Reclaiming Eden: Biological and Cultural Conservationism. (Review Essays)

By Chatty, Dawn | Harvard International Review, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Reclaiming Eden: Biological and Cultural Conservationism. (Review Essays)


Chatty, Dawn, Harvard International Review


They are called paradises on earth, but all is not well in the protected areas of the world. Regions considered protected in government statistics and maps sometimes lack real protection in fact, while many of the protected areas that do exist face a variety of threats, including illegal poaching, plant extraction, logging, mining, pollution, and climate change. "Protected" areas are often in need of protection themselves, and many indigenous people living inside these areas are also threatened.

With the World Parks Congress set to take place in Durban, South Africa, in fall 2003, Squandering Paradise?, a freely available report produced by the World Wildlife Fund, is as pertinent today as when it was published in 2000. From the volume's introduction, one expects to find a balanced account of the current state of the world's protected areas as well as a discussion of indigenous peoples' roles in the establishment, maintenance, and support of these special pockets on the earth's surface. Set out in five parts, the report opens with an overview of the extent of the global protected-areas network, identifying the degrees of threat to these areas, examining the phenomenon of "paper parks" and also investigating the underlying causes of threats to protected areas. It then details the growing threats to the world's protected areas, focusing on land-use changes and the rise in the extraction of resources such as oil, gas, gold, and copper. The authors also discuss external threats including indigenous resis tance and civil wars.

This section is followed by a summary of previous surveys of protected areas. Among the most interesting is the work undertaken by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in its Parks in Peril (PiP) program launched in 1990. Initiating a broad analysis of the ecological, social, and political issues faced by parks in the PiP portfolio, TNC emerged with a report that showed that virtually all the parks studied were vulnerable to large-scale threats that had their origins far from the park boundaries. These threats include pollution, mining, road construction, timber poaching, tourism development, telephone and electricity infrastructure, agricultural expansion, overgrazing, and government-sponsored colonization. In other studies, the clear challenge that emerged for managers of protected areas was the reconciliation of the local community's demands for resources and incomes from the protected area with the requirements of biodiversity conservation. National laws often officially prohibit access to almost all the resource s in a protected area. However, some local communities have been managing these resources long before the establishment of the national park or sanctuary and have few other options. Suddenly restricting their access to land and resources they regard as their own causes hostility and sometimes severe hardship.

The volume ends with a detailed set of case studies undertaken by the authors and selected to illustrate the somewhat theoretical issues addressed in earlier sections of the book. The 26 cases cover a broad geographical range from North, Central, and South America, Africa, Europe, and Southeast and South Asia to New Zealand. Of these, two case studies in particular relate the concerns of indigenous peoples or local communities to difficulties in managing the land as a nature preserve: Ethiopia's Simen Mountain National Park and Pakistan's Khunjerab National Park both face serious threats to their well-being.

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