We Lost 10% of the Planet’s Wilderness in 20 Years: Here’s What You Can Do to Save the Rest

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A report released in Current Biology last month states that in the last two decades “significant” damage has been done to the Earth’s remaining wilderness areas. How significant? By overlaying data from today on maps from the early 1990’s, they came to the conclusion that some 9.6% of the world's wilderness has disappeared. That’s 1.3 million square miles — the size of Texas, Mexico, and all of Central America combined. As one of the study’s authors notes, “The continued loss of wilderness areas is a globally significant problem with largely irreversible outcomes for both humans and nature.”

Governments across the globe have been stepping up efforts to protect wild areas lately. But, the study notes, “the increase in protection of wilderness has lagged significantly behind losses over the past two decades.” For every square mile protected, 1.35 square miles disappear. The bottom line: “Wilderness is under immense land use pressures, and there is an urgent need for greater conservation effort.”

But what are we to do? Get out there, travel to wild places, and help conserve them by making them eco-tourist attractions (you know, without the hotels). Here are your new destinations, plus ways you can support local conservation efforts from home: 

1. Support the Sonoran, Baja, and Chihuahuan Deserts: Starting in the southwestern United States and extending deep into Mexico, these deserts are in the middle of a political firestorm over illegal immigration. Growing communities, not to mention a certain proposed wall, could wreak havoc on the fragile ecosystems. The World Wildlife Fund and The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection are working to conserve them.

2. Get Lost in the Amazon: No area is more under attack than the jungles of the Amazon Basin, home to over half the planet's species. Mining, logging, and oil exploration are rapidly eating up large swaths of forest, but eco-tourism offers local communities an alternative source of income. The Pousada Uacari Lodge and Juma Amazon Lodge are two places that will put you deep in the wild that's left.

3. Support the Ivory Ban: The massive grasslands and savannas that once covered most of Africa are disappearing rapidly. Farming is a leading pressure, but legal and illegal trophy hunting also eat into wild lands. Recent changes to the law banning ivory make it almost impossible to import it into the United States, effectively taking the country out of the market. Save the Elephants is leading the fight and needs your help.

4. Help Buy Some Wetlands: Only five freshwater wetlands remain in the world, and they are crucial sanctuary for innumerable water birds. The Pantanal, in central South America, is twenty times larger than the Everglades and is threatened by agriculture expansion, pollution, and road construction. The Nature Conservatory is helping local environmental groups purchase large tracts of land to preserve them.

5. Climb a Chilean Mountain: There are only five spots on the planet classified as Mediterranean Forests and Woodlands, but four of them are heavily settled and thus badly degraded. Ten percent of the world’s plant species reside in what remains. The most pristine area left is located in Chile’s Parque Nacional La Campana, and the eco-tourism industry is yet to take off. Help it grow by visiting and summiting one of the numerous mountains inside the park.

6. Protect the Plains: The Great Plains stretch from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, and are some of the most degraded grasslands on the planet. Over the last decade more than one million acres have been plowed under as large industrial farming operations have expanded. The World Wildlife Fund is currently trying to get Congress to promote conservation practices in the next Farm Bill to stop this destruction. 

7. Stop Amazonian Logging: Besides being home to one of the largest rainforests in the world, the Amazon Basin is also home to expansive “dry” forests that act as transition zones between eco-regions. The Chiquitano Dry Forests of Brazil and Bolivia have been heavily logged over the last two decades, driving some animal species to near extinction. Greenpeace is leading the fight to stop all deforestation in the region.

9. Mangrove Fishing: The number of large tracts of mangroves across the globe has fallen so low in the last few decades that they are listed as non-existent. These important buffer zones are critically important salt water habitats, home to numerous endangered animals and floral species. The Panama Bight Mangroves are still relatively stable, and offer some of the world’s best fishing. If you visit, you can help create an eco-tourism platform in the region.