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Chapter 2 - In-situ conservation of biodiversity

William J. Possiel. Richard E. Saunier, and Richard A. Meganck

In-situ conservation of biodiversity and protected areas
Advantages, risks, and opportunities
Integrated regional development planning and implementation


The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, brought the topic of biodiversity conservation into the living rooms of the world and helped place this critical issue on the agendas of world leaders. While the ranks of those concerned with biodiversity seem to have diversified and increased, a basic understanding of what it is, what it means to mankind, and how it can be protected is still lacking.

In an effort to solve these problems, the World Conservation Union has attempted to clarify the definition and show the value of "biodiversity." Going beyond "genetic makeup," the IUCN interprets biodiversity to encompass all species of plants, animals, and microorganisms and the ecosystems (including ecosystem processes) to which they belong. Usually considered at three different levels--genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecosystem diversity--it is the complicated mosaic of living organisms that interact with abiotic substances and gradients to sustain life at all hierarchical levels (McNeely, 1990). Furthermore, each of these levels extends enormous, often immeasurable, economic and social benefits to mankind. Although it is recognized that a very high percentage of the total biodiversity exists in a small number of tropical countries, significant diversity also occurs in temperate zones and in aquatic ecosystems as well.

Biodiversity conservation is accomplished in a number of ways. Ex-situ methods focus on species conservation in botanic gardens, zoos, gene banks, and captive breeding programs. In-situ methods use conservation areas as "warehouses" of biological information. Many scientists and conservationists feel that until methods are available to discern easily which of the millions of species and varieties will have economic value, in-situ conservation through the protection of natural areas should be the primary means for the maintenance of these resources. However, a rigid preservation approach is virtually impossible to implement and even less likely to be maintained over time. Considering trends in population growth and the urgency of economic development--especially in the developing countries--a more appropriate response would be to pursue proactive alternatives to high-impact development activities, and to implement carefully formulated strategies for in-situ methods that would include protected areas in the development mix.

Unfortunately, the formulation of that development mix is not easy, because moral, as well as technical and economic, choices are involved. According to Wilson (1984):

To choose what is best for the near future is easy. To choose what is best for the distant future is easy. To choose what is best for both the near and distant futures is a hard task, often internally contradictory, and requiring ethical codes yet to be formulated.

Although integrated regional development planning makes no claim to moral superiority, it does provide a framework for making such very difficult choices. That biodiversity conservation must be a part of development planning efforts is clear.

In-situ conservation of biodiversity and protected areas

Although viable populations of some organisms can be maintained ex-situ either under cultivation or in captivity, these methods are far less effective than in-situ methods, and, generally, they are extremely costly. Likewise, although ex-situ methods are important under a number of conditions, in-situ methods are generally recognized as being more secure and financially efficient. The challenge in using in-situ methods is to expand our vision of protected areas to include multiple use and extractive reserves and to develop new models for conservation including, for example, such innovative proposals as using damaged ecosystems to preserve rare, endangered, and threatened species (Cairns, 1986) and to expand the range of options available for economic development.

As of 1993 nearly 7, 000 parks and protected areas covering in excess of 650 million acres had been established worldwide (WRI, 1992). When combined with smaller areas such as state parks and private reserves, a large portion of the planet's land surface is receiving some degree of protection. All eight Natural Realms and 14 Biomes, as categorized by Udvardy (1975), are represented. Nevertheless, the participants in the IVth World Congress on National Parks and Protected Areas and the 1992 Earth Summit concluded that although progress had been made in conserving samples of these biogeographic provinces, coverage was still insufficient. Indeed, there is scientific consensus that the total expanse of protected areas needs to be increased by a factor of three in order to maintain the earth's biotic resources (McNeely et al., 1990). Properly conserving these underrepresented provinces will require the establishment of additional areas that are properly funded and managed to ensure that the broadest possible range of biotic resources are protected and available to support future economic development (UNEP, 1992).

