But this current investment is not yet adequate. First, not all habitat types, even very broad ones such as the biogeographic provinces mentioned above, are represented in the current system, and these biogeographic provinces themselves are so coarse as to miss a great deal of diversity.
Second, the size of the areas set aside for some habitat types may be inadequate. For example, of the 178 biogeographic provinces represented in the current system of conservation areas, 28 are represented by five or fewer individual units, for an aggregate area of 1,000 square kilometers or less (Office of Technology Assessment, 1987). There is growing concern that such a limited number of small conservation areas may not forestall the extinction of some species, particularly those that are large, wide-ranging, or especially susceptible to the chance variations in climatic and environmental factors.
Third, conservation areas in many countries lack adequate management for many of the units. Without professional, trained staff, adequately equipped and operating under an explicit management plan, many of these areas represent an idea rather than reality.
Nevertheless, there are hopeful signs. Since 1950, there has been a rapid increase in the number and extent of conservation areas worldwide. Eight of the nine countries reported to have set aside more than 10% of their land in protected areas are located in the developing world (Harrison et al., 1984). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service are receiving a growing number of requests for assistance in conservation-area establishment and management from developing countries. Also, the U.S. Peace Corps now has about 170 volunteers afield working on parks and protected-area projects at the request of developing country governments.
All signs point to an increased awareness of the need for conserving natural systems for the potential resources they may contain, for the environmental services they provide, and for the educational and aesthetic needs they meet. Yet much remains to be done, and the development community can and should play a role.
The goal of U.S. development assistance programs is to help people of the developing countries enhance their human, social, and economic conditions. The conservation ethic, which implies the rational and sustained use of resources, seems to prosper in both traditional cultures and in the highly developed and successful industrialized nations. But most of the world’s people live in the developing nations, which are in transition between older traditional cultures and a more economically developed state. If the North American and Western European experiences are a guide for the future, the conservation ethic, especially as it relates to land use, is more likely to prosper in the developing nations as this transition progresses. In a very real sense, therefore, successful economic and social development can enhance conservation efforts in the developing world.