In Turkey, where conservation tends to get short shrift,
environmentalists are excited about a plan to create a 58,000-acre
wildlife corridor in hopes of bolstering dwindling populations of
wolves, bears, and lynxes.
"This is an Armenian plot," mutters a farmer as ecologists
explain what may be Turkey's most ambitious wildlife conservation
project ever, right in his backyard.
But in fact, the government is behind it. This summer, officials
expect to begin the reforestation of a 58,000-acre corridor of land
that will connect the isolated Sarikamis National Park and its
shrinking population of wolves, bears, and lynxes to a swath of
territory in the Caucasus.
In a country where environmentalists are often greeted with
official hostility and public indifference, the plan has generated
rare optimism among scientists warning of an impending ecological
"This is the biggest landscape-scale active conservation project
ever undertaken in the country," says Cagan Sekercioglu, a professor
of biology at the University of Utah who proposed the corridor.
"We're hoping this will reduce human-predator contact and encourage
these animals to access much larger and more resource-rich forests
along the Black Sea and Caucasus."
But near the route of the corridor, which will run close to the
border with Turkey's historic enemy Armenia, ecologists got mixed
reactions from villagers. "Why can't the government just fence the
wolves inside the park?" asked one sheep farmer.
Onder Cirik, projects coordinator for KuzeyDoga, the wildlife
charity founded by Mr. Sekercioglu that has spearheaded the corridor
project, says that ecological awareness is poor. "People in Turkey
have no idea of the importance of biological diversity and of how
fast it is being lost."
When it comes to wildlife, Turkey has a lot to lose. Sitting
astride one of the world's most biologically diverse nontropical
regions, it hosts more known endemic species than all of Europe
combined, with some 3,000 plants unique to the country.
New plants and animals are found at a rate faster than one a
week. The Taurus ground squirrel was first discovered only in 2007.
But as the economy booms - growing an estimated 8.3 percent last
year - housing and roads are taking precedence over conservation.
Ecologists accuse the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)
of striking down environmental safeguards whenever they conflict
with its development plans.
Last August, the AKP abolished a network of independent
protection committees, casting into doubt the future of 1,261
smaller nature reserves.
National and international environment groups have condemned a
draft conservation law that they say aims to pave the way for
development in other protected lands. And ecologists are concerned
about a government irrigation and hydropower plan to create 4,000
dams, diversions, and hydroelectric power plants by 2023.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Forestry and Water Works said the
government is more alert than ever to environmental issues. …