Conservation is crucial. And controversial

Conservation is crucially important. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List includes more than 22,000 species threatened with extinction. For 85% of these species, habitat loss is the main problem.

Poaching, encroachment for agriculture, logging concessions, illegal logging, industrial tree plantations, palm oil plantations, cattle ranching, mining, hydropower dams, road construction, are just some of the drivers of the destruction of the worlds rainforests.

Meanwhile climate change is making things worse. The Brazilian Amazon has seen “one in a century” droughts in 2005 and 2010. This year’s El Niño-driven conditions are far drier than both of those years. So far this year, the Amazon has seen more fires than in 2005 and 2010.

Time for action

Speaking on the eve of the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, IUCN’s director Inger Andersen, told New Security Beat that,

“The time for talk is done; it is now the time for action. The story is disruptive change. Disrupt the current paradigm, because what we’re doing is good but not enough.”

Tumba Lediima

But conservation is also controversial.

The main mechanism for protecting biodiversity is the establishment of protected areas. According to the 2014 United Nations List of Protected Areas there are now 209,000 protected areas (including marine protected areas).

Protected Areas map

Many of these protected areas were inhabited or regularly used by Indigenous Peoples. Far too often people have been kicked out to make way for conservation.

This is conservation’s dark side. Indigenous peoples and local communities end up paying the price for protected areas.

Mount Elgon, Uganda

In 2006, I travelled to Uganda to investigate a carbon tree planting project on the boundary of the Mount Elgon National Park.

Before I went there, I’d read about evictions from the park and about how the Ugandan Wildlife Authority’s rangers had destroyed people’s housing and cut down their food crops. The people evicted had to move to neighbouring villages where they lived in mosques and caves.

But I wasn’t prepared for the daily reality that the communities faced living around the border of the park. UWA’s rangers were armed and received paramilitary training. Stories of abuse were rife.

Villagers told of violence and threats from UWA rangers. One man was beaten and taken to the police. Another had wounds on his chin where UWA rangers had hit him with a rifle. Another had a broken hand, after being beaten by UWA rangers.

A villager was forced to eat the intestines of a mouse. UWA rangers forced a man to have sex with a goat. Another time, they forced men to have sex with each other.

Mount Elgon

One man opened up an envelope containing bullet shells. He said,

“The bullets were shot by people trying to kill us. Some people have died. Others have been injured.”

Not only bad news

This website, Conservation Watch, will help expose cases of human rights abuse in the name of conservation. We urgently need to shift to a new way of doing conservation, where the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities are respected.

Studies by the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the World Bank show that deforestation is significantly lower in community-managed forests than in strictly protected forests.

Conservation Watch will also feature stories of positive examples of community-based conservation. Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend, the Global Coordinator of the ICCA Consortium, has contributed a Guest Post about a community managed fishery in Casamance, Senegal.

Once a week, Conservation Watch will do a round-up of the week’s news on national parks, protected areas and conservation in the Global South. These links are provided as an information service, regardless of the point of view expressed in the article.

Conservation Watch will also feature interviews with conservation practitioners, Indigenous Peoples, academics, NGOs, activists, and funders of conservation.

Other posts will include reviews of books, academic papers, NGO reports, and news items.

Above all, I look forward to hearing from you, whether you have suggestions for new posts, comments on posts, ideas for a Guest Post, or suggestions for improving the website.

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