Can We Prosper and Protect Nature at the Same Time? Yes!
In 2009, WILD Foundation declared Nature Needs Half (NNH) to conserve half of all land and sea by 2050. NNH recently allied with Parvati.org and included MAPS: the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary into their strategy. This month, we spoke to Vance Martin, President, and Amy Lewis, Vice President of Communications & Development of WILD Foundation about this invaluable project.
Parvati Magazine: Conserving half of Nature might sound bold to some, but your website points out that many voices have called for this for decades. What was the tipping point to make this an official movement?
Vance Martin: This is something that has evolved more rapidly recently. Years ago, there wasn’t the understanding of Earth’s systems that we have now. People are feeling the impacts of the devastation of Nature now, with systemic things like climate change, coastlines changing, storms, etc.
Amy Lewis: Even in conservation, it was considered revolutionary. Everybody was saying that we needed a big target from a scale of 50% or more. But the groundwork wasn’t there to support that. So WILD Foundation initiated NNH to give people a place to say what everyone was saying privately.
PMAG: Would it be fair to say that you believe in Nature’s power to heal and regenerate when given the chance?
VM: Nature has the most amazing power of resilience. I worked a lot in Africa. There were times when local societies wiped out huge amounts of plains game. And [when] there wasn’t mass hunting pressure, within ten years, those mass herds returned. Now, they are disappearing again due to [human] encroachment.
PMAG: How does 50% conservation fit on a planet with over seven billion people?
AL: There is no way we can support a planet of seven billion people or more, without this level of conservation. The fact is that Nature is the life-giving green engine that has supported this planet’s biosphere for hundreds of millions of years. If there is any hope for life on the planet, especially for human civilization, we have to protect it.
VM: NNH is not talking about saving 50% of every single nation and ecosystem. We’re not talking about moving people out. When you look at large ecosystems, land and sea, you’re talking about identifying those most important landscapes for biodiversity or ecological services purposes. [In] China, the fastest growing nation still, we helped to facilitate the first inventory of wilderness areas. The inventory came up with 51%. [Even in] the most populated country in the world, NNH is possible.
AL: Nature is the source of all well-being, prosperity, and life. Most people are unconscious of the very real relationship that they are in with Nature. And so bringing awareness to that is the first step in being able to protect Nature.
PMAG: Your members are on the ground, all over the world. What are some of the most impactful initiatives that they have been involved in?
VM: One of the world’s greatest examples of Nature Needs Half in a large landscape is the “Y to Y”: Yellowstone to Yukon initiative. It’s all about working with local coalitions, with different points of view—landowners, ranchers, miners, loggers, environmentalists – and creating corridors between protected areas so that large animals can move and Nature can evolve.
PMAG: What are some challenges that you have encountered?
VM: In the beginning, we got more blowback from the conservation community; not that they didn’t believe us but that they felt it was politically impossible, and would discredit the conservation movement because it was too ambitious.
AL: We are facing an unprecedented challenge: the collapse of our biosphere, moving to a state that can no longer support life as we know it. And that unprecedented challenge requires an unprecedented solution. Fortunately, we have the technical know-how, we have the communication networks, we have everything we need to do it. All we need now is the willingness to work together, and to work at the scale that Nature needs.
PMAG: Can you speak to how your values—connectivity, respect for Nature, and respect for people—inspire and guide your decisions today?
VM: What we are about is creating community. And that’s what wilderness shows us. Wild Nature has learned how to evolve, how to sustain itself, how to prosper. If we would observe and learn, we have a better chance of understanding how to build a healthy planet.
AL: We can have all the technology and science in the world. We can have all the amazing videos that show how wonderful Nature is. But until we cultivate respect for each other and the natural world, we cannot achieve lasting protection for the environment. Respect is what drives and regenerates actions that are restorative, protective, and not exploitative
Vance joined WILD in 1984 after 15 years in international business and non-profit management. Known for bridging the interests of people and Nature, he has worked in over 45 countries.
Amy Lewis has spent the last 15 years researching the building blocks of collective action. She is an award-winning nonprofit leader and a scholar of environmental policy.