Habits and history determine if conservation succeeds or fails

Dec. 27, 2018

A study led by researchers at Rutgers and Princeton universities examined why conservation succeeds or fails and found that the ghosts of harvesting past can haunt today’s conservation efforts. The researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the conservation or overharvesting of a resource such as fish, timber or other wildlife often is determined by past habits and decisions related to that resource.

Patterns of overexploitation can be broken, however, by intensive harvest-reduction efforts. By studying fisheries, the study authors found that quickly implemented institutional campaigns to cap yields to below the largest sustainable catch has spurred long-term conservation practices.

The problem with fisheries and shared resources such as timber, minerals and oil is that they are “common-pool” resources for which people share access to a finite supply.

Understanding why some renewable resources are overharvested while others are conserved continues to be a challenge. While conservation has taken hold in some industries such as timber, overfishing has largely intensified during the past 50 years. At the same time, modern efforts to rebuild fish stocks — such as the 1996 and 2006 revisions to the U.S. Magnuson-Stevens Act — have made lasting conservation more likely.

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