Discerning the Limits of Providence in the Nineties and Beyond
The recently closed era of Amazon conservation was impressive in many ways. Perhaps never before had science been given so great a role in conservation policy, nor had respect for biological resources been such a constant presence in decision making, at least during the earlier years. The IBDF's and SEMA's programs were models of pragmatism, of how to fit conservation into highly politicized environments without losing sight of basic goals. The programs brought millions of hectares of rainforest and other tropical ecosystems under public protection.
Yet there was an impermanence to these successes: the conservation gains of the era now seem as much a part of the past as do the programs responsible for them. In some cases--Rio Trombetas, for example--conservation's gains faded into history as the region took on a new identity. Other protected areas like Pacaás Novos, and even the most successful ones like Jaú, became passive entities, waiting for the future--in the form of expanded Indian rights, new development initiatives, shifting sociopolitical power, or the ebb of international support--to overtake and erase them.
This failure to post more than temporary gains was the greatest shortcoming of Amazon conservation during the era examined here. To be sure, nature was not so reduced as to make future conservation efforts impossible, which conservationists of the 1960s and 1970s feared would be the cost of their generation's failure, but the institutional defenses of Amazon biota were no stronger at the end of the era than at the beginning. This meant more was lost than gained. Future conservation programs will protect a region whose natural defenses of remoteness and size are less formidable; they will face