Saving the Wrong Places

08-01-2001 // Mark Cheater

"We've done a heck of a job of protecting rock and ice," says J. Michael Scott, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey in Idaho. Scott is one of the authors of a recent study showing that much of the protected habitat in the 48 contiguous states is at the highest elevations and the least productive land. Nearly one-fifth of unproductive land—mountaintops, deserts or other nutrient-poor soils—is preserved. But only one percent of the richest land— grasslands, river bottoms and other areas crucial to a wide variety of species—is protected from development. Much of the latter acreage has already been turned into farms, housing developments or pastures. If we are to protect the widest variety of species, Scott argues, future conservation efforts must focus on these productive lands. "We have a huge challenge in front of us," he says.

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