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Chapter 4 - The need and potential for private biodiversity conservation

Joshua C. Dickinson III

A basic assumption
Multiple faces of biodiversity
Why we are losing biodiversity
An evolving strategy
Biodiversity in a life-zone context
Land-capability assessment
Hunting and fishing reserves
Private conservation
Coral-reef parks, tourists, and fishermen
Alternatives to timber management for biodiversity conservation


I offer here some thoughts on terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity conservation outside of parks, in places where biodiversity is not a primary or often even a conscious concern. The pre-eminent threat to biodiversity is seen to be the conversion of natural ecosystems to crops or to grazing land for domestic livestock, or changes initiated with the building of human-made infrastructure. Emphasis is given to private initiatives that result incidentally or purposely in the maintenance of a measure of biodiversity, and to the role of government in guiding and encouraging land use that results in biodiversity conservation. This emphasis is not meant to denigrate the role of and need for parks and reserves located strategically to preserve key ecosystems and important species assemblages. However, because of the limited capacity of governments to achieve a desirable level and extent of protection, a broader approach is needed. It appears prudent to focus more efforts on the 90 percent of the earth's land area that is either in private hands or in public ownership but exploited by private interests.

Important representatives of terrestrial biota exist in all ecosystems, but more attention is given here to forested tropical ecosystems where human pressure appears to be highest. The Holdridge life-zone system is offered as an organizing framework for establishing biodiversity conservation strategies, particularly at the national and regional levels. Land-capability assessment is introduced as a means of justifying the protection of areas with severe biophysical limitations. Marine biodiversity concerns are focused on the diverse estuarine and near-shore marine ecosystems most threatened by human exploitation and settlements.

A basic assumption

It is a critical assumption that maintaining a diverse array of species and their habitats has value to society. It is also assumed that publicly and privately held natural areas outside of parks must produce goods and services of value to society competitively with alternative uses that usually result in major loses of biodiversity. Where natural-area use is not fully competitive with conversion to other uses, we can assume that society is willing to promote resource use that results in the maintenance of biodiversity by (a) restricting concessional use of public lands, (b) subsidizing non-competitive private uses, or (c) becoming more clever in attributing economic value to ecosystem services, such as flood control, that incidentally result in biodiversity maintenance. Anything short of subsidized preservation (de facto parks) involves some sacrifice of biodiversity.

While life exists everywhere on the planet, the diversity of life happens to be greatest in the developing countries and it is also there that threats to diversity are most intractable. This paper is focused on the logic that peoples who threaten biodiversity through over-consumption require less immediate attention than those who deforest, burn, and overgraze in order to survive.

Multiple faces of biodiversity

At the interface of natural science and society's concern for nature, ambiguities and differing perceptions are inevitable. Even among scientists biodiversity conservation has generated controversy, over time and today. Aldo Leopold (1949) believed that the habitat needs of large carnivores should govern efforts to maintain biodiversity: carnivores must be present "to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community." Although serious efforts continue to maintain megafauna populations, a broader multispecies perspective has evolved. Four of the comparisons that both scientists and planners of resource use address are successional (including weeds) versus climax associations, various small areas versus a few large areas, species-rich versus depauperate systems, and umbrella species (large carnivores) versus overall system diversity (Shafer, 1995). With severe budget limitations choices must be made. The distribution of species that are actually or potentially useful, endangered, scientifically interesting, or beautiful is difficult to predict. The preservation of as large a variety of ecosystems within a particular country as possible appears to be a viable target.

Biodiversity is the total number of species and the distribution of a particular species calculated using formulae to index different attributes of diversity in a specific ecosystem (Odum, 1975). Conservation can be defined as managed resource use that maintains the capacity of natural habitats and agricultural land to produce crops, livestock, timber, fish, or wildlife. Biodiversity could be added to the list of "products" of managed resource use, though a bit awkwardly. Maintaining biodiversity may be either a management objective in itself or a condition on other resource uses, such as timber production. Biodiversity can be an important yardstick of the relative success of our conservation efforts if the formal methods of measuring it are employed consistently over time in accordance with an appropriate sampling regime.

