Land Use: Forest, Agriculture, and Biodiversity Competition
Since at least the time of von Thunen's contributions to the subject, economists have been interested in explaining land use in the hinterlands. This interest has grown with increasing societal demands on remaining forested areas and concern for the nonmarket resources generated by such habitats. However, the situation is not nearly as dire as one might expect based on the more alarming pronouncements. Despite both economic and population growth, forest areas in much of the developed world have been increasing, not declining. Improvements in growing and processing technology, in combination with increased concern for forest resources, have enabled increases in productivity that have largely offset growth in demand. While the record has not been quite as good in the developing countries, productivity growth and a slowing in the rate of population increase are also reducing pressures on forests in poorer nations. While these trends are promising, concern remains with the decline in natural habitats, particularly in moist tropical forests, where biological diversity is most concentrated. Biologists and conservation advocates have advanced a number of arguments both that "biodiversity" is imperiled as forests are felled and that the values of the services generated by such systems justify their preservation. While often plausible, these arguments remain largely unproved. It seems unlikely that prospects for commercializing the products and services of forest ecosystems will prove sufficient to motivate their conservation on a large scale. Other instruments for conservation must, then, be employed if areas under intense pressure for conversion are to be preserved.
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