States have increased the pace and scale of conservation efforts in recent years as they strive to meet ambitious terrestrial and marine protected area targets. The ecological gains made in this push for protections, however, seem to be no better than if governments designated protected areas at random. Many critics point to states prioritizing quantity over quality of protections—rightly so—but this point does not fully explain the shortcomings of the global biodiversity network. The problem is more deeply rooted in the processes through which governments designate protected areas. Governments prioritize minimizing short-term commercial losses over maximizing long-term ecological gains in conservation policy processes, leading to two predominant types of protected area: residual and paper park. The causal mechanism driving these processes is how salient industry interests are in an area targeted for protections, which predicts government policy response, demonstrated here through case studies in Australia and the United States.

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