The conservation community must look carefully at what is meant by "biodiversity conservation." Public interest in the subject is sparked by the educational and fund-raising activities of conservation groups that focus on preserving rain forests and certain symbolic vertebrates. The geographic distribution of those concerned about diversity is not uniform and interest increases exponentially with the distance from where it is greatest and most threatened and peaks in places like Washington, D.C., and London. E.O. Wilson's excellent volume Biodiversity (1986) contains 57 chapters of which only two were written by experts from tropical countries. Those most knowledgeable and concerned about the importance of maintaining biodiversity also have their basic human needs well met, while those whose daily actions most drastically affect biodiversity do not. If we do not approach biodiversity maintenance through a process that also improves the economic and social well-being of rural people, the effort will most certainly fail. The small cadre of people who can effectively argue the case for biodiversity have to reach out and convince leaders in developing countries, their own national decision-makers, and the unconvinced experts in development agencies.

Why we are losing biodiversity

Failure to value and protect natural ecosystems (read "biodiversity") is driven by deeply rooted cultural preference for disturbed landscapes, real or perceived necessity, and a lack of education of the public and decision-makers. Cultural values are reflected in poor and rich countries alike where subsidies tend to favor the conversion of natural ecosystems to provide for agriculture and pasture--regardless of the value of the goods and services offered by natural ecosystems that are lost. For example, in the United States subsidized grazing replaces poverty as an incentive to disturb arid areas and artificially low stumpage fees in publicly owned forests promotes their mismanagement.

Education on two fronts is needed to reverse the pressure on natural ecosystems. One emphasizes economic evaluation of the goods and services offered by ecosystems, including both known marketable products and services (such as watershed protection) and future benefits yet undiscovered (new crops and medicines). The second is an ethical consideration which stresses that protecting nature is good and prudent, and that the loss of any species is bad. Scientists advocate preserving ecosystems because they contain unique and interesting information.

Both poverty and affluence take their toll on ecosystems and their associated species. However, without a measure of affluence, the loss of ecosystems and species will continue. Affluence provides the opportunity for choice on how ecosystems are to be used, rehabilitated and preserved. Running counter to the human drive to simplify is a love of life that also exists. But without education to enhance and focus innate human "biophilia" (Wilson, 1984) into a moral and political force, increased income can increase destructiveness. In the Philippines, for example, increased affluence allows the dynamite fishermen to purchase larger boats and blow away more distant coral reefs.

An evolving strategy

For millennia simplification of ecosystems has been our most effective means of assuring that we can direct the sun's energy, water, and nutrients to meet our own needs for food and fiber:

This was my curious labor all summer--to make this portion of the earth's surface, which had yielded only cinquefoil, blackberries, johnswort and the like, before; sweet wild fruits and pleasant flowers, produce instead this pulse.

("The Bean-field," from Thoreau's Walden)

To persuade the great majority of the world's people to maintain biodiversity in apparent contradiction of their best interests is a formidable challenge. Efforts to date by dedicated conservationists have met surprising success, given the esoteric nature of the theme. The goal of the World Conservation Strategy (IUCN/UNEP/WWF, 1980) has been modest--setting aside 10 percent of each country in national parks and equivalent reserves. Success in this effort has absorbed much of the energy and funds of the conservation community. David Western (cited in Baskin, 1994) points out that past efforts to conserve animal populations in Kenya's parks have been remarkably effective, but that 75 percent of the wildlife is found outside the park boundaries. Probably an even higher percentage of the rain-forest species in the Congo Basin are found outside of parks. The USAID-funded Biodiversity Support Program has established a commission made up predominantly of African professionals to develop a biodiversity-conservation agenda. Because of the African view of parks as a colonial legacy, they avoid linking biodiversity solely to parks, but advocate its conservation wherever it occurs--on farms, in parks, in hedgerows, etc. (BSP, 1993). This approach closely parallels that advocated by Western. In Southern Africa, Zimbabwe is privatizing wildlife management under the CAMPFIRE project (Metcalfe, this volume). But we have to be careful in extrapolating from opportunities for the conservation of wildlife in East and Southern Africa: they have the highly visible "big game" species that people will travel halfway around the world to see or shoot.

