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SOURCE: Grist and Science

DATE: May 31, 2019

SNIP: The practice of downsizing, degrading, or eliminating protected lands and waters has been accelerating worldwide, and especially in the United States, a study published Thursday in Science has found.

Just how accelerated? Ninety percent of all proposals the U.S. has ever made to reduce or eliminate protected areas have taken place since 2000. And 99 percent of those proposed rollbacks were associated with industrial-scale development projects, including oil and gas extraction.

And it’s not just America. Globally, 78 percent of downsizing protected areas has happened since 2000, and industrial development was responsible for 62 percent of all rollbacks, according to the study.

The report is one of the most comprehensive efforts yet to track the erosion of protected wilderness areas and national parks around the world. A team of 21 international scientists analyzed 200 years of protected areas data, conducted their own research, and worked with local scientists in each country they analyzed to discover trends in why, and how frequently, public lands are changed or downsized.

The study authors decided to zero in on the United States and the Amazon region in South America because, they said, both regions are undergoing rapid environmental policy change, and are both particularly important to global conservation.

“The U.S is recognized as a global leader in conservation. And when the U.S take steps to scale back the protection of its lands and waters, other countries take notice,” said Michael Mascia, senior vice president of the Moore Center for Science at Conservation International and co-author of the study.

Lead author Rachel Kroner, a social scientist at Conservation International, said the study only adds to the urgent call to action that was the recent biodiversity report.

“Biodiversity and the web of life on Earth is in trouble. And it’s up to us to do something about it,” Kroner said. She pointed out that many scientists are calling for a scaling up protected areas to protect biodiversity rather than scaling them back.