10% of World's Wilderness Wiped Out in 20 Years

And it could all be gone within a century if we don't turn things around, scientists say
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 9, 2016 11:47 AM CDT
10% of World's Wilderness Wiped Out in 20 Years
In danger if we don't clean up our act.   (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Call it "where the wild things aren't." The Amazon and Central Africa have lost an immense amount of wilderness over the past 20 years or so, but scientists say those regions aren't the only ones in trouble: Nearly 10% of the world's wildlands have succumbed to development and other man-made intrusions since the early 1990s, per a study published in the Current Biology journal. That total area is equal to 1.2 million square miles—what the Guardian estimates to be about the size of two Alaskas—and researchers say if there's not a quick turnaround on the conservation front, there could be zero major wild areas in "less than a century." "The amount of wilderness loss in just two decades is staggering," Dr. Oscar Venter of the University of Northern British Columbia says, per a press release.

"Wildnerness," for the purposes of this study, was defined as land that's "ecologically largely intact" and "mostly free of human disturbance," save for indigenous communities. The Amazon claims the lion's share of these "catastrophic" losses over the past two decades, with about 30% of its wilderness disappeared (and rainforests still being cleared). Central Africa, meanwhile, has suffered a 14% loss. Losing these natural environments isn't just about aesthetics: The study's authors note that widespread development spells disaster for endangered species, threatens biodiversity, and contributes to climate change, as forests hold huge amounts of carbon. As ScienceAlert notes: "Great job, humans." (Yosemite just scooped up lots more land.)

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