conservation of habitats (rain forest)

lou jost
Mon, 26 Dec 2011 19:21:03 PST
Given the rapid deforestation rate in the tropics, I think purchasing rain forest for conservation is the only way to preserve it. Other approaches are often valuable but are too slow; important forests will be gone before some of those other methods have time to take hold. That is why my friends and I started a foundation here in Ecuador to buy forests: We have protected almost 5000 hectares, focussing on areas that have high concentrations of unique locally endemic plants (especially orchids, my specialty). 

There are lots of uncertainties involved. For example, global warming might make some reserves unsustainable in the future. Reserves that cover a wide range of elevations may be more resilient to this. Private ownership of large tracts of land can also be politically difficult. And we have to constantly worry about sustainability--how do we keep finding the money every year to pay our reserve caretakers/wardens, so that people don't come into them and hunt or cut trees? Yet, when people worry about these challenges and say it is too risky or hard, what is their alternative? The richest and most important habitats are here, so this is where we have to work. And we and many other foundations have been quite successful in preserving critical areas in the tropics. It can be done, and it must be done.

The World Land Trust ( in the UK takes donations for this purpose. They support us and many other programs worldwide. They are great, low-overhead, and very honest and dedicated. If you are in the US, there is a similar low-overhead, high-efficiency group, World Land Trust-US (, which is a registered nonprofit in the US so US donors get a tax write-off. 

The Orchid Conservation Alliance (San Diego, CA, USA) also accepts donations for this purpose. I am sure there are many others, but these are the ones I can vouch for. 

I am also sure there are many less effective groups, or groups that are more interested in generating overhead than in saving forests. There is also a tendency to think that all forests are equal and purchasing any forest is helpful. Most randomly situated forests are unlikely to harbor special endemic plants, especially in the Amazon (which is very homogeneous). Even in mountainous areas, randomly chosen forests are unlikely to be very special. Biogeographic studies should be an integral part of reserve selection. If it isn't, go elsewhere.

Lou Jost

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