(Office of Technology Assessment, 1987). Yet, at current rates of tropical deforestation and conversion, virtually all accessible primary tropical moist forest areas will be gone within 50 to 70 years. At the same time, many of the tropical developing countries are among the poorest on Earth, often with large and rapidly growing populations. These countries have become increasingly dependent on external assistance to address their food and economic development needs as well as to help them conserve their biological resources. Without increased attention to both, the global community stands to lose living resources of truly inestimable value. It is my conviction that biological diversity concerns cut across a wide range of sectors. Furthermore, sustained economic development requires the conservation of biological resources, and conversely, conservation of these resources in the developing world is dependent upon their ability to achieve sustained economic growth.
The perspective of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Mission in Bangkok is illustrative of this point. In responding to our request for guidance from the field as to how the agency should address this concern, the mission replied:
In Thailand, the principal threat to long-term maintenance of biological diversity and tropical forest resources is agricultural encroachment on already-designated conservation areas by nomadic hill tribe groups and landless lowland Thais. Overcoming this problem is fundamental to the long-term viability of much of Thailand’s biological resources, and will require concerted efforts in agricultural, rural, and economic development, as well as in reforestation and protected area management. For those situations where basic human needs must be met for conservation efforts to succeed, AID might be able to play a role both in conserving biological diversity and tropical forests and in fostering sustainable economic and social progress of the poor (U.S. Department of State, 1986).
This, to me, epitomizes the dilemma that this group of international scientists must come to grips with if conservation efforts are to succeed on a global scale. In meeting this challenge, we are going to have to find ways to conserve more natural habitats, better manage those that already exist, ensure that development projects are ecologically sound, improve our methods of economic analysis of the costs and benefits of natural resource deteriorations and investments in natural resources conservation, and increase food and fuelwood production on land already cleared in order to reduce pressure on the remaining wild areas.
Although pollution and overexploitation are serious threats to many wild plant and animal species, the continuing loss of habitats, especially tropical forests, is the major cause of current and projected rates of species extinction. Consequently, habitat conservation is the key to the effective conservation of the world’s biological diversity. The utility or necessity of a species from the standpoint of humans is not necessarily a corollary of a species’ adaptability. Therefore, conserving biological diversity for human benefit means conserving sufficient natural habitat for those species incapable of surviving elsewhere.