To save endangered plants and animals, restore habitat on farms, ranches and other working lands

The research summary is a brief overview of interesting scholarly work.

The big idea

According to a recently published study conducted by a team of environmental scientists including us. Our analysis revealed that this can be done in a way that minimize trade-offs and might even make farms more productive helping to control pests, improving crop pollination and preventing nutrient and water loss from the soil. These working landscapes can still be grazed, mowed, harvested or burned, as long as these activities maintain or restore native species diversity.

So-called “net zero loss policies” would prevent any further destruction or conversion of wild land on developed properties. There are creative and experimental options for more cultivated areas, such as incorporating strips of grassland plants into cultivated fields across the American Midwest Where plant flower strips to restore pollinators in Switzerland.

Only 38% of the 82 countries we looked at have national laws requiring native habitat on working land. Most were in Europe and required only 5% to be kept in the wild. In many countries, only forest habitats are regulated, while grasslands and other highly threatened landscapes are ignored. These decisions are driven by political, economic and cultural values, but overall they lack clear scientific guidelines.

Through the creation of a conservation bank on the Sparling Ranch in California, more than 2,000 acres of valuable habitat for tiger salamanders and red-legged frogs will be protected, including 14 breeding ponds, while the family Sparling continues to raise and graze cattle on their land.
Steve Rottenborn, USFWS/Flickr

why is it important

Habitat restoration creates shelters for wildlife, but it also contributes to human well-being and sustains all life on Earth. Native vegetation prevents erosion and purifies the water we drink and the air we breathe. It sequesters carbon, mitigates climate change and acts as a buffer against floods, landslides and storms. Moving wildlife can pollinate crops or control pests.

For more than a century, conservationists have worked to save endangered species by protecting them within vast National parks and shelters. Clearly, that hasn’t been enough: Earth is losing plants and animals at more than 100 times the normal rate, which some scientists consider the sixth mass extinction event.

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Under the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversityan international treaty ratified by 196 nations, countries have pledged to keep 17% of the planet’s land area in protected areas by 2020. So far, they have did not achieve this goal. Today, many conservationists are proposing an expanded effort that would conserve as much as 30% of land by 2030and as much as half by 2050. Where will all this land come from?

With the global expansion of land use becoming more intensive and dominated by monocultures, there is an urgent need to conserve and restore native species outside of protected areas – in landscapes managed for people.

NYC water supply system map
Upstate New York’s forests protect and filter New York City’s drinking water supply. Forests are managed and monitored to ensure water quality; they also provide wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.

And after

Although the benefits are many and there are many successful restoration models to build on, wildlife habitats continue to be degraded, razed and removed.

Preventing, halting and reversing ecosystem degradation is also a key strategy to address United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and commitments for the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration which starts next year.

Critical political opportunities are just ahead. Europeans now decide how much agricultural land to devote to “landscape and habitat features”. New conservation targets will be part of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework negotiated next spring 15th meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Its ambitious global vision is nothing less than “living in harmony with nature” by 2050.