A little bit of conservation wisdom for you this weekend.
In last week’s issue of Nature, well-known conservation planner and all-round smart bloke, Reed Noss (who just happens to be an editor for Conservation Letters and Conservation Biology), provided some words of extreme wisdom. Not pulling any punches in his Correspondence piece entitled Local priorities can be too parochial for biodiversity, Noss essentially says ‘don’t leave the important biodiversity decisions to the locals’.
He argues rather strongly in his response to Smith and colleagues’ opinion piece (Let the locals lead) that local administrators just can’t be trusted to make good conservation decisions given their focus on local economic development and other political imperatives. He basically says that the big planning decisions should be made at grander scales that over-ride local concerns because, well, the big fish in their little ponds can’t be trusted (nor do they have the training) to do what’s best for regional biodiversity conservation.
I couldn’t agree more – he states:
“Academic researchers, conservation non-governmental organizations and other ‘foreign’ interests tend to be better informed, less subject to local political influence and more experienced in conservation planning than local agencies.”
Of course, being part of the first group, I’m probably a little biased, but I dare say that we’ve got a lot better handle on the science beyond saving biodiversity, as well as a better understanding of why that’s important, than your average regional representative, village council, chief, Lord Mayor or state member. Sure, ‘engage your stakeholders’ (I have images of shooting missiles at people holding star pickets with this gem of business jargon wankery, but there you go), but please base the decision on science first. I think Smith and colleagues have some good points, but I am more in favour of a broad-scale benevolent dictatorship in conservation planning than fine-scale democracy. Granted, the best formula is likely to be very context-specific, and of course, you need some people with local implementation power to make it happen.
Dear Honourable Minister, you may sign on the dotted line to make policy real, but please, please listen to us before you do. Your very life and those of your children depend on it.
Noss, R. (2010). Local priorities can be too parochial for biodiversity Nature, 463 (7280), 424-424 DOI: 10.1038/463424a
Smith, R., Veríssimo, D., Leader-Williams, N., Cowling, R., & Knight, A. (2009). Let the locals lead Nature, 462 (7271), 280-281 DOI: 10.1038/462280a