with extinction — up to a third of all mammals and over a tenth of all birds. And the problem is getting worse.

At the same time, we have more land and sea than ever in protected areas (“parks”) — more than 200,000 protected areas covering about 15% of the world’s land area and 3% of the oceans.

So why are protected areas making so little difference?

This is a vital question about the future of nature that should be discussed at Sydney’s World Parks Congress, beginning today.

This once-in-a-decade Congress, led by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), will be attended by thousands. A sobering reality will lie behind the excitement and networking: while protected-area systems expand, we are losing the planet’s species at an alarming rate.

One reason is that protected areas are only one of our tools, and will never do the job alone. IUCN could say, though, that it’s doing the best it can.

But another reason, more confronting for IUCN, is that protected areas tend to be in the wrong places.

Protecting the leftovers

Just about anywhere people have looked, the majority of protected areas are residual — leftover areas of the world pushed to the margins where they least interfere with extractive activities such as agriculture, mining, or forestry.

On land, protected areas are mainly remote or high, cold, arid, steep, and infertile. Similar patterns are emerging in the sea.

Residual protected areas, by definition, make least difference to conservation.

Meanwhile, biodiversity continues to be lost in landscapes and seascapes suitable for clearing, logging, grazing, fishing, and extraction of minerals, oil, and gas.

Residual protection also gives the false appearance of progress because many people equate the number of protected areas and their extent with success.

These figures are only “good news” if they tell us about the difference these parks make to conservation. They don’t.

Failing to stop the losses

The most rigorous estimates of the difference that protected areas make are small.

By 2008, only 7% of Costa Rica’s much-lauded protected-area system would have been deforested in the absence of protection.

Globally, in 2005, the loss of native vegetation prevented by protected areas was 3% of their extent.

These numbers get to the very purpose of protected areas. They are small because protected areas are mainly residual.

Aiming for the wrong targets

Protected areas that make little or no difference should be a major concern for IUCN, especially because targets for protection endorsed by the Convention on Biological Diversity at best obscure and at worst encourage the failure of protected areas to make a difference.

The Convention’s targets are meant to guide decisions on protected areas to 2020. The only unambiguously quantitative target (number 11) says nothing about making a difference. It aspires to 17% of land and 10% of the sea under formal protection.

The result has been a rush to proclaim large, remote protected areas where they are easiest to establish and make least difference. The story is familiar in conservation and beyond: provide a simplistic metric that implies success, and it will be manipulated to achieve high scores.

Another of the Convention’s targets (number 5) gets closer to the real purpose of protected areas, but remains problematic: “By 2020, the rate of loss of all natural habitats, is at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero, and degradation and fragmentation [are] significantly reduced.”

But there are problems here too. Before we halve the rate of loss, we need to know what the “baseline” rate of loss is — and over what period it should it be measured. Should it be measured in the past, when loss might have been slower, or now? Habitat loss also varies across the world — does that mean that reduction in loss rates of some areas can offset faster losses elsewhere?

Several kinds of tropical forests, for example, housing most of the world’s terrestrial species, are being lost rapidly. For these, even a halving of the rate of loss will mean mass extinction.

Australia setting a bad example

IUCN’s mission is hindered by recalcitrant governments.

Australia, as host of the World Parks Congress, will show off its conservation wares. The display window is less impressive than when Australia genuinely led global conservation thinking from the 1970s to 1990s.

Our protected areas on land, such as those in the host state, are strongly residual (claims of an improving trend are based on inadequate data).

Australia’s marine parks, which are directed more at satisfying total protected area than protecting threatened marine biodiversity, show other countries how not to protect the sea.

And the only quantitative targets in Australia’s Strategy for the National Reserve System — for protected extent and coverage of regional ecosystems — leave plenty of scope for more parks that make little or no difference.

Not content with marginalising protection, Australian governments are weakening what’s there. Parks on land are being opened up for livestock grazing, industrial logging, mining, “conservation hunting”, and commercial development.

No-take zones in marine parks are being opened up for fishing. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is in jeopardy and the plan to fix it is destined to fail.

Four steps to make parks work

Here are four ways for IUCN to lead the way to parks that make a bigger difference:

  1. Stop using targets that give the illusion of conservation progress. These include the number and extent of protected areas and percentages of countries, states, or regions covered. At best they will inadvertently obscure the real signal. At worst they will be used perversely to dress up residual protection.
  2. Measure success as the difference protected areas make relative to no protection. This is “impact evaluation” in fields such as medicine, education, and development aid, where difference means saving and improving human lives. If saving species is also important, evaluating the impact of protected areas is essential.
  3. Establish an IUCN Task Force to develop ways for evaluating the impact of protected areas, considering both biodiversity and human livelihoods. Assess the impact of current protected areas to provide lessons for management and future planning. And test approaches to setting priorities as the predictions they are.
  4. Develop targets for the impact of protected areas: how much threat should be averted and how much loss should be avoided?

Ultimately, the success of conservation depends on what natural resources are left unexploited by humans so that other species can survive.

Protection that does not avoid the loss of species and ecosystems merely gives the appearance of conservation progress under exploitative business-as-usual.

Real conservation – the kind that makes a difference – depends on IUCN’s leadership. Every year of delay means irreversible, avoidable loss of biodiversity.

This article was co-authored by Dr Piero Visconti, Board Member of the European Section of the Society for Conservation Biology in Washington, D.C.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article online, including reader comments.

