Life After Logging: Strategic Withdrawal from the Garden of Eden or Tactical Error for Wilderness Conservation?


  • Raphael K. Didham

    1. School of Animal Biology, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009, Australia
    2. CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, Centre for Environment and Life Sciences, Underwood Ave, Floreat WA 6014, Australia
    3. School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand
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Conservation management has undergone a dramatic paradigm shift from the strong ‘wilderness conservation’ ethos of the 1980s and 1990s to the ‘biodiversity on degraded lands’ ethos of recent years. Most conservation biologists now consider that wilderness conservation alone is no longer sufficient to conserve biodiversity, and conservation strategies must also demand more effective protection for biodiversity on degraded lands. Recognition of this shifting paradigm in biodiversity conservation has led to an overt change in tone of recent studies, emphasizing relatively modest effects of human disturbance, and high biodiversity values on some degraded lands. A case in point is a series of studies from Southeast Asia reporting relatively modest impacts of logging on biodiversity, with the majority of species (75%) persisting after repeated intensive logging. This is a marked shift in conservation message after >30 yrs of research showing substantial adverse effects of logging on biodiversity, and raises serious questions about the appropriate ways to qualify the conflicting messages that ‘human impact degrades biodiversity’ yet ‘degraded habitats have high biodiversity value.’ Clearly logging is the lesser of two land-use evils compared with conversion to intensive cattle pastures, crop fields or oil palm plantations, but there is a real risk that overselling the ‘biodiversity on degraded lands’ paradigm might end up being a double-edged sword for conservation management. After all, if >75 percent of species are resilient to repeated logging, why bother trying to preserve the few remaining wilderness areas from being logged themselves? It remains to be seen whether this new message of ‘weak’ effects of logging on biodiversity will serve its strategic purpose of conserving biodiversity on degraded lands, or simply devalue the last vestiges of wild nature.