Biodiversity in a life-zone context

The IUCN interprets biodiversity to encompass all species of plants, animals, and micro-organisms and the ecosystems (including ecosystem processes) to which they belong. To be useful, this global perspective must be brought to a level, where public awareness and policies must eventually drive actions to maintain biodiversity. We have not identified all species, know little of the value of those we have catalogued, and even less about how to assure their survival. Given this reality, maintaining at least patches of as many ecosystems as possible is a prudent strategy. The Holdridge life-zone system provides a logical basis for defining local ecosystems in a globally comparable framework. All terrestrial ecosystems can be uniquely defined in terms of three parameters: precipitation and temperature (for which data are widely accessible) and, potential evapotranspiration, which is calculated using the first two parameters (Figure 1).

Life zones can be identified roughly using existing climatic and topographic data. Overlays of satellite imagery or maps showing land-use and vegetative cover can reveal whether actual cover matches the life-zone classification. Areas that have been substantially altered by human activity can be eliminated from consideration in the foreseeable future. Lands that are largely intact do not require immediate action. This leaves at-risk areas that are partially altered or undergoing change that may respond to management interventions. Further overlay of land-capability maps will reveal where conversion to agriculture or other uses may be more appropriate. In areas where the ecosystems are at least partially intact, policy initiatives can be implemented to maintain, rehabilitate, and connect them. The identified ecosystems can then be stratified to assure that as many as possible are covered.

Forested life zones make up a majority of the blocks in Figure 1: dry forest, montane forest, humid forest, etc. All yield wood and other products of value and virtually all have been or are currently being heavily disturbed by fire and other forms of human intervention. A few sites in a variety of life zones have been managed sustainably. Intact forests represent a decreasing fraction of the potential cover. The loss or degradation of forest cover is highly uneven--among life zones, within life zones, and across countries. The drier, colder, and wetter life zones in the three corners of the diagram are least attractive for crop agriculture and therefore tend to be less disturbed. Poor countries with high population densities or with a grazing tradition tend to push disturbance further into the arid, cold, and damp corners of the diagram as well. Poverty causes the use of infertile soils and steep slopes that would be likely be left undisturbed in wealthier countries.

It is useful to note that most of the earth's surface is below 1, 000 m elevation. Conversely, as one proceeds upslope in essentially conically shaped mountains, the areal extent of each succeeding life zone is smaller and more isolated from similar ecosystems on neighboring mountains. From the perspective of national planning for conservation of biodiversity this pattern is potentially important. Higher-elevation systems tend to be smaller in extent, more isolated, and potentially more threatened than some of the more extensive lowland systems and lowland rain forests may be the least threatened when compared to some upland ecosystems.

Figure 1. Diagram for the Classification of World Life Zones

Land-capability assessment

A strategy for assuring that land-use is compatible with the public interest is zoning based on land-capability assessment. To the extent that restraints limit intensity of use, biodiversity maintenance is well served. A common example is the delineation of river floodplain and coastal flood-prone areas with direct prohibitions on building or control of access to flood damage insurance and services. Costa Rica, for example, legally recognizes a land-capability classification system that provides the biophysical basis for guiding credit, subsidy, and colonization programs (Tosi, 1985). That legal recognition of the classification criteria is not accompanied by widespread application is a fact of political life, but does not detract from the utility of the system once the public chooses to demand enforcement of the regulations.

