Letter to the Editor

MPA News

Dear MPA News:

I would like to comment on the article "MPA Perspective: Lessons for MPAs from Terrestrial Conservation" by Peter Kareiva (MPA News 6:1). Although the observations offered by the author are, on balance, well made, I wonder why parks dominated by "snow and rock", and more generally, those similarly perceived as of "little economic value" would necessarily make them the "wrong place" for a protected area. Sub-alpine and alpine areas may have less complex ecosystems, but are no less valuable to the species that live there, and are potentially important elements of terrestrial parks, certainly worthy of preservation, especially as part of representative systems of protected areas. While they may be less complex, and less diverse in terms of species, they can be sensitive to disturbance, and active management of human activities - or protection as wilderness - might be very necessary and appropriate. Similarly, it would be very difficult to justify ignoring high-latitude areas, dominated by snow and ice, because of their lack of ecosystem complexity and relatively low biodiversity. Both of these types of ecosystems are at greatest peril from the impacts of climate change, and I would argue that both deserve protection on that basis alone.

Without question, the economic value of an area will be a consideration in the establishment of any protected area, and this does, as the author suggests, have the tendency to dominate discussions of potential designations on both the land and at sea. However, we should be considering the full suite of values of these areas when considering any protected area related both to use and non-use. Option value (reserving the option for use and non-use in the future), bequest value (preserving for future generations), and existence value (the inherent value of simply knowing an area of the land or sea is preserved) are all economic values of protected areas that should be factored into our evaluation. Resources economists are just beginning to develop more broadly accepted methodologies for calculating these values, but we remain a long way from making such an approach fully operational. The public policy process, done effectively, is quite robust and many of the non-use economic values will be articulated to some degree in these deliberations when all sectors of the public actively participate. I would hope that when an MPA or terrestrial park is being considered, we do the best job possible identifying the economic implications of the management actions being proposed, but not allow this to be the sole determinant of whether or not to implement these actions.

For most of US history, wetlands were called "swamps" and filled indiscriminately because they were perceived as of little value in their natural state. Many valuable ecological services derived from wetlands were lost as a result of this perception. Some of my most memorable wilderness experiences have involved both "snow and rock", and I would hope that we don't make the same mistake with these areas as we did with "swamps".

Brad Barr
Senior Policy Advisor, NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program, c/o US Geological Survey, 384 Woods Hole Road, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA. Tel: +1 508 457 2234; E-mail: Brad.Barr [at] noaa.gov