Environmental Science: What is Shared Land? - dummies

Environmental Science: What is Shared Land?

By Alecia M. Spooner

In environmental science, the tragedy of the commons scenario describes how all the people who have access to common areas or shared public space will use it to meet their current needs, thus allowing the land to be damaged and the resource depleted.

The assumption in this scenario is that every person who uses a shared resource acts primarily in self-interest, seeking short-term gain without planning and managing the resource to sustain it for the future.

The tragedy is that this scenario of resource destruction is avoidable, if only the people sharing the resource worked together and practiced sustainable management methods.

Most countries have public lands that they designate for different uses. The following internationally recognized categories help countries classify land according to how people can (or can’t) use it:

  • National parks: Countries generally establish and manage national parks with the education and recreation of their citizens in mind. Often these parks are places of beauty or scientific interest (or both), and the resources within them (such as timber, minerals, and ore) can’t be extracted.

    The purpose of some parks is to preserve certain species or ecosystems. National parks attract tourists, who can visit the park to be educated or to participate in recreational activities. The challenge with national parks is that tourists also increase the risk of environmental damage. Examples of national parks include Yellowstone in the U.S., Kruger in South Africa, and Blue Mountains in Australia.

  • National monuments: National monuments are small areas of protected land, usually designated to protect a specific landmark (like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris) or a unique cultural (Fort Sumter in South Carolina), natural (Sonoran Desert in Arizona), or geologic (Devils Tower in Wyoming) interest.

  • Managed resource protected areas: Managed resource protected areas (MRPAs) are sections of land that have useful raw material resources (such as timber in forests) and that are carefully managed and protected to maintain those resources. In the U.S., national forests are an example of this type of land classification. Around the world, MRPAs provide raw materials and recreation while being cared for as public land.

  • Habitat/species management areas: Countries protect and manage these land areas with the goal of preserving a certain species or a specific habitat. The management of these areas may include fire prevention, controlled burns, predator control, and regulated hunting. The overall goal of these methods is to maintain a certain biological community — one that often includes a species that’s useful as a food or recreation resource, such as deer or fish.

  • Nature reserves and wilderness areas: Nature reserves and wilderness areas are classified with restricted-use options in order to preserve and protect species and ecosystems. Unlike habitat/species management areas, nature reserves and wilderness areas are often left unmanaged and allowed to exist with as little human intervention as possible.

    These areas are often located within national parks or other protected and managed areas. This approach helps protect the innermost wilderness cores while allowing recreational use and resource management in surrounding areas.

  • Protected landscapes and seascapes: Many areas of the world are classified as protected and are used for tourism, recreation, and managed resource use. Often they contain unique or interesting species of plants and animals, but they can also include villages, orchards, beaches, and reefs.