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Making resources an economic global priority

The familiar litany of environmental woes towers over mankind and knows no national boundaries. Yet most nations, rich and poor alike, continue to expand industrially and agriculturally, seeking higher living standards for growing populations, without making conservation a consideration in their development.

an international campaign to make conservation part of national planning, especially in poor nations where the pressing need for economic growth makes conservation an endangered concern, is beginning to take shape.

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"AS a problem, it can seem daunting," admits Robert Allen of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCNNR). "But we are at a point where we can no longer be lamenting a series of insoluble problems."

Mr. Allen and a team of international scientist have completed work on a "World Conservation Strategy." They are embarking on a campaign to have its message -- plan before you develop -- accepted by the nations of the world.

The strategy was prepared under the sponsorship of the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Wildlife Fund. It was unveiled March 5 in simultaneous meetings in Washington, Madrid, Nairobi, and Sydney.

Among its major recommendations are for the world's nations to make environmental maintenance a part of national planning, to design conservation laws, and to educate businesses, political leaders, and the public on conservation management.

The balance between conservation and development, say sponsors of the strategy, can work if international trade is liberalized, the flow of finance and development assistance to poor nations is increased, the international monetary system is reformed, and serious population control is practiced throughout the world.

"The strategy has more of a self-interest cast than an ethical cast," says Dr. Lee M. Talbot of the World Wildlife Fund. Says Mr. Allen: "In the process of putting this strategy together, we have gotten the attention of many governments. Many now are considering conservation strategies on their own for the first time."

While many nations, including the United States, already have environmental laws on the books, Mr. Allen says environmental planning should be considered earlier in the development of new industrial and agricultural ventures.

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In support of the strategy, Sen. John H. Chaffee (R) of Rhode Island introduced a bill that would create a $10 million a year program to: establish an "International Wildlife Conservation Corps of US experts to work with other nations; set up a foreign exchange program in wildlife resources and conservation; and station "wildlife resource attaches" overseas to work on global conservation.

But third-world nations seem least able to allow a conservation ethic to dampen their drive for economic growth.

"It is poor people trying to stay alive that is decimating much of the third-world forests," says Thomas Erlich, director of the International Development Cooperation Agency. Erosion-prone farming, the scavenging of wood and dung for fire-building, and other daily practices lessen the fertility of the soil, Mr. Erlich says.

Barbara Blum, deputy administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, says environmental problems such as the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by burning fossil fuels, the danger to the ozone layer caused by fluorocarbons, and the threat of acid rain are global in scope and result directly from industrial development. A common approach, such as the World Conservation Strategy, is needed to tackle the problems, she says.


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