Advantages, risks, and opportunities

In-situ maintenance of biodiversity through the establishment of conservation and multiple-use areas offers distinct advantages over off-site methods in terms of coverage, viability of the resource, and the economic sustainability of the methods:

(1) Coverage. A worldwide system of protected and multiple-use areas would allow a significant number of indigenous species and systems to be protected, thus taking care of the unknowns until such time as methods are found for their investigation and utilization (Burley, 1986).

(2) Viability. Natural selection and community evolution continue and new communities, systems, and genetic material are produced (World Conservation Monitoring Center, 1992; Soulé, 1986).

(3) Economic sustainability. A country that maintains specific examples of biodiversity stores up future economic benefits. When the need develops and this diversity is thoroughly examined, commercially valuable genetic and biochemical material may be found (Eisner, 1990, 1992, and Reid, 1993).

It is not sufficient to establish a conservation area and then assume its biodiversity is automatically protected and without risk. Many risks, both natural and man-created, remain. An extreme example was the near-obliteration of the entire remaining habitat of the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus r. rosalia) in 1992 by fire (Castro, 1995). Shaffer (1981) cites four broad categories of natural risk:

(1) Demographic uncertainty resulting from random events in the survival and reproduction of individuals.

(2) Environmental uncertainty due to random, or at least unpredictable, changes in weather, food supply, and the populations of competitors, predators, parasites, etc.

(3) Natural catastrophes such as floods, fires, or droughts, which may occur at random intervals.

(4) Genetic uncertainty or random changes in genetic make-up due to genetic drift or inbreeding that alter the survival and reproductive probabilities of individuals.

The greatest uncertainties, however, are often anthropogenic. The elimination of habitat to make way for human settlement and associated development activities is the most important factor contributing to the diminishing mosaic of biodiversity. These uncertainties can only be met with a full array of conservation programs, including those that use ex-situ methods.

Despite the long list of uncertainties and risk, there is hope for progress. In the last decade not only have pressures from the scientific community and the efforts of non-governmental organizations led to stronger language in international agreements, but segments of the development community have accepted the idea that a large degree of compatibility exists between the need to develop and the need to maintain biodiversity. Further acceptance depends, however, on a number of attitudinal adjustments on the part of many who call for in-situ conservation, as well as on a clearer understanding of the rationale behind it by those whose activities conflict with it. The success of conservation also requires a modification of how we cost economic goods and services in the short, medium, and long term (McNeely, 1988).

Globally, the possibilities for undertaking in-situ programs such as national parks, biological reserves, and other conservation areas appear to be somewhat favorable. However, the status of these protected areas is often not healthy and unforeseen problems repeatedly arise. The establishment of the Gurupi Biological Reserve in the eastern Brazilian Amazon, for example, significantly increased the level of threat by causing a rush of illegal extraction of forest resources. This site is probably the most endangered conservation unit in the Amazon basin (Rylands, 1991; Oren, 1988). Worldwide, the list of endangered protected areas is growing in number, and additional human-dominated activities such as water development, mining, road construction and resulting development, livestock grazing, poaching, logging, and other removal of vegetation continue to threaten their integrity (IUCN/UNEP/WWF, 1991).

Integrated regional development planning and implementation

As is the case with all human activities, alleviating threats to conservation areas requires the involvement of those most affected by the various land-use alternatives in the decision-making process. Integrated regional development planning (IRDP) is a response to the need for better integration of the numerous interests holding conflicting views of how the resources of a region are to be used (Saunier, 1983; OAS, 1984). Support from the conservation community has also been noted (Riklefs et al., 1984):

The idea of basing conservation of particular species on the maintenance of the natural diversity of species will become even less tenable as the number of threatened species increases and their refuges disappear. Natural areas will have to be designed in conjunction with the goals of regional development and justified on the basis of ecological processes operating within the entire developed region and not just within natural areas.

Not only does IRDP address the intersections between terrestrial, aquatic, and marine systems, it considers the demands of those who use and who would use these systems. However, instead of confronting environmental complexity by subdividing issues into sectoral components, it divides the region into smaller spatial units and looks at the sectoral interactions in each. Interactions of this kind are often conflictive for two reasons: (a) competition is established for the same goods or services by two or more interest groups; and (b) the mix of available goods and services is changed, and one sector is harmed as a result of the activities of another sector to make use of goods and services selected from the whole. IRDP also analyzes the interactions of the region with neighboring areas. Once the regional and sub-regional systems are defined, connections between neighboring units are better understood (Saunier, 1984).

