Photograph: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters
It’s the saddest truism in wildlife conservation: When politicians announce that they are setting aside precious habitat “in perpetuity”, what they really mean is until somebody else wants the land.
Protected areas now get reopened so often under the pressure of population and economic growth that the trend has spawned an acronym, PADDD, for “protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement.” There’s also a web site, PADDDtracker.org, jointly maintained by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Conservation International.
Michael Mascia, who recently moved from WWF to Conservation International, developed the PADDD concept in 2011 “to define the problem” worldwide, he said, “and to try to mobilize” attention to it among scientists and ultimately the public.
The effort has begun to pay off, with Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the former director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, raising the issue in the journal Science. Noting the 52% decline in worldwide bird, mammal, and other wildlife populations since 1970, she warned that downgrading and delisting protected land “threaten[s] the ability of societies to address climate change, food and energy security needs, and sustainability.”