The system is rooted in the widely used Holdridge classification of life zones (1967). Additional soil and slope parameters allow definition of land-use potential. Approval of credit and subsidies for agricultural and livestock production, including land clearing, can be based on objective criteria which include climatic regime, slope and soil depth, drainage, and fertility. Similarly, areas opened for colonization under land-reform programs can be limited to those where appropriate technologies can be prescribed according to existing conditions and the capacity of the land to sustain the activity in question. The more intensive use categories--intensive annual crop production, permanent crops, grazing lands, and tree crops--afford no protection to "wild" biodiversity per se. Significant biodiversity conservation would occur in the following categories:

(1) Production forest. Areas of high forest biomass production potential where best management practices will result in sustainable production of timber and other products. Conditions are not appropriate for other, more intensive agricultural uses.

(2) Extensively managed forest. Areas with limitations not so severe as to be used solely for protection. Non-timber forest products as well as limited timber volumes can be extracted under tightly controlled conditions.

(3) Protection. Areas lacking the minimal conditions for agriculture or like uses, generally steep slopes, swamps, or areas of high precipitation. These areas have high value for watershed protection, aquifer recharge, and wildlife habitat.

Financial institutions are concerned with the payment of principal and interest on credit granted. Thin, infertile soils on steep slopes with insufficient precipitation are unlikely to produce the crops and livestock needed to pay off a loan. The land-capability classification system limits government-subsidized incursions into areas that are agriculturally unproductive. This has a multiple appeal: the people and their fiscally responsible representatives have a tool to limit wasteful use of public funds on unprofitable land development schemes, the sustainable use of renewable natural resources is promoted, and the exponents of biodiversity maintenance find that these same lands remain under natural vegetative cover.

This land-capability classification system was not designed to conserve biodiversity, but rather to foster sustainable land use. In most developing countries virtually all accessible areas classified for forestry or protection would be converted to cropland and pasture, often with the encouragement of subsidies and land-settlement policies. By encouraging adherence to the last three forestry-related categories, government would foster the conservation of biodiversity over large areas currently threatened with conversion.

The system does not address the need to conserve modest representatives of ecosystems with few constraints on intensive agricultural development. It is not likely that major reserves will be created on such favored sites. Policies with associated incentives and penalties can be implemented to maintain hedgerows and stream corridors. Private conservation and tax incentives for conservation easements are discussed elsewhere in this paper. Persuading people to set aside productive land for biodiversity conservation is fairly easy in a wealthy, motivated society; the options are extremely limited in poor, overcrowded countries.

Hunting and fishing reserves

Kenya's Masai Mara and Costa Rica's Monte Verde cloud forest both suffer the consequences of being overloaded with nature-oriented visitors, with resultant habitat degradation, negative effects on wildlife, and loss of quality of the ecotourism experience. In contrast, the economic success of hunting reserves in such disparate locations as Zimbabwe, south Texas, and highland Ecuador attests to the appeal of this land use (Williams, 1994), and the sustainability of the operation requires effective habitat maintenance, large areas, and low numbers of tourists. The hunting of trophy animals on a well-managed reserve brings tourists who pay an order of magnitude more than the photo safarist sitting back in the tourist section of the plane. The Zimbabwe example proves that appeal to wealthy clients does not preclude significant local benefits, though in general the airlines, hotels, and operators capture the bulk of the tourist's dollars. In Texas, hunting leases for deer, peccary, and quail bring a higher return than cattle while maintaining a higher-quality, more diverse habitat for these and other species. In Ecuador, deer hunting in the paramo above 3, 600 meters offers a remunerative alternative or complement to the existing extensive grazing of sheep and cattle and the even more extensive uncontrolled annual burning, which creates a monotonous landscape dominated by unpalatable wire grass. Fire exclusion and management to create more browse for deer would simultaneously favor the re-establishment of a more diverse habitat for other animals as well.

Fly fishing has enjoyed (or suffered, in the eyes of the solitude-seeking angler) a boom in popularity, intensified by Maclean's A River Runs Through It, Redford's subsequent movie of the same name, and the more psychotherapeutic Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis. What duck hunters through Ducks Unlimited have done for wetland habitat preservation, fly fishermen through Trout Unlimited and similar groups have accomplished for stream habitat maintenance and rehabilitation. Trout and salmon habitat maintenance is the primary tourism-oriented concern from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, from New Zealand to Siberia, and in all cool flowing waters in between. Tiger fish in Lake Kariba, peacock bass in Amazonia, and bonefish on the mangrove-fringed flats support entrepreneurs with a vested interest in habitat maintenance. It is impressive to see a Belizean ex-commercial fisherman, now a bonefishing guide, gently but firmly insist that his client release his first bonefish.