The Conversation

Published: Continental-scale governance failure will hasten loss of Australia’s biodiversity

Authors: Euan G Ritchie, Corey JA Bradshaw, Chris R Dickman, Richard Hobbs, Christopher N Johnson, Emma L Johnston, William F Laurence, David Lindenmayer, Michael A McCarthy, Dale G Nimmo, Hugh H Possingham, Robert L Pressey, David M Watson and John Woinarski

Abstract

Conserving biodiversity against a global backdrop of rapid environmental change poses one of the biggest and most important challenges to society. For this reason, systems of nature reserves have never been more important.

Protected areas are under threat in many parts of the world (Mascia and Pailler 2011), but the weakening of protected areas in a rich, developed country with a global reputation for conservation leadership (Harrison 2006) is particularly alarming (Ritchie 2013). Consequently, we are concerned about the recent spate of substantial policy, legislative and management changes being made by three of six Australian state governments for exploitative uses of national parks — actions that could affect much of Australia and have significant negative effects on biodiversity.

In recent decades, the Australian state and federal governments have collectively built a system of terrestrial and marine conservation reserves that aspires to be comprehensive and adequate, and to form the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation. The resulting national reserve system is imperfect, but goes some way toward protecting Australia’s unique species and ecosystems (Taylor et al. 2011). That system is now being systematically undermined, even while continental-scale biodiversity losses are underway.

Ritchie EG, Bradshaw CJA, Dickman CR, Hobbs R, Johnson CN, Johnston EL, Laurence WF, Lindenmayer D, McCarthy MA, Nimmo DG, Possingham HH, Pressey RL, Watson DM, Woinarski J (2013) Continental-scale governance failure will hasten loss of Australia’s biodiversity, Conservation Biology, 27(6) 1133–1135 PDF DOI

Loose laws threaten Australia’s wildlife

Kookaburras, koalas and kangaroos — Australia is well known for its charismatic animals and vast, seemingly untamable, wild spaces. But throughout the country, the national parks and reserves that protect these unique animals and ecosystems have come under increasing threat. New rules and relaxed regulations, which bolster immediate economic growth, are putting pressure on Australia’s already-threatened biodiversity.

Read more at Mongabay.com

The Australian: MPs’ ignorance puts parks in peril

Last week the world was appalled when Ecuador decided to open up one of its iconic national parks for petroleum development. Yet the world should be even more disappointed in Australia, a far wealthier nation whose parks could be facing even worse threats.

Why is Australia going down this reckless path? It’s all down to the state governments.

Read more about the threats facing Australia’s national parks: grazing, logging, clearing, development and worst of all: the erosion of vital government protections.

Big Desert update 2

I’ve just returned from a glorious two-week family holiday in sunny north Queensland. How I’ve missed the place, so much cool wildlife everywhere! Among the highlights were spotting a male cassowary with three chicks (my son is currently obsessed with these oversized birds), watching platypus swim from our front veranda on the Atherton Tablelands — if you’re looking for a biologist’s paradise you can’t go wrong here — and taking the kids spotlighting for NQ’s arboreal mammals. We missed out on tree kangaroos, alas, but we did see green ringtail, lemuroid, and Herbert River ringtail possums, coppery brushtail possums and long-nosed bandicoots. And at age five, Rohan seems to be well on his way to a successful career in field ecology, spotting the eye-shine of many possums himself.

But enough on holidays; what I’d like to update everyone on is the first results to roll in from our Big Desert work. As I’ve written previously, this is an incredibly remote and largely unstudied region, so there’s much to be discovered and learned. What have we found so far? Well, I’ll let the video, below, do most of the talking, but what’s most exciting is that we’ve confirmed there is a dog population in the park, and some individuals appear to look very much like dingoes. We always suspected this, but it’s nice to have positive confirmation. Another interesting result is that goats were not recorded on any of the cameras so far, as compared to the Murray Sunset National Park, to the north, where goats are very abundant, but dogs/dingoes are absent. It’s early days, the habitats of Murray Sunset and the Big Desert / Wyperfeld region are somewhat different, and I’m sure we’ll find some goats in the region soon enough, as they’ve been recorded there. But, it does suggest dingoes may be playing a role in keeping goat numbers down, as we know they do from other studies conducted in other parts of Australia .

Some may remember the Victorian Government recently reviewed the evidence for the existence of big cats; the legendary Black Panther. Well, we may just have found it ourselves! (second-last clip in the video). On a serious note though, cats appear to be relatively common, and great variation exists in their morphology (as seen on the videos). Cats are known to be a major factor behind the extinction of many native species, and new research also shows how they have large impacts on wildlife through the spread of toxoplasmosis. We’re keen to understand more about the role of foxes and dingoes in suppressing cats and therefore disease transmission, but more on that later…

No rest for the wicked. I’m off to Belfast next week to attend the 11th International Mammalogical Congress. I’ll be speaking about the dingo barrier fence and co-chairing a symposium on trophic cascades, ecological restoration and conservation of mammals. I’m really looking forward to a week of listening to mammal research from around the world, and perhaps just a wee Guinness or two as well.

The Guardian: We should not play Russian roulette with Australia’s national parks

Recent laws allowing hunting and logging in our parks are misguided. Our reserves protect biological diversity and shouldn’t be used otherwise.

99-year private leases granted by the Victorian Government open the door to inappropriate development in national parks, such as Wilsons Promontory. Image by Steve Bennett [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0] via Wikimedia Commons.

99-year private leases granted by the Victorian Government open the door to inappropriate development in national parks, such as Wilsons Promontory. Image by Steve Bennett [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0] via Wikimedia Commons.

The Victorian Government has recently moved to allow logging, grazing, shooting, and commercial development in national parks, and fishing in marine sanctuaries. These moves devalue the primary objective of parks — protecting biodiversity and ecosystem function.

I added my voice to that of 16 eminent Australian ecologists to draw attention to this extremely important issue.

Read the full article (and comments) at The Guardian website.