Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What To Preserve?

Here's an interesting article in today's NY Times about the dilemma faced by conservationists in the face of global warming. Giving the changes likely to ensue in the world's climate, what should they be trying to preserve?

...everywhere, ecologists and conservation biologists wonder how landscapes already under preservation will change with the climate.

“We have over a 100-year investment nationally in a large suite of protected areas that may no longer protect the target ecosystems for which they were formed,” said Healy Hamilton, director of the California Academy of Sciences, who attended a workshop on the subject in November in Berkeley, Calif. “New species will move in, and the target species will move out.”

As a result, more and more conservationists believe they must do more than identify biologically important landscapes and raise money to protect them. They must peer into an uncertain future, guess which sites will be important 50 or 100 years from now, and then try to balance these guesses against the pressing needs of the present.

The dilemma being that there's no use in going to great lengths to preserve streams that will be to warm for the salmon their being preserved for, or preserving wetlands that may be in underwater in a few decades. It's impossible to know what the future entails, but though I believe firmly that global warming is happening and that we're contributing to it, I also know that predictions for the future are often gloomier than they should be. I would lean towards preservation on the assumption that certain landscapes and ecologies will continue to exist in the future. But then I'm not in the position these conservationists are, in trying to guess the future with what is at best incomplete information.

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