During the medieval times, private landowners started game reserves in order to protect the species that they hunted. These then transformed into nature reserves during the 19th century when people began taking a more proactive view of protecting different species of plants and animals solely to keep them from dying out. Overall since the 19th century the number of nature reserves worldwide has increased, but due to political and economical systems surrounding them, the goal of nature reserves has been in steady decline as we push the extinction of species at a 1000 times the rate that the natural order does.
Political systems for nature reserves come into play with the amount of protection that each one receives. Governments and law enforcement help to control the amount of land set aside for reserves and set safety regulations to prevent things like poaching and enforce things like electric fences that protect against dangerous and invasive species. When these regulations are relaxed we gets incidences like the one at Thomas Baines Nature Reserve where animals were being fatally electrocuted by a perimeter fence and poaching problems like the ones on the Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve.
Within the political system, problems also surface due to political policy. An example of this is fiscal spending and budget cuts. Last year in the UK, the Cabinet decided to cut the budget that they had originally set by 40%. This money would have gone towards linking some of their reserves together to create biodiversity. According to biologists in the area, this decision will leave a series of incomplete eco-systems “that if not completely destroyed may be fragmented to the degree that individual fragments are too small to hold viable populations of many species” for long. Another example is the amount of requirements in place for actually declaring a natural area as a nature reserve. In the United States these requirements include the agreement of the land owner and approval from the Department of Natural Resources, the Natural Resources Commission, and the Governor for the state of the reserve.
An economical system also poses a threat. Due to budgets, the largest reserves on the planet tend to be in high mountains, dry desserts, the tundra and other areas that are not very rich in species but also don’t require a lot of money to purchase or maintain. Governments usually request two reports when determining where to place nature reserves. One reports where all of the hot spots are for endangered species and the other is a budget analysis. Geographical surveys for reserves put out each year show that they are almost always set up in the more cost affective areas so that only a small fraction of species are being protected within the chosen affordable locations. Reserves that are set up in more expensive hot spots areas, like in-land in Africa and in counties in California, are often too small to support the endangered species of that area indefinitely which has been dubbed by scientists as the “Noah’s Arc effect.”
Economical problems also come in with encroachment and eco-tourism. Because our population and the demands from our population are growing, the amount of land in nature reserves is being cut back for new ones as well as being pruned back from already established ones. The government is reducing the amount of land for urban and agricultural development in order to gain financial capital in most cases. This can be seen with the case of the Laguna de Santa Rosa in Sonoma County California which houses an endangered species of salamander where the size of the reserve is now being cut back for housing development.
Other attempts to make money in the economical system include trying to turn nature reserves into more profitable venues through eco-tourism. This induces problems such as doubling nature reserves as zoos which creates an incomplete eco-system by segregating species and cutting back on the amount of livable land each segregation of species receives. It also damages the nature reserve by tourists trampling on plant life, interfering with plant and animal life cycles and even through the amount of trash that is left behind. Another problem with eco-tourism arises when the needs of the human visitors begin to outweigh the original intention of protecting a piece of land and its inhabitants. This can be demonstrated by the current problem in Calhoun County Michigan where a human rights group is trying to put a ten foot asphalt road down the middle of the 100 year old wildlife reserve in order to make it more accessible. Areas where this can already be seen include a 400 acre nature reserve in Santa Cruz county that has 4 miles of paved walking trails already in place.
Due to the political and economical systems that threaten the goal of nature reserves, the eco-system within is also threatened. It is a very delicate system and becomes even more so when we try to control it under the excuse of protecting it. This happens with controlled burning and flooding. Although controlled burns can be beneficial to some species, the process often drastically changes vegetation and kills off the species that rely on that vegetation. The same is true of controlled flooding. In the Flordia Everglades, areas of land are wet seasonally and others are wet year round. In 1992 controlled flooding unintentionally diverted water into the western area of the Everglades and left most of the land there unseasonably wet. The Cape Sable sparrow of that region, who depended on the dry areas for nesting, died out to less than 10% of their original levels at the start of 1992.
As with controlled flooding and burning, there is a tendency to micro-manage environments under the guise of education, research or protection but it usually just leaves places like nature reserves with incomplete eco-systems. This can be seen by a series of nature reserves that were set up in Russia in order to protect certain species of deer and in order to do so the numbers of their natural predators (wolves, bears, etc) were greatly reduced in some of these reserves. Research done by Constantine Filonov and published in the Journal of Wildlife Management in 1980, actually showed that the reserves where the amount of predators and prey were left unchecked actually thrived the most and showed that “Relationships between large predators and their prey play an important part in maintaining the stability and diversity of ecological systems of nature reserves.”