A dollar value can be placed on just some of these benefits. The value of the other benefits rests on each individual's sense of the importance of biological diversity in the present and the future.
Many of us have a take-them-for-granted attitude - that Canada has vast areas of untapped wilderness and, thus, that the species will take care of themselves. Unless, through education, we change our thinking, that attitude coupled with an extremely fast rate of industrial development will doubtless lead to a reduction of species diversity and reduce the opportunities of future generations.
Forty percent of all prescriptions written today are either based on or synthesized from natural compounds from different species. Not only do these species save lives, they contribute to a booming pharmaceutical industry worth over $40 billion annually. Unfortunately, only 5% of known plant species have been screened for their medicinal values, although we continue to lose up to 100 species daily.
For example, the Pacific Yew, a slow-growing tree found in the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, was historically considered a "trash" tree, which was burned after clearcutting. Yet, recently, a substance in its bark, taxol, was identified as one of the most promising treatments for ovarian and breast cancer.
As a second example, more than 3 million American heart disease sufferers would find their lives cut short within 72 hours without digitalis, a drug derived from the purple foxglove.
Of the estimated 80,000 edible plants in the world, we depend upon only 20 species such as wheat and corn to provide 90% of the world's food. Wild relatives of these common crops provide an essential genetic reservoir from which new more pest- and disease-resistant strains are continually developed. Wild species also provide us with the means to develop new crops which can grow in marginal areas such as in poor soils or drought-stricken areas to help solve the world hunger problem.
In the 1970s, genetic material from a wild corn species in Mexico was used to stop a leaf fungus that had previously wiped out 15% of the U.S. corn crop.
Some wild species are harvested commercially, thus contributing directly to local and regional economies.
Commercial and recreational salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest provides 60,000 jobs and $1 billion annually in personal income, and is the center of Pacific Northwest Native American culture. This industry and way of life, however, is in trouble as salmon decline due to habitat degradation from dams, clearcutting, and overgrazing along streams.
Freshwater mussels which are harvested, cut into beads and used to stimulate pearl construction in oysters form the basis of a thriving industry which supports approximately 10,000 U.S. jobs and contributes over $700 million to the U.S. economy annually. Unfortunately, 43% of the freshwater mussel species in North American are currently endangered or extinct.
Species also make up the fabric of healthy ecosystems such as coastal estuaries, prairie grasslands, and ancient forests which we depend on to purify our air, clean our water, and supply us with food. When species become endangered, it is an indicator that the health of these vital ecosystems is beginning to unravel. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that losing one plant species can trigger the loss of up to 30 other insect, plant and higher animal species.
The northern spotted owl, listed as threatened in 1990, is an indicator of the declining health of the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest home to over 100 other old-growth dependent species which are at risk due to decades of unsustainable forest management practices.
Pollution off the coast of Florida is killing the coral reefs along the Florida Keys, which serve as habitat for hundreds of species of fish. Catches of commercial fish species have begun to decline, and the multi-million dollar tourism industry which depends on the quality of the environment is threatened.
Species and their ecosystems form the basis of our multi billion dollar, job-intensive tourism industry and supply essential recreational, spiritual and quality-of-life values as well.
Each year over 108 million people in the United States participate in wildlife-related recreation including hunting, fishing, and observing, feeding, or photographing wildlife.
Over $59 billion is spent each year by people in the United States on travel, lodging, equipment, and food to go fishing, hunting and engage in non-consumptive wildlife recreation.
Our national heritage of biological diversity is an invaluable and irreplaceable resource. Our quality of life and that of future generations depends on our wise stewardship of this inheritance.
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