Neither the safari outfitter nor the fishing-lodge operator has a primary interest in biodiversity conservation. The former has a two-dimensional interest in maintaining the length and breadth of the habitat for a narrow range of game animals; the primary concern of the latter is linear-the ribbon of stream or coastal habitat supporting his client's prey and its aesthetic surroundings. As for the average trout fisherman, the diverse array of benthic invertebrates anchoring the food chain supporting his beloved quarry is of but passing concern to him (Karr and Schlosser, 1978). In both cases indirect concerns are broader and activism extends to pressure on government to control land and water use affecting migrating game and fish.

If the operators have a vested interest in continued use of the resource, they will resist encroachment and be zealous pursuers of poachers, because a lost buffalo or a blasted reef represents lost profit. The long-term profitable management of any of these enterprises results in the maintenance of a good measure of the biodiversity that existed prior to human intervention. However, when profits are squeezed or intervening opportunities become more attractive, private operators will tend to intensify operations by bringing in more paying visitors, cutting corners on maintenance and protection, or simply selling out.

Private conservation

Sherman Chickering practiced conservation of biodiversity by owning and protecting from intrusion 20, 000 acres near Lake Tahoe in California (J.C. Dickinson Jr., personal communication). His action is exceptional only in the magnitude of the area set aside. Many private landowners evidence their appreciation of nature by setting aside and protecting natural areas. This has a legally defined analogue in the concept of the conservation easement, whereby the owner of land with natural vegetation cover can forgo in perpetuity the right to develop or improve the land (i.e., clear it for agriculture or urban-industrial use) in return for some form of tax relief. I have purposely used the terms "develop" and "improve" to illustrate the widely accepted convention that land with its natural cover has intrinsically a lower value to society. Reversing this public perception is a worthy task for the environmental educator.

Is the conservation-easement mechanism only applicable in economically developed countries? No, but it becomes easier to implement as a country's institutions become stronger and its population becomes more educated, more urban, and economically better off. In the somewhat more conservation-minded Brazil of today, it is doubtful that the 1970s tax rebates in the south in return for investments in rain forest clearing for cattle ranches in Amazonia would be acceptable politically. An equally ambitious rebates-for-rain-forest-conservation program could gain popular support, particularly if competitive income streams from sustainable management of timber, non-timber forest products, and ecotourism could be generated.

Coral-reef parks, tourists, and fishermen

Experience in Belize (personal observation) and the Philippines indicates that creation of reef parks or fishing exclusion zones can have a positive impact on biodiversity and fish populations in and around the area set aside. In Belize, the fishing cooperative agreed to respect the creation of the 256 ha Hol Chan Reserve, encompassing 1.6 km of barrier reef and shoreward seagrass beds and mangroves off the tourist destination town of San Pedro. Within one year after the establishment of the park, a dramatic increase in the number and diversity of fishes was observed and documented over time. Fishing success in the vicinity of the park was reported to have increased. Tourist dive boats were invariably concentrated along the reef within the park boundaries where intact reefs and the most fish could be seen. Income from increased catches and from guiding tourists to the reef benefited local people.

It appears that the intact reef in the exclusion area or park serves as a refuge and a breeding and growout habitat for reef fishes. Empirical evidence has convinced fishermen that the increase in fish catch in peripheral areas warrants respecting the park boundaries. For this system to function, the fishing practices in peripheral areas must respect the physical and biological health of the whole reef and other linked ecosystems. There can be no dynamiting, poisoning, or overexploitation of the resource. Of critical importance are tenure arrangements that assure limited access to the in-shore marine resource base. The economic viability of a reef park is greatly enhanced when ecotourism can draw divers and snorkelers under carefully controlled conditions.

