Back to barriers

One fruit of the new corporate thinking within conservation by the end of the 20th century was a re-assessment of both the community conservation debate (Chapter 5) and the idea of sustainable use (Chapter 8). A lively debate has developed between those who believed that conservation around and away from protected areas should be delivered through the community-based paradigm, and those who felt this was a mistake. Books such as John Oates' Myth and Reality in the Rainforest, on forest protected areas in West Africa, and John Terborgh's Requiem for Nature, drawing on his extensive experience in the rainforests of South America, carried conviction for many conservationists. Both were published in 1999. These were people who had devoted their lives to field research, and spoke with the passion of convinced conservationists and the impartial authority of their scientific credentials.

John Terborgh's conclusion after 'a lifetime of roaming the tropics in search of unspoiled nature' was that on the ground he found only 'inadequate parks, unstable societies and faltering institutions'. Many parks were not up the task assigned to them, and yet that task was vital, for strict protection of parks was the only viable strategy. Parks were 'the last bastions of nature'.24 John Oates argued that the theory that wildlife could best be conserved though promoting human economic development was a myth, and seriously flawed.25 He rightly noted that it made those who promoted it feel good, for it offered the best of both worlds, with both wildlife and people benefiting together. However, disastrously in his view, it led to a low priority for basic protection. Excessive emphasis on development can lead to a de-emphasis of conservation goals to the extent that they are no longer seriously addressed, as in the case of the Okumu Forest Reserve in south-west Nigeria.26 While at a rhetorical level it might therefore be desirable to argue that conservation and development can go hand in hand through a joint programme, he argued that development expenditure for conservation purposes may not give results that are effective in conservation terms.

Advocates of a return to strictly protected parks with hard barriers argue that conservation organizations need to rethink the 'conservation with development' approach. They also needed to return to the principles on which conservation organizations were founded, preserving nature for its intrinsic value and the aesthetic pleasures it brings people. Some are fierce in their calls for a strong regime of policing. John Terborgh bluntly argues that 'parks cannot be maintained without order and discipline'.27 This is not a discipline that can be generated from inside a local community — Terborgh is not a believer in woolly liberal ideas about people suddenly choosing to love nature, nor in the practical feasibility of creating institutions (such as markets) that will bring about conservation-orientated behaviour. Discipline needs to be imposed from above: 'active protection of parks requires a top-down approach because enforcement is invariably in the hands of police and other armed forces that respond only to orders from their commanders'.28 He actually suggests an international conservation police force to enforce protection of areas of international importance.

The 'back to barriers' movement draws on one observation that is certainly true. Parks as a whole have not been successful in ending the loss of biodiversity, particularly of attractive larger mammal species. John Oates catalogues the clearance of forest and the extinction of large mammals, particularly primates, in West Africa. John Terborgh laments the slow degradation of Manu National Park in Peru: 'Having lost the luster that made it one of the world's premier rainforest parks, and swelling with an ever larger and more assertive indigenous population, the Manu will imperceptibly pass from being a national park to being a reserve for its indigenous inhabitants'.29 One reason for the failure of protected areas to achieve their goals has been that planners have often not taken the true costs of conservation fully into account. In particular, despite the growth of ideas about 'community conservation' and 'parks for people' (Chapter 5), there has been too little recognition of who paid the costs of conservation.

The debate about protected areas therefore opens up the whole question of the relationship between conservation, sustainability, economy and poverty.

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