Whereas sectoral planning (including the planning of resource conservation activities) designs programs and projects to meet the needs of specific target populations, IRDP uses methods of systems analysis and conflict management to attempt an appropriate distribution of the costs and benefits of development activities throughout the affected populations or sectors. Thus, conflict identification and its management are fundamental requirements for a development plan to be "integrated" (Saunier, 1984). Sectoral integration is necessary because individual sectoral activities often hinder the activities of other sectors in their efforts to appropriate goods and services from the same and allied systems (Meganck and Saunier, 1983; OAS, 1987). This can be illustrated by agricultural development that affects water quality, resulting in impacts on the goods and services provided by clean water. The decision as to which activities are the correct ones or how each can be adjusted to reduce conflict can only be made through negotiation by the parties involved and not by one of the individual sectors trying to dictate to others--be that sector forestry, agriculture, livestock production, or biodiversity conservation.

In this context, IRDP has a number of advantages over sectoral planning. Conflicts are always easier to manage and even resolve before time, funds, and political prestige have been invested in a specific project. Participants in the regional planning exercise, though representing individual interests, have a shared commitment to rules and procedures of the process that can be controlled. Under this model, the various parties (sectoral interests) operate with a similar rationale and can be easily encouraged to focus on criteria rather than on positions. Further, each can insist that evaluation criteria be objective. This provides an opportunity to invest in options that offer mutual gain and minimal conflict. The result is a strategy for development that demonstrates concern for both the target and the affected populations of development projects and programs, including those that have a conservation orientation. Where integrated analysis and planning show them to be necessary, projects of biodiversity conservation are in all ways development activities, as defensible as any other (Saunier, 1993).

To be successful, the recommendations, strategies, and policies that come out of the integrated regional planning process must consider the needs of those affected by linkages between development sectors--which are little more than a reflection of the integrated nature of the ecosystems and landscapes where development takes place (OAS, 1978). Economic interactions are an important part of these systems and landscapes. "The more we overlook the linkages, the more we shall find the sectors fail to function efficiently and productively, with all that implies for sustainable development" (Myers, 1993).

The principles of IRDP, if adapted to the problems of in-situ conservation of biodiversity, can provide conservationists with welcome tools. Although much of the effort is based on the agreement of parties, this planning has a scientific foundation, and once it has been clarified and accepted by the planning team, strategic alliances will have been developed for the implementation of the programs. Demonstration projects can then be initiated to help "sell" the strategy or plan. The process then goes forward in a series of iterations of implementation, experimentation, evaluation, and, as needed, modification (Figure 1).

(1) Scientific information. Scientific information helps the credibility of the planning process by providing a sound basis for logical decision-making. In more traditional planning efforts, linkages tend to be ignored because our view of the world is traditionally grounded in splitting it up into manageable units. Although science is often responsible for this fragmentation, we also know from science that everything is related, in some way and to some degree, to everything else. That interrelatedness requires that information be managed in an integrated way if we are to make fact-based decisions. "Specialized knowledge by itself produces nothing. It can become productive only when it is integrated into a task" (Drucker, 1994).

Information from the social as well as the natural sciences can help develop a framework for decision-making only if it is both valid and accessible. The collection, storage, and use of relevant information should be designed to provide data rather than assumptions. Thus, one objective of any regional planning effort is to establish a permanent and dynamic database that looks toward addressing information needs on the physical, biotic, and socioeconomic characteristics of the region.

These collections of information should be linked to a larger system of information management to provide complete transparency for all the collaborators. Likewise, if the principal collaborators on the database can help in its design and modification, they will have a sense of ownership in the outcome. Other considerations for designing an information system include the establishment of goals, the determination of the methods and scales to be used, the resolution of the management structure, and the design of evaluation programs.