In populated islands, coastal areas with fringing and barrier reefs, and associated ecosystems, it will be a challenge to the ecologist, fisheries biologist, and resource economist to calculate the optimum proportion of protected to sustainably managed habitat. "Optimum" depends on which stakeholder is consulted. In Belize there are at least three interested parties:

(1) Conservation groups. The international and Belizean conservation groups interested primarily in establishing an extensive network of protected areas encompassing much of the coastline.

(2) Developers. The tourist-hotel owners, dive shops, and guides (some of whom are or were fishermen) to whom the Hol Chan Reserve represents a valuable attraction for their customers. Ironically, one developer who has devastated the mangroves near the park advertises the Reserve in the brochure for his coastal properties.

(3) Fishermen. The fishermen themselves who for generations have exploited the area in and around the present Reserve--trapping spiny lobster, collecting conchs, and catching fish in accordance with a complex system of inherited fishing rights.

Neither the conservation community nor the Government of Belize, even with the sympathetic support of the tourist industry, has the power to set aside and protect an extensive park system unless the fishermen are in agreement. It would appear that a practical solution is a system of protected areas that results in the maximum sustainable catch for the fisherman. The pattern of distribution and total area would be the focus of an applied research exercise involving participation by all stakeholders. There must be a pattern of alternating fishing areas with protected sites for breeding and refuge of the majority of the target species. This would not obviate the need to deal with special cases such as the concentrated breeding of grouper at a single site within a seemingly uniform habitat.

If fishermen are convinced their interests are being served, they can become a critical force in assuring that the ecological and spatial integrity of the protected areas is maintained and that the management of intervening areas is compatible with the overall production and protection goals. This assumes that the beneficiaries have exclusive access to the resource area being managed.

Alternatives to timber management for biodiversity conservation

Among the various uses of standing forests that have been proposed as being compatible with conservation are ecotourism (with or without an indigenous cultural component), extraction of non-timber forest products (fruits, medicinal materials, ornamentals, etc.), and forest management for timber.

(1) Ecotourism. On flights carrying Costa Ricans from San Jose to Disney World and returning laden with North American ecotourists, the appeal of the exotic drives both streams--with the economic balance probably favoring Costa Rica. Ecotourism has great promise as a generator of foreign exchange while providing an economic incentive for conserving natural areas. The coming of ecotourists from abroad provides a high-profile demonstration to national decision-makers and the public that nature is valuable. The areas dedicated to ecotourism are attractive because the ecosystems are reasonably intact, the animals are relatively abundant, and the guides are effective at interpreting the landscape.

Generally a combination of primary and disturbed habitat affords the tourist the opportunity to observe the greatest diversity of landscapes, plants, and animals. The greatest advantage and disadvantage of ecotourism are that it demands so little space. As long as guides keep groups a bend in the trail or river apart, large numbers can be accommodated and still assured a quality experience. Habituated animals afford thrill after thrill to passing tourists. A visit to a local community, a small zoo, videos, and lectures make the tourism experience complete. Because ecotourism can be profitable within a few hundred or thousand hectares, there is little incentive to operators to buy or lease and protect large areas. The disadvantage is that ecotourism cannot be expected alone to justify the protection of large forest areas from conversion. Perhaps Costa Rica provides the most striking example: this small country has the world's most developed forest-based ecotourism industry, even though only a small percentage of the original forest outside of parks is still standing and the rate of deforestation is relatively high (Stewart and Gibson, n.d.). Still, even though ecotourists may not utilize large areas, awareness of the existence of extensive parks is a drawing card in countries like Ecuador (Wesche, 1995).

