The conservation of plants and animals is focused on two main efforts: conserve the environments they need, so that they may thrive, and avoid killing the plants and animals themselves. The point of conservation is to ensure future resources. But financial opportunity often drives humans to alter environments and harvest species, even to the point of extinction. Because the increasing scarcity of a resource makes it more valuable to those who can still get it, incentives rise as resources dwindle.
Conserve the Environments for Plants and Animals
While humans demand plants and animals as resources, sometimes it's their environment that we want. Africa provides examples of forest lands lost to agriculture, resulting in a loss of biodiversity. Coastal mangroves around the world are being replaced by agriculture and aquaculture, along with urbanization. The Philippines lost approximately half of their mangroves to aquaculture between 1968 and 1983. Conserving these environments through sustainable intensification of farming and regulations to protect remaining wild areas from development also conserves the biodiversity within them.
Control Market Forces for Plant and Animal Resources
African elephant and rhino ivory offers an example of depleting animal resources, compounded by their increasing scarcity driving an increasing demand for the resource. Buyers are hoarding ivory, hoping for higher value in the future. Prices for Asian tropical hardwoods like rosewood have risen as much as 90 percent in just the last year. In each case, conserving the plant and animal resources requires fighting market forces, such as placing a ban on ivory sales and restrictions on logging exports.
Reduce Human Demand on Animals and Plants
Rising standards of living in developing countries drive demand for more meat production, as more people can afford to eat meat. This raises demands on resources to produce meat; for example, nearly half of cereal grain production in the world goes to meat production. So, more wild lands are lost to grain production. Choosing to eat less meat in one's diet would reduce the demands on all of the required resources, from food to water to space, used to produce it.
Consider How Solutions May Cause Unintended Consequences
Sometimes, a good idea brings unintended consequences in a complex natural environment. Hydroelectric dams generate electricity from the energy of flowing water -- by itself, that sounds good, since it reduces the use of fossil fuels. But dams also block fish migration routes. Wind turbines generate electricity without pollution, but there's considerable debate about how many birds they kill. A century of policies to extinguish forest fires in the western US led to forests full of fuel, and massive fires as a result. Each example shows how manipulating the environment can involve a trade-off between benefits and harm to plants and animals.