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. 


The Tasmanian travesty

For only the second time ever, a nation is attempting to de-list a natural World Heritage site. 

Imperiled forests in Tasmania (photo by Bill Hatcher)

Imperiled forests in Tasmania (photo by Bill Hatcher)

The first time there was a good excuse: the tiny nation of Oman de-listed a World Heritage site designed to protect the endangered Arabian Oryx, after it became locally extinct.

Now, under the conservative Tony Abbott government, Australia is about to join the exceedingly short list of World Heritage failures, in order to open up rare forests in Tasmania for industrial logging. 

And this time, there is no good excuse--only a remarkable disregard for environmental concerns by the Abbott government, as documented here, here, and here

Peter Hitchcock, a leading environmental consultant and former director of the Wet Tropics Management Authority in Australia, weighs in on the fiasco, based on his testimony to the Australian Senate:   

The Australian Government is seeking approval of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to DELIST part of the magnificent Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, for the purpose of commercial logging.

Targeted are 74,000 hectares of globally outstanding tall eucalypt forests (often called tall eucalypt rainforests) and other habitats along the eastern margin of the World Heritage Area.

Tall eucalypt forests form only a narrow band along the eastern margin of the World Heritage Area, and in its present form that band provides ecological connectivity for habitats spanning around 180 kilometers.  The proposed delisting will destroy that connectivity and remove some of the grandest stands of tall eucalypt forests on the planet.

Where the giants still live...  (photo by Rob Blakers)

Where the giants still live...  (photo by Rob Blakers)

It gets worse.  The area proposed for delisting includes numerous other attributes of conservation importance including critical habitat for threatened species and plant communities, karst, caves, glacial features, a geological site, and more than 24 Aboriginal cultural sites including a Pleistocene archaeological site.

The Australian Government proposal demonstrates not just an appalling attitude to conservation and World Heritage, but sets a dangerous precedent globally.  If a relatively wealthy nation like Australia cannot sustain its World Heritage commitments, how could we ever fault a poorer nation for failing to do so?

The Australian submission to the World Heritage Committee is so full of misinformation that if the Committee were to approve the submission, its reputation would be severely tarnished.  Tragically, we would lose the one opportunity we have to protect the most globally outstanding tract of temperate tall eucalypt forest, in the context of a World Heritage site.


ALERT's efforts to protect rhino reserve gaining traction

ALERT is helping to lead international efforts to protect Chitwan National Park in Nepal from large-scale railroad and roading projects (see 'Heart of the Jungle' blog below).  Chitwan is a global wonder--a World Heritage site that harbors over 700 wildlife species, including a fifth of the world's one-horned rhinoceros.

Chitwan--where the rhinos roam (photo by Grzegorz Mikusinski)

Chitwan--where the rhinos roam (photo by Grzegorz Mikusinski)

We are happy to report our efforts are beginning to gain some momentum:

-ALERT's recent press release on Chitwan was circulated to hundreds of media outlets globally, a number of which published the release or wrote brief stories about it.

- The Ecologist has just published an excellent article on this issue, using information we helped to provide.

- Members of the European Commission we briefed are showing strong interest in the issue, and are considering contacting the Nepalese delegation about it. 

- An online petition to protect Chitwan has just been started at Avaaz.  Please sign the petition and ask your friends and colleagues to do likewise!

This is still very early days and your help is needed.  Please circulate the Avaaz petition and the link for The Ecologist story widely.