Figure 1. Principles of Integrated Regional Development Planning and Implementation

(2) Develop strategic alliances. We are often faced with a broad array of development alternatives the selection and implementation of which require the formation of strategic alliances.

To select the best among a number of development alternatives requires the ability to identify costly and undesirable effects of the possible alternative projects and the opportunity to modify these projects during their design stage. Review and discussion in a variety of forums, including those that are cross-sectoral and those where public participation is encouraged, can greatly strengthen planning because of the alliances that are built up in the process.

By making planning a democratic process through IRDP, people can define their problems and design their own solutions. By the same token, IRDP is strengthened through the formation of networks which make use of a variety of communication techniques to assemble knowledgeable and informed constituencies. Four types of networks are valuable to a communication strategy (Krackhardt, 1993):

a. Advice network. Both planning and implementation require an "advice network" of prominent collaborators on whom others depend (or will depend) to solve problems and provide technical information concerning the strategy, program, or project being developed.

b. Trust network. A "trust network" consists of the inner circle of participants who share sensitive political information and back each other in a crisis. These are often the project initiators, who may act as catalysts to help in conflict management or to ensure project implementation through their leadership.

c. Communication network. Participants in the effort should discuss project-related matters regularly. Such a network can be specifically designed to inform politically important individuals on a timely basis, thus ensuring their feedback and support.

d. Constituent network. The need to form an alliance with a number of diverse constituencies often takes the planner into the realm of the unknown. Part of communication is recognizing that we can learn from others. An exchange of ideas is important and at least four approaches can be used to foster this exchange, including information feedback, consultation, joint planning, and delegated authority (Westman, 1985). Information feedback consists of formal and informal one-way presentations, newspaper articles, notices, etc. Consultations are made through such mechanisms as public hearings, ombudspersons, or representatives of the interest groups concerned. Joint planning can take place through the use of advisory committees, structured workshops, etc. And delegated authority is amenable to the use of citizens' review boards and planning commissions.

(3) Design demonstration projects. The value of an interdisciplinary and multifunctional planning team cannot be overstated; alliances forged in the process are indispensable to the success of the decisions that are taken. Innovative demonstration projects must include cross-sectoral representation from the initial stages of their formulation. The design of both the planning process and its products should have clear goals and objectives, review existing legislation and public policy, assess the social and economic conditions of the region, describe important ecosystem structure and function, and analyze direct and indirect threats to both the process and its products (Figure 2).

Figure 2. How to Design Demonstration Projects

All of this is more easily done if the region is divided into smaller homogeneous units for analysis and if partnerships are created from the variety of constituencies. A series of strategies, with timetables and benchmarks, should be established with detailed financial goals and budget projections. Visual and graphic tools can be used successfully to communicate the process and products to those who require timely information for decision-making. The successful plan also contains criteria and methods for evaluating progress towards meeting the established goals.

(4) Implement, experiment, evaluate and modify actions. The goal of any planning process is its implementation. Countless development plans that have never been implemented sit on shelves because of problems with funding, politics, myopic vision, or the lack of qualified personnel to take the planning recommendations and make them a reality. In many government settings, the fear of being associated with a project or program that is connected to a current or previous administration can be risky. Developing communication strategies to transfer knowledge to decision-makers can ameliorate this fear.

The implementation of a plan requires that strategies and specific actions be prioritized and that public policy be formulated to do so. Accountability must be maintained, but those who are charged with the implementation of a program must recognize that there are productive failures and that implementation can be modified in positive ways either because of such failures or because of experimentation.


There are no easy solutions to the complex challenges of integrated regional development planning. A process which provides a thoughtful structure for gathering and utilizing scientific information, which involves stakeholders in a genuine analysis of development alternatives, and which establishes clear and measurable objectives can provide for rational development activities, including those for the conservation of biodiversity. Using IRDP as a vehicle to communicate with decision-makers provides a framework for action. Planners often look for what is politically expedient; however, the participation of nongovernmental organizations can play an extremely important role in tempering politically motivated development. This nexus between government and non-governmental organizations is one of the more important areas where "integrated" regional development takes place. Both should represent the interests of both present and future generations.


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