(2) Extraction of non-timber products. Historically, non-timber forest products have contributed to the meager cash income of people living in or on the fringes of forest areas, while loggers profited from timber exploitation. It is the position of some that non-timber forest products can offer an economically competitive alternative to logging and forest conversion; large extractive reserves are proposed as an effective mechanism for maintaining forest biodiversity, but this approach appears to be based more on ideology than on economics. What is provided by the extraction of non-timber forest products alone is sustained rural poverty (Browder, 1992); by any measure of well-being--income, housing, access to health care and education--the xate (ornamental palm) and allspice gatherers of the Guatemalan Petén are unrelievedly poor. Forgoing 50 to 90 percent of the potential income stream that would derive from timber is a luxury few would willingly choose. Those engaged in extraction do not generate the surplus income needed either to pay for patrols to protect reserve borders or to pay concession fees that would allow government to protect the reserves from encroachment. These gleaners of non-timber products cover enormous areas of the forest every day, carrying their shotguns and accompanied by their dogs. If they are not to continue wreaking havoc on wildlife populations, the advocates of non-timber extraction will need to devise alternative sources of income and protein for these people.

There may be low-density populations of indigenous peoples with an extraction-based economy that have a genuine desire to live by their own traditional standards of well-being. Their reserves can effectively contribute to biodiversity conservation if they have political clout and sustained international support. Their case is totally different from that of migrants to the agricultural frontier who have socioeconomic aspirations similar to those of the rest of their dominant national culture.

Advocates of alternative management strategies should have the opportunity to compete for concessions on public forest lands. If governments establish concession fees based on the most remunerative sustainable use, presumably sustainable timber management, then all potential users have a common basis for bidding. The extractive bidders will presumably have to carry out international fund-raising in order to generate capital for concession fees and the costs of maintaining the integrity of the concession.

Ecotourism and non-timber forest product extraction are potentially remunerative and sustainable uses of forest systems that can contribute to biodiversity conservation. However, at the community level such uses need to be combined with timber management to assure that the overall forest-based enterprise is sustainable. An inescapable constraint is the need of every community to have long-term, well-funded NGO support, because most communities do not have the institutional structure, technical expertise, political clout, or funds to engage in sustainable, market-oriented forest-resource management. And there simply are not enough NGOs or funds to meet the grass-roots needs of forest communities.

(3) Commercial forest management. It is the basic hypothesis of this paper that sustainable management of forest for timber and other products and services is a practical way to maintain forest-ecosystem biodiversity outside of parks (Dickinson, et al., 1991). Most of the world's remaining forest ecosystems are found outside of parks and equivalent protected areas. Given that few of the existing parks receive adequate protection now because of lack of commitment and growing demographic and economic pressure, it is unrealistic to assume that the rest of the forest areas will be incorporated into any form of protected status.

Unfortunately, both mainstream and radical nature conservation groups find that anti-logging TV spots and literature, which reflect the perspective of many of their professional staff members, are effective for fund-raising. The stridency of these ads prejudices public opinion against all tree-cutting, whether sustainable or not. Actually, the conservationist opposition is to destructive logging, not sustainable timber management, which few have ever seen in practice. While preservation and management advocates wrangle over which strategy will save diversity, the poor farmer and cattleman are converting the forest to cropland and pasture.

It is also unfortunate that the sustainable management of forests for timber and other products and services is still being promoted primarily by other advocates of biodiversity conservation and not by the great majority of logging-company executives. Ironically, its most vociferous critics include both anti-timber advocates of biodiversity conservation and the timber and wood products industries themselves fearful that their supply of wood will be restricted. Both industry and conservationists must become convinced that sustainable timber management is profitable and one of the best available means of maintaining biodiversity outside of parks. Unless economically competitive uses for standing forests are found, they are likely to be converted to cornfields and pastures. The foremost enemy of biodiversity conservation is conversion to other uses.

A combination of compatible uses, with forest management for timber as the primary use both spatially and in terms of income generation, offers the highest potential for maintaining forest cover and a large measure of biodiversity in competition with conversion pressures. The potential for success will be far greater if (1) the policies are neutral, or preferably favorable, to long-term use of suitable land for forest production; (2) entrepreneurs and investors come to see sustainable forest management as good business within a favorable policy and regulatory setting (as they would demand if they were raising cattle or assembling computers); (3) subsidies, both national and international, can be effectively directed to paying the opportunity cost, particularly to poor people who would otherwise be attracted to the conversion option for short-term survival; (4) training and development programs are directed toward preparing people for productive involvement in forestry and complementary activities; and (5) information programs convince the public and decision-makers that forest ecosystems are beautiful and economically valuable for the goods and services they provide.

