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April 13, 1998

Conservation targets won't prevent extinction disaster, researchers say

By Tim Stephens

Conservation plans advocated by many organizations to protect the world's biodiversity could leave half of all terrestrial species vulnerable to extinction, either immediately or in the near future, according to a recent commentary by Michael Soule, a UCSC research professor of environmental studies, and M. A. Sanjayan, who earned a Ph.D. in biology from UCSC in 1997 and now works for Round River Conservation Studies.

In the March 27 issue of the journal Science, Soule and Sanjayan argued that conservation targets are too often determined by politics, rather than by science. International commissions and organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) have called for the near-term protection of at least 10 or 12 percent of the total land area in each nation or in each ecosystem, said Soule, who retired in 1996 and now lives in Colorado.

"Dedicating 10 percent of the land in many tropical nations would be a heroic accomplishment in the face of current trends, but even that would be a prescription for a massive extinction similar to the one 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs went extinct," Soule said in an interview.

By failing to acknowledge the true scale and gravity of the impending extinction disaster, the 10 to 12 percent goals contribute to "an atmosphere of public complacency and political denial," the researchers wrote.

"I don't want people to become complacent and think that 10 percent would be sufficient.... If we set our sights too low we do a disservice to life," Soule said.

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