Study finds nearly half of earth's land surface is wilderness
by Audrey Hudson
A global analysis by more than 200 scientists shows wilderness areas cover nearly half of Earth's land surface and are inhabited by a small part of the population of humans. The comprehensive analysis lead by Conservation International identified 36 wilderness areas on 46% of the Earth's land, which are occupied by 2.4% of the world's population, exclusing densely populated urban centers. Wilderness was defined as areas of approximately 4,000 square miles with 70% or more of original vegetation.
"These very low density areas represent a land mass equivalent to the six largest countries on Earth combined - Russia, Canada, China, United States, Brazil and Australia - but have within them the population of only three large cities, a truly remarkable finding," said Russel Mittermeier, a primatologist and president of Conservation International.
Republicans in the West welcomed the research and said they were surprised an international environmental group would agree with them on the abundance of wilderness left on the planet. "Clearly this report debunks the claims of extremist environmentalists that the sky is falling when it comes to protecting our environment," said Rep. Scott Mcinnis (Colorado), Chair, House Resources subcommittee on forests and forest health.
Rep. George Radanovich (California) called it a "sad day" for environmentalists. "I guess the world isn't coming to an end after all," Radanovich said. "I am always pleased when sound science and research defeats liberal political science and hyperbole. As this analysis demonstrates, there is a very definite global balance between preservation and development."
Scientists who conducted the two-year study say the areas are threatened by population growth and agriculture, noting that only 7% of the wilderness is protected from development. "These wilderness areas are important for any global strategy of protecting biodiversity, since we have the opportunity to save large tracts of land at relatively low costs," said Peter Seligmann, chairman of Conservation International. "The areas are also critical for Earth's remaining indigenous groups, which often want to protect their traditional ways of life from the unwanted byproducts of modern society."
The wilderness areas include diverse habitats including the largest remaining population of African elephants [and other species]...Scientists discovered five wilderness areas that contain at least 1,500 plant species restricted to those areas and found no where else in the world.
(Excerpts; Washington Times, Nat'l Weekly Edition: Dec. 9-15, 2002)
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