A series of decisions in 2017 to reduce the size of protected areas are adding up to a massive impact.
Nature is having it rough pretty much everywhere these days, but at least protected areas remain places of rest for people who seek an escape from noisy urban life. Things are starting to change in the United States, though.
A new paper in the journal Science suggests that we are witnessing the largest reduction in the size of protected areas in US history and President Donald Trump’s administration is responsible for it. A series of decisions taken back in 2017, which enacted a stark reduction in the size of National Monuments like Bears Ears (by 85%) and Grand-Staircase Escalante (by 51%), are now adding up to a massive impact.
Hardly any decision could be as painful as opening up areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development, something we may soon perceive as everyday business if the trend is here to stay. And while current reductions have been stymied at federal court level, the study unveils government plans for nine more National Monuments to be similarly affected.
Conducted by 21 prominent academics, the study covers the last 200 years, showing that matters were stark even before Trump entered office. And the national trend in the US is just a part of the global story, with a 90% reduction in US protected areas and 78% of such reductions globally occurring after 2000.
As many as 73 other countries, beyond the US, are reducing nature reserves in pursuit of profits. Together, they have contributed to over 3,700 legal decisions that have led to over 500,000sqkm being removed from conservation and 1.6 million sqkm witnessing the weakening of their conservation status since 1892.
Considering a recent UN report that life on Earth is nearing a state of collapse, with over 40% of surveyed mammal species experiencing stark population declines, current policies by governments is nothing but counterintuitive. Unless protection measures are stepped up, only a few small animals stand a chance of surviving in this man-made world. Both flora and fauna are already facing a so-called sixth extinction right before our eyes.
The study’s authors emphasize the importance of protecting large areas as hotspots of biodiversity and islands of hope when it comes to climate change mitigation. If we give up these final frontiers, there will be very little left to protect us from environmental calamity by the end of the century.
Now is the best time to reverse the trend, concludes the team, “as human pressures on the biosphere accelerate, it is critical to strengthen — not roll back — conservation efforts”.