Humans now actively manage the majority of land on Earth, and our footprint is found in nearly all remaining natural landscapes. It is no surprise that a debate about how to mix people and nature has emerged — dubbed “land sharing vs. land sparing” — that asks the question: How do we achieve the greatest conservation outcomes in a landscape given demands for food, fiber and fuel? Should we intensify production in one part of the landscape so that we may strictly protect (“spare”) the remainder?

Conservation organizations, along with corporate and government partners, are investing in both “sharing” (e.g., low-impact logging in Mexico, Guatemala, and Borneo) as well as “sparing” approaches (e.g., intensification of cattle ranching in Brazil). Yet none of these initiatives seem to have considered the empirical basis for choosing one approach over the other.

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