A Non-Hotspot Approach to Choosing Where to Help Wildlife

Staghorn coral (center) on healthy patch reef

My friends at the Endangered Species Coalition have produced an excellent new report called It’s Getting Hot Out There: Top 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World. As the title suggests, ESC identified 10 ecosystems that it believes will be the most important to conserve to help wildlife survive global warming.

Considering that wildlife is threatened by global warming, habitat destruction and other factors in virtually every corner of the planet, deciding as a national or international organization where to focus your conservation effort is never an easy task.  No single approach works for every organization.

The ESC picked 10 ecosystems with U.S. species listed under the Endangered Species Act.  That makes sense because defending the Endangered Species Act, and especially its provisions protecting U.S. species and their habitats, is a primary focus of that organization.

In contrast, internationally-oriented groups such as Conservation International prioritize so-called “biodiversity hotspots” around the globe, areas with especially high numbers of endemic species.

As someone who works for an organization with a large U.S. membership, as well as state and territorial affiliates who meet annually to set its conservation policy, my work tends to gravitate toward helping local activists and state affiliates save the special places and treasured wildlife where they live. I’m always on the look-out for evidence from National Wildlife Federation’s constituents about what resources they value most.  Oftentimes these places indeed serve as habitat for species listed under the Endangered Species Act and can safely be called biodiversity hotspots.  For example, Hawai’i has by far the greatest number of ESA-listed threatened and endangered species of all the states.  NWF’s state affiliate, the Conservation Council for Hawai’i, deserves kudos for contributing to the ESC report and helping to bring national attention to that state’s unique and wonderful native flora and fauna.

However, a strategy of tapping into the energy, wisdom and passion of individuals and organizations working on the front lines of conservation means that biodiversity hotspots is not always the priority.

Most people prioritize the places they know and love, such as the streams and forests in and around their communities or the beaches and lakes they visit on their summer vacations, regardless of their richness in endemic species.  That’s fine with me, I’m with them.

There’s no more powerful force than a group of activists organized to save a treasured place in their community.

If we at NWF can tap into that energy and contribute our expertise and resources, we can not only help our partners succeed with their local objectives, but also help them see the benefits of joining the network of conservationists working together to achieve positive change at broader scales.

By the way, one of the other places featured in the ESC report is the Arctic (not a biodiversity hotspot), where polar bears and other treasured wildlife species are threatened by declining sea ice and oil and gas development.  If you are one of those activists who already likes the idea of helping threatened wildlife outside your local community, you should know that an effort is underway to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas drilling.  Show your support for protecting the Arctic Refuge >>