John Muir’s Last Stand

By: Tom Butler, Eileen Crist, originally published by Resilience.org  | DEC 24, 2014 JOHN MUIR, a man whose love for nature seemed almost to transcend Earthly limits, was not immortal. One hundred years ago, on Christmas eve 1914, Muir’s spirit set off into the pathless wild. The great naturalist’s obituary in the New York Times was effusive, listing professional accomplishments after recounting his emigration from Scotland (“the youth who was destined to become one of the greatest thinkers of America came to this country when he was 11 years old”) and hardscrabble boyhood on a Wisconsin farm hewed from the wilderness. John Muir image, Francis M. Fritz [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons. Later, as a champion for national parks and founder of the Sierra Club, Muir would become, and remains, the personification of conservation focused on preserving parks and wilderness areas. The early American conservation movement was profoundly influenced by Muir’s philosophy and charisma. Literary lions and politicians from the East—Ralph Waldo Emerson and Teddy Roosevelt among them—sought him out, wanting to be introduced to the great temple of Yosemite by its leading acolyte. Muir was a self-taught naturalist in a day when amateurs could make significant advancements in science—which he did, in botany, geology, glaciology, and other fields. Whereas Henry David Thoreau was little known in his day, Muir became a public figure engaged in political battles for land preservation. Through much of his early adulthood Muir supported himself by writing about wild places and wild life in such prominent outlets as Century Magazine and The Atlantic. His articles and books enjoyed wide popularity, and many of us still revel in Muir’s stories—the adventure with that...

Can the World Really Set Aside Half of the Planet for Wildlife?

Originally published in the Smithsonian Magazine by Tony Hiss, September 2014 The eminent evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson has an audacious vision for saving Earth from a cataclysmic extinction event “Battles are where the fun is,” said E.O. Wilson, the great evolutionary biologist, “and where the most rapid advances are made.” We were sitting in oversized rocking chairs in a northwest Florida guest cottage with two deep porches and half-gallons of butter-pecan ice cream in the freezer, a Wilson favorite. He’d invited me here to look at what he considers a new approach to conservation, a new ecological Grail that, naturally, won’t happen without a fight. Wilson, 85, is the author of more than 25 books, many of which have changed scientific understanding of human nature and of how the living part of the planet is put together. Known as the father of sociobiology, he is also hailed as the pre-eminent champion of biodiversity: Wilson coined the word “biophilia” to suggest that people have an innate affinity for other species, and his now widely accepted “theory of island biogeography” explains why national parks and all confined landscapes inevitably lose species. He grew up in and around Mobile, Alabama, and has been at Harvard for over 60 years but still calls himself “a Southern boy who came north to earn a living.” He is courtly, twinkly, soft-spoken, has a shock of unruly white hair, and is slightly stooped from bending over to look at small things all his life—he’s the world’s leading authority on ants. Wilson has earned more than a hundred scientific awards and other honors, including two Pulitzer Prizes. And...

Will protection of 17% of land by 2020 be enough to safeguard biodiversity and critical ecosystem services?

Originally published in the Oryx International Journal of Conservation, 2014  Frank W. Larsen, Will R. Turner and Russell A. Mittermeier Abstract To stem the loss of biodiversity and ensure continued provision of essential ecosystem services world leaders adopted the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets in 2010, to be fulfilled by 2020. One key target (Target 11) prescribes an expansion of the global protected area system to at least 17% of land surface and 10% of oceans by 2020. Given that these targets are predominantly based on political feasibility rather than scientific evidence, it remains unclear whether fulfilment of Target 11 will suffice to safeguard biodiversity and ensure continued provision of essential ecosystem services. Despite many data gaps, in particular for ecosystem services, we can use existing global data to estimate the required protected area on land for biodiversity (a minimum of c. 17%) and biomass carbon storage (a minimum of c. 7–14% additional area to protect 75–90% of the unprotected carbon stock), which illustrates that the target of 17% of land will probably fall short in meeting these goals. As crossing thresholds or tipping points in ecosystems could trigger non-linear, abrupt change in delivery of ecosystem services, we need a science-driven understanding of how much protected, intact nature is needed to avoid unforeseen transgression of planetary boundaries. > Read the full article...

Local Scale Comparisons of Biodiversity as a Test for Global Protected Area Ecological Performance: A Meta-Analysis

Originally published via PLOS ONE | August 2014 | Volume 9 | Issue 8  Bernard W. T. Coetzee 1,2*, Kevin J. Gaston 3, Steven L. Chown 2 1 Centre for Invasion Biology, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa, 2 School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 3 Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall, United Kingdom Figure 1. Map of the study sites by the centroid coordinates of protected areas for inside-outside pairwise comparisons (black dots; n = 71) and inside only comparisons (red dots; n = 32). Both categories include data where studies reported across clusters of protected areas. Abstract Terrestrial protected areas (PAs) are cornerstones of global biodiversity conservation. Their efficacy in terms of maintaining biodiversity is, however, much debated. Studies to date have been unable to provide a general answer as to PA conservation efficacy because of their typically restricted geographic and/or taxonomic focus, or qualitative approaches focusing on proxies for biodiversity, such as deforestation. Given the rarity of historical data to enable comparisons of biodiversity before/after PA establishment, many smaller scale studies over the past 30 years have directly compared biodiversity inside PAs to that of surrounding areas, which provides one measure of PA ecological performance. Here we use a meta-analysis of such studies (N = 86) to test if PAs contain higher biodiversity values than surrounding areas, and so assess their contribution to determining PA efficacy. We find that PAs generally have higher abundances of individual  species, higher assemblage abundances, and higher species richness values compared with alternative land uses. Local scale studies in combination thus show that PAs retain more biodiversity than alternative land use areas. >...

The Scary New Math of Warming

Toronto Star, The Scary New Math of Warming; published 21 November 2009 by Peter Gorrie A recent environmental summit set ambitious new targets for reducing greenhouse gasses. If new environmental campaigns take hold, you’ll hear a lot about two numbers during the next few months. If they succeed, you could find yourself living, and thinking, differently. The numbers are 350 and 50. The first is a target for reducing the carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. The second refers to the minimum percentage of land and ocean that must be protected from development to ward off climate change and prevent the extinction of many plants and animals. >>Read the full...

Conservation Beyond Crisis Management

Conservation Beyond Crisis Management: A Conservation-Matrix Model A Discussion Paper for the Canadian BEACONs Project In many regions of the world, failure to plan effectively for conservation of biological diversity has led to irretrievable losses of ecosystem structure and function or, at least, a need for expensive and risky restoration efforts. In relatively intact systems, planning pro-actively for biological conservation requires a systems approach that integrates the fields of conservation biology and resource management. We evaluate current conservation paradigms and describe an alternative, Conservation-matrix model for regional conservation that exploits the strengths of systematic conservation planning and adaptive resource management. We explore application of this model for boreal regions of Canada, where opportunities for large-scale conservation are virtually unparalleled. Read the full paper Read a 1-page extract Boreal Scientists letter to the Canadian Government,...
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