Is it reasonable for a company to expand onto a wetland adjacent to its current facility, if it offers to buy land elsewhere for a nature preserve?
A company wants to expand onto a wetland adjacent to its current facility. It has offered to buy and preserve a large nature preserve in a different area to make up for the wetland it is destroying believing it will lead to greater biodiversity.
This is not ecologically reasonable although it may be ethically reasonable and economically reasonable. The fundamental error in their thinking is that of confusing their terms and assuming all are equivalent terms representing equivalent realities.
"Biodiversity" is the presence of many different ecosystem habitats and accompanying wildlife at many different levels and representing many different species that are adapted to the many different ecosystem habitats.
Biological diversity [biodiversity] is the variety and variability among living organisms and the ecological complexes in which they occur. Diversity can be defined as the number of different items and their relative frequency. (U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment, "Technologies to Maintain Biological Diversity," from California Biodiversity Council)
Incorrect thinking of this sort assumes that saving an avian ecosystem and habitat, for example, will balance the loss of a wetland ecosystem, with the amphibians, plants and wetland fowl that shelter and feed there. Incorrect thinking assumes that protection and preservation of one ecosystem and its local biodiversity will compensate for the destruction of a different class of ecosystem and its local biodiversity.
Nature preserves/reserves are designated areas where endangered species are protected, mostly from hunters but also from environmental degradation that erodes or eliminates needed habitat in appropriate ecosystems. Protecting endangered species in a specific type of nature reserve, be it wetland or tundra or tropical, cannot counterbalance the human-caused loss of a healthy ecosystem that supports, without the need for protective intervention, a wealth of naturally occurring biodiversity.
"Wetland" is an area that is saturated or inundated with water and that supports a wide range of vegetation and other species that are adapted to survival in a water suffused ecosystem and habitat.
wetlands: "those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions." (EPA: Water: Wetlands)
From these definitions, it is clear that biodiversity, nature preserve/reserve and wetlands are not equivalent terms. It is also clear that destruction of a healthy wetland ecosystem cannot be compensated for by the creation of a nature reserve for endangered species, of the same or a different kind, in another location: a healthy ecosystem that is destroyed cannot be re-created in a nature reserve intended to protect endangered species. It is further clear that biodiversity is not benefited by destroying healthy ecosystems with the compensatory objective of creating counterbalancing protected endangered species nature reserves.
Thus, the company's proposal is not ecologically reasonable nor logically reasonable since it is based on faulty information and inadequate understanding.
This kind of exchange offer reveals the insensitivity of the business world to environmental concerns. Wetlands are specific environments with their own balances of vegetable and animal life. Just because a company can save money or increase their profit margin by expanding rather than relocating (or other alternatives) does not make their need a necessity for the rest of the population. The free enterprise system has its own rules and ethical code, very seldom in line with the long-range vision and goals of conservationists. An “acreage for acreage” swap is simple-minded and naïve. No rhetorical argument using “reasonable” words like “biodiversity” can justify what is in fact a violation of Nature’s balance. When a business plan conflicts with a serious environmental issue, the "human" response should be to go back to the drawing board.