The Environment in Anthropology: A Reader in Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Living

By Nora Haenn; Richard R. Wilk | Go to book overview

Chapter Twenty-Two
Holding Ground

Kent Redford, Katrina Brandon, and Steven Sanderson


Conservation Clichés

“The parks frontier is closed.” According to the logic that produced this cliché, empty spaces are gone, so there can be no more parks created. But, increasingly, we realize that there was very little empty space to start with, and that parks and other types of protected areas have almost always been created on top of existing populations or areas used by someone. When this cliché is used, it is often in a hopeful sense—hopeful that the political will does not exist to generate new parks in areas occupied or claimed by people. Yet recent statistics show that the number and extent of protected areas created in 1990-94 exceeded that of any previous five-year period (WCMC, cited in Oryx 1997).

“Empowerment of local communities will save more biodiversity than will parks”' This cliché is based on the assumption that there is such a thing as local people who operate in a cohesive community fashion. All too often this is not the case (Agarwal, in press). As Borrini-Feyerabend (1996) states, “Communities are complex entities, within which differences of ethnic origin, class, caste, age, gender, religion, profession, and economic and social status can create profound differences in interests, capacities and willingness to invest in the management of natural resources.” It is clearly not that communities are “bad” but rather that they must not be stereotyped. Some will actively work to conserve some components of biodiversity; others will not, and have not.

“People have created biodiversity, so they are essential to its survival.” As with many of these clichés, this one contains a grain of truth. Biodiversity is a social invention; people are its inventors as a meaningful concept. However, that does not mean that manipulation of biodiversity leads to its conservation. Furthermore, this cliché erroneously assumes that human influence in the selection of certain species and the structure of certain ecosystems has resulted in changes that would not be maintained in the absence of humans. It further incorrectly assumes that the sort of selection practiced by earlier human generations continues to be practiced by contemporary peoples.

Reprinted from Parks in Peril: People, Politics, and Protected Areas, edited by Kent Redford, Katrina Brandon,
and Steven Sanderson, pp. 458–464. © 1998, granted permission by Island Press.

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