Saving species, privately: species continue to vanish rapidly despite the vast areas set aside by governments to protect them. Can private biodiversity reserves help?

AuthorLangholz, Jeff
PositionCompany overview

Biological diversity continues to decline across most of the world, and threats are mounting as climate change kicks in. Scientists have documented temperature-related changes to the number, range, and behavior of several hundred species across the globe. Yet conservationists continue to tinker with the same old approach to saving species, when what they really need is a bold new strategy on a scale commensurate with the problem.


When it comes to biodiversity conservation, national parks and other government-protected natural areas have long served as the main tool. Since 1872, when the U.S. government established Yellowstone National Park (the world's first), governments have set aside more than 108,000 protected areas worldwide that protect some 30 million square kilometers. Many countries have reached the international standard of formally protecting 10 percent of their terrestrial surface area.

That's the good news. Hitting the 10-percent target is an impressive accomplishment, even if it took more than 135 years. But the specter of climate change suggests that 10 percent will not suffice. On a warmer planet, thousands of plant and animal species must shift to higher latitudes (or elevations) to find climatic conditions similar to those under which they evolved. Making these range shifts will take decades, if not centuries. Landscapes must also be linked with protected natural areas that facilitate safe movement. Thus, protecting the world's flora and fauna from mass extinction may require something on the order of 20 percent. And we need to do it faster this time, say within 50 years.

Is this even possible? The challenge seems especially onerous given that we already picked the low-hanging fruit. Many of the world's large, sparsely populated, ecologically significant areas have already been brought under government protection. This leaves hard-to-protect areas where substantial human populations and high political and financial costs prevail.

The key is to change our outdated protected-area mindset. In many regions, the most critical biodiversity areas are in private hands, and hoping that governments will simply expropriate them--despite the legal, social, political, and budgetary obstacles--is absurd. Instead of leaving protected-area establishment primarily to governments, we should stimulate a robust private-sector investment in protected-area creation. Not only could this help to double the protected-area estate, many of the newly protected areas could also make immense contributions to sustainable economic development.

So-called private protected areas have been gaining momentum over the past decade. Delegates to the 2003 World Parks Congress produced a Private Protected Area Action Plan designed to improve and expand worldwide use of this tool. A year later, parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) approved a Programme of Work on Protected Areas that included specific requirements relating to private protected areas. In 2005, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) dedicated an issue of PARKS magazine to private protected areas. Finally, delegates to the 2008 World Conservation Congress called for establishment of the world's first Private Protected Area Task Force.

All of this high-level activity has raised the visibility of private protected areas. The race to save biodiversity will be won or lost where most of that biodiversity occurs: on non-state lands (see below). The upcoming climate conference in Copenhagen could increase that attention even further, as countries look to expand carbon sequestration payments globally. Yet the fact remains that private protected areas remain a little known and grossly underutilized conservation tool. Most people are familiar with national parks, but have never heard of private protected areas, let alone visited one.

Multiple Forms

Private protected areas represent a relatively small subset of parks. For years, only a small number of academics, NGOs, and government officials have paid them much attention. That is all changing now, as private sector conservation booms across much of the globe.



To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT