Endangered species are concentrated in Southern California, Hawaii, Florida and southern Appalachia, hot spots where conservation efforts should be targeted to help stem the United States’ loss of biodiversity, researchers will report today.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, in an article accompanying the report in the journal Science, said the new data will be used to help forge federal policies to save species at risk of extinction. Congress is gearing up to extend - and possibly overhaul - the 24-year-old Endangered Species Act.
Because a multitude of species could be protected if even small amounts of lands were preserved, the new work should help “maximize the protection of species at the least cost and inconvenience to the public,” Babbitt and his science adviser, H. Ronald Pulliam, wrote.
The Princeton University biologists who studied the United States’ 924 endangered and threatened species concluded that government efforts would be more efficient if they target the relatively small number of counties where a vast diversity of species overlaps with intense pressures from urbanization and agriculture.
“If conservation efforts and funds can be expanded in a few key areas, it should be possible to conserve endangered species with great efficiency,” the researchers, led by Princeton’s Andrew Dobson, wrote.
Using an electronic mapping system, the researchers from Princeton’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology found that endangered birds are clustered in just 19 of the nation’s counties. Endangered mammals are found in just 29 counties.
The Princeton researchers also discovered that agriculture is the main economic activity associated with severe imperilment of mammals, plants, birds and reptiles and that tailoring projects to protect birds is the best way to save a multitude of species sharing an ecosystem.
Dennis Murphy, director of Stanford University’s Center for Conservation Biology, said the highlighting of Southern California, Hawaii, Florida and Appalachia reinforces the need for Congress and the Clinton administration to find practical ways to preserve habitat on valuable private lands.
“All four locations are very rich with private property holdings and very poor in public land holdings,” he said.
“This (study) underscores the fact that the real challenge of conserving endangered species is not one that affects all 50 states, but in these four places, resolving conflicts on private property is very real.”
The study, while suggesting ways to improve conservation, does little to address the most divisive debate in Congress and the Interior Department: how to go about protecting endangered species on private land.
Some say owners should be reimbursed if the law restricts use of their land, while others say such a cost would cripple the program. Still others advocate government purchase of land to create preserves, while others support tax rebates and incentives.
Farmers and other landowners say simply targeting conservation efforts on their property will fail unless federal and state laws protecting endangered species are made less punitive.