The existing situation is not pretty. Both the United States and Canada have proved that having a competent forest service and an articulate and well-funded conservation community is not sufficient to assure sustainable management of their western coniferous forests. The situation in the mixed hardwood forest of eastern North America is more promising, with longstanding examples of sustainable management. In general, however, most developed country foresters study forest management and conservation in school and practice logging after graduation. Most loggers in developing countries never studied forestry in the first place. In this context logging is simply the removal of timber from the forest with no attention to the effects of the action on regeneration, erosion, service functions, or biodiversity.

Sustained-yield management implies the removal of only the annual growth increment of the forest, extraction strategies that assure regeneration, and practices that promote maintenance of biodiversity both in the forest and downstream. The challenge is to persuade loggers to become dedicated experts in the sustainable management of forest ecosystems. This is likely to be accomplished when they become convinced that management is economically attractive and a legal condition of resource access. A critical first step is for the forest management operator to have confidence in long-term access to the resource, through either renewable concessions or secure ownership. Community industries must have confidence based on the same criteria. Becoming convinced that low-impact logging techniques are less costly than conventional practices is a relatively easy step toward voluntary sustainable management. Joint implementation agreements can actually result in the timber company's receiving a subsidy for low-impact logging (Putz, 1994). Preferential access to "green" markets is an added inducement, achievable only by conforming to all-encompassing certification criteria (Forest Stewardship Council, 1994). As major wholesalers, and even political units, begin to require certification of sustainable management, the inducement becomes more coercive. Government verification of compliance with concession requirements can provide additional pressure for sustainable management of forest resources.

By comparison with the example of the western United States and Canada, the situation in the humid and wet tropical forests of the world is actually hopeful. These forests have fewer marketable species and infrequent occurrence of even-aged stands, two conditions that make devastating clearcuts attractive, the only major exception being the dipterocarp forests of Asia, which do have a high percentage of marketable species. Paradoxically, one of the long-greatest term threats to biodiversity in tropical forests, especially in the American tropics, is underutilization. The extraction of only a tree or two per hectare leaves the forest virtually intact. This selective extraction has two distinct negative effects. First, the forest is devalued by high-grading, becoming less attractive to potential investors in sustainable timber management and, by default, more attractive to directed and spontaneous settlement. Second, most of the valuable species, like the mahoganies of America and Africa and the Asian dipterocarps, require larger gaps to reproduce than are produced in selective logging. Biodiversity is threatened if the economic competitiveness of the standing forest is reduced, making conversion a more attractive option.


Can biodiversity be preserved outside of officially designated parks and reserves? In developed countries the answer is a qualified yes. Well organized and funded nature conservation, fishing, and hunting organizations support biodiversity conservation, at least indirectly. These countries can afford to pay the opportunity costs required to control urban sprawl, remove grazing subsidies, consume less, and recycle more. They can afford incentives for conservation easements. These actions result in the conservation of more biodiversity. However, the general public and many politicians have only a modest interest in doing so.

In developing countries of the tropics, tiny Ecuador for example, the diversity of species is greater than in all of North America, yet the range of options for conserving this diversity is narrower. In most developing countries, the conservation movement is nascent and for the most part recently adopted and funded from abroad; biodiversity conservation is at best a slogan to a few politicians and an unknown concept among the general public. Building awareness and support is a critically important task in the long run. In the interim, pragmatic solutions must be sought. These usually do not involve overt championing of biodiversity conservation, but rather focus on making the case that the value of natural ecosystems to provide economically valuable goods and services-timber, non-timber products, clean water, etc.--is greater than if the land were converted to alternative uses. Efforts to remove incentives and revoke policies that encourage ecosystem destruction can result in biodiversity conservation without competing with immediate development needs.


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