The Value of Wilderness

When the New Zealand government recently proposed to open 7,000 hectares of protected conservation land for mining, understandable debate ensued.  The question was asked if keeping the lands intact was worth more than the $194 billion worth of minerals that the Energy and Resources Minister said was on the land. (Source:

matai falls 7Perhaps they should have consulted the New Zealand Conservation Department’s report of October 2006, entitled The Value of Conservation: What does conservation contribute to the economy? (for report, click here)   Chris Carter, then New Zealand’s Minister of Conservation, wrote that “in addition to the social and environmental reasons for conservation, there is a hitherto underrecognised economic rationale”.

In a country where one-third of the country is set aside as national parks and other conservation areas, it really does make economic sense to preserve the lands.  Chris wrote, “the most obvious and immediate economic impact [is] the enormous contribution conservation makes to regional wealth and employment, largely through tourism.  International tourism is now our single largest foreign exchange earner”.  Tourism is a key driver of many of New Zealand’s regional economies, which in turn are driven by the appeal of natural attractions.  Chris added that tourism contributes around $17.2 billion to New Zealand annually.  Therefore, tourism would generate more money than the minerals would in just 12 years, and continue to generate profits after that.

Granted that the tourism numbers are national and the mining proposal more local, I would still argue that it makes economic sense to preserve the lands for tourism.

KiwiAnd leaving nature alone, it provides ecosystem services that keep it healthy.  For free.  Including things people benefit from, such as fresh water filtration, soil maintenance, erosion and flood control, and the role it plays in maintaining food stocks such as fish.  Not to mention what forest lands do to help prevent climate change which causes expensive devastation from storms, flooding and drought.

Beyond merely economic considerations, in my view it’s a moral issue as well.  Do humans have the right to destroy our wilderness for dollars and cents, or does the wilderness and the animals that live there have rights of their own?  I think that the animals have rights.  In fact, I believe that our lives are enriched when we know that animals are simply “out there”, wherever “there” happens to be and even if we never get there ourselves.

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Alison Wheatley

Alison Wheatley

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