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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The priority of biological diversity conservation in forest land-use decision-making Wood, Paul Malcolm


This thesis addresses one aspect of the following question: ‘On what basis should governments make forest land-use decisions?’ It focuses on biodiversity conservation, and explores a connection between this issue and the legitimacy of curtailments on government action (or majority rule) in a constitutional democracy. I conclude that biodiversity conservation is a legitimate constraint on the public interest and this carries implications for constitutional and statutory legal reform. World-wide, biodiversity (in the form of species at least) is rapidly being depleted due to human activities, particularly as manifested in land-use patterns. The cumulative effects are potentially catastrophic, and future generations will be the most likely to experience these effects. This leads to two central issues. First, what is biodiversity and why is it valuable? Second, how and to what extent should the interests of future generations be taken into account in forest land-use decisions? Biodiversity is a multidimensional concept, but admits to one root idea: it refers to the differences among biological entities. Thus biodiversity and its anthropocentric value can be clearly distinguished from biological resources (actual or potential) and their respective values. The claim is made that biodiversity is valuable because it is a necessary precondition for the very existence of biological resources in the long term. The thesis examines the three most prominent criteria for determining the public interest in public forest land-use decision-making: utility maximization, economic efficiency, and consensus among stakeholders in negotiation, and concludes that none can meaningfully or appropriately handle future generations’ interests. Instead, by drawing on a selection of five political theories, the thesis finds that in a liberal democracy biodiversity must be conserved for the sake of future generations even if it is not in the existent public interest to do so. Thus state authority must be curtailed in order to prevent the existent public from exerting a ‘tyranny of the majority’ over future generations by way of preemptive land-uses that may deplete biodiversity. Consequently, biodiversity conservation must take priority in forest land-use decisions. The implications for constitutional and statutory legal reform are discussed.

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