Imperiled parks -- the 'new normal'?

Protected areas are our single best hope for conserving nature.  But as the human populace expands, more and more parks are facing a growing array of threats.  Are imperiled parks becoming the 'new normal'?

Too many pressures on parks... (photo by William Laurance)

Too many pressures on parks... (photo by William Laurance)

As examples, here's a smattering of recent news about imperiled parks:

- A British petroleum corporation will soon begin seismic testing inside Virunga National Park, a famed World Heritage site in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Just last week, Virunga's Chief Warden was gravely wounded by unknown gunmen, and in the last decade more than 140 park rangers have been murdered there. 

- In Thailand, illegal logging is so plaguing another World Heritage site, the Dong Phayayen - Khao Yai Forest Complex, that the IUCN has recommended it be classified as a "World Heritage Site in Danger".  The Thai government is now making a belated attempt to combat illegal logging in the park.

- A recent study by E. Bernard and colleagues has documented 93 instances in which national parks in Brazil have been downsized or de-gazetted since 1981.  Such actions have increased markedly in frequency since 2008, the authors say.

- As highlighted in recent ALERT blogs and press releases, national parks in Ecuador, New Zealand, and Australia are also facing an array of new challenges.

An apt analogy is the little Dutch boy, desperately sticking his fingers into a dyke that is springing ever more leaks. 

But what choice do we have?  Even a struggling park is far better than no park at all. 


Ecuador, China in shady deal to exploit Amazon nature reserve

Talk about double-dealing.  While pressuring the world to pay it a fortune not to drill for oil in its iconic Yasuni National Park, Ecuador was secretly cooking up a $1 billion deal with China--to drill for oil at Yasuni!

Giant river otters frolic at Yasuni--for now at least

Giant river otters frolic at Yasuni--for now at least

Yasuni is often called the 'jewel of the Amazon'--arguably one of the most important national parks in the world, and quite possibly the most biologically diverse. 

The park also overlays sizable petroleum deposits, estimated at 840 million barrels.  To agree not to construct roads and drilling facilities in the park, Ecuador's president Rafael Correa wanted donors to pony up $3.6 billion.

Not surprisingly, that figure was ultimately too much for the international community to raise, although over $300 million was committed by various donors.  So, in August 2013, Correa unilaterally canceled the no-drill-for-cash offer.

Many were upset by the outcome, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio.  But it turns out it was probably just a faux deal anyway--a way for Correa to provide himself with political cover for his decision to drill away at Yasuni. 

As badly as this reflects on Correa, China doesn't come out looking good either--although experienced observers won't be surprised.  As we've seen again and again, China can be highly predatory in pursuing the natural resources it wants.  

Sadly, one of the world's most important parks will suffer for it.