Private Lands Key to Saving Species

| 8/25/2009 4:17:09 PM

Parque Pumalin

Public wildlands such as parks and reserves are great—but they’re not enough to save the world’s flora and fauna from mass extinction due to climate change. To do that, writes Jeff Langholz in the September-October issue of World Watch, it will take private landowners with a conservation ethic.

Langholz suggests that we must formally protect around 20 percent of the earth’s land, and the only way to do this is to promote privately owned protected areas:

In many regions, the most critical biodiversity areas are in private hands, and hoping that governments will simply expropriate them—despite the legal, social, and political obstacles—is absurd. Instead of leaving protected-area establishment primarily to governments, we should stimulate a robust private-sector investment in protected-area creation.

There are many types of private landowners, Langholz points out, and they’re not all “affluent outsiders” like Doug and Kris Tompkins, who created the private Parque Pumalín reserve in Chile (pictured). Some are families whose lands have been in the family for generations. Some are nonprofits such as land trusts or for-profits such as corporations. And of course some are environmental organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and Audubon. Furthermore, these lands vary widely in the type of protection, from informal to formal. But Langholz suggests that they are essential, and that the conversation about them is changing:

John Stuart Mill commented that every great movement must go through three phases: ridicule, discussion, then adoption. Once ridiculed by the mainstream, the private protected areas movement is now the focus of considerable high-level discussion. The immense challenges facing society require that these discussions not only continue, but lead to concerted action.