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What’s in a name? The role of defining ‘wilderness’ in conservation

07 / 02 / 2019, Mongabaycom News

Ecosystems in their natural state are disappearing quickly around the globe. On that most scientists agree. But how to stem those losses through conservation is hotly debated. Many believe that the focus should be on identifying what local communities, often recognized as the superior guardians of their environment, see as worth protecting. That local focus, they argue, should supersede the creation of new maps, international targets and definitions for terms like “wilderness” and “intactness.” “Why do we need another definition?” said Douglas Sheil, a forest ecologist at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and a senior associate with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Bogor, Indonesia. An African elephant (Loxodonta africana) in Tanzania. Image by John C. Cannon/Mongabay. In an opinion piece for the journal Nature published Jan. 23, Sheil and his colleagues argue that a broad consensus exists for facing down climate change, promoting sustainable economic development and shoring up protections of what’s left of the world’s wild spaces. What’s more, existing “frameworks,” such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted at the 2010 meeting for the international Convention on Biodiversity, already help identify priority areas for conservation. “Creating multiple parallel targets muddies and complicates these efforts,” the researchers write in a related blog post at CIFOR’s Forests News. They point to several recent efforts to zero in on critical places for conservation. In 2017, a team of remote-sensing scientists at the University of Maryland mapped out blocks of forested land at least 500 square kilometers (193 square…

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