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Managing biological diversity

December 1, 1993

Biological diversity is the variety of life and accompanying ecological processes (Off. Technol. Assess. 1987, Wilcove and Samson 1987, Keystone 1991). Conservation of biological diversity is a major environmental issue (Wilson 1988, Counc. Environ. Quality 1991). The health and future of the earth's ecological systems (Lubchenco et al. 1991), global climate change (Botkin 1990), and an ever-increasing rate in loss of species, communities, and ecological systems (Myers 1990) are among issues drawing biological diversity to the mainstream of conservation worldwide (Int. Union Conserv. Nat. and Nat. Resour. [IUCN] et al. 1991).

The legal mandate for conserving biological diversity is now in place (Carlson 1988, Doremus 1991). More than 19 federal laws govern the use of biological resources in the United States (Rein 1991). The proposed National Biological Diversity Conservation and Environmental Research Act (H.R. 585 and S.58) notes the need for a national biological diversity policy, would create a national center for biological diversity research, and recommends a federal interagency strategy for ecosystem conservation.

There are, however, hard choices ahead for the conservation of biological diversity, and biologists are grappling with how to set priorities in research and management (Roberts 1988). We sense disillusion among field biologists and managers relative to how to operationally approach the seemingly overwhelming charge of conserving biological diversity. Biologists also need to respond to critics like Hunt (1991) who suggest a tree farm has more biological diversity than an equal area of old-growth forest.

At present, science has played only a minor role in the conservation of biological diversity (Weston 1992) with no unified approach available to evaluate strategies and programs that address the quality and quantity of biological diversity (Murphy 1990, Erwin 1992). Although actions to conserve biological diversity need to be clearly defined by viewing issues across biological, spatial, and temporal scales (Knopf and Smith 1992), natural resource managers find much conflicting information in the literature on strategies and programs for the conservation of biological diversity (Ehrlich 1992). Moreover, recommendations provided in much of the published information available for planning or decisions not only can be debated but may prove counterproductive if implemented.

Current operational efforts beg for clearer focus on fundamental concepts central to daily decisions that impact native biological diversity. Recognizing that many biologists would provide different council and at the risk of oversimplification, we offer the following 4 topical issues as fundamental guidance to wise conservation action. These recommendations are based on our collective experiences working within conservation agencies since our original, collaborative essay (Samson and Knopf 1982). They are offered as initial, rather than authoritative, steps to better align research and management decisions with what we perceive as the critical issues in conserving biological diversity at the landscape and ecosystem levels of resolution.

Publication Year 1993
Title Managing biological diversity
Authors Fred B. Samson, Fritz L. Knopf
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Wildlife Society Bulletin
Index ID 70128757
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse