15 May 2008

People versus Tigers (or Loggers)

This story fits the familiar framework of Baptists and Bootleggers. Conservationist forces (Baptists) in India are pushing to remove people from "natural reserves" to allow endangered tiger populations to recover. The evictions, however, have given local politicians and their logging buddies (Bootleggers) the opportunity to plant commercial varieties of trees for harvest -- tigers be damned.
While the alleged purpose of the evictions was wildlife conservation, teak and eucalyptus plantations eventually replaced more than 40 of the evacuated hamlets.


No cultivation of any kind was allowed, despite the fact that local Adivasi farming practices never cut down trees, plowed land or used pesticides or fertilizers. All hunting was banned and no livestock or pets were allowed. The gathering of tubers, mushrooms and wild vegetables was forbidden, and most sacred sites and burial grounds were placed off limits. However, these limitations did not seem to satisfy all conservation NGOs.

[big snip]

Gujjars and tigers have coexisted in Sariska for thousands of years. The decline in tiger population is a consequence of development —- large dams, iron mines and the shifting appetites of distant elites -— not the lifeways of forest dwellers whose habitats have likewise been threatened by the same phenomena. “Why then punish one victim to save the other?” asks Indian historian Ramachandra Guha.


“Conservationists who believe that wildlife can be protected in such circumstances are living in a fool’s paradise,” according to Ashish Kothari. “Even while the rest of the world moves toward environmental policies that reconcile wildlife conservation with human rights and justice, India is headed in completely the opposite direction.”


Kothari is part of a global network of pioneers, many of them prophets-without-honor in their own countries, pushing for community-based co-management of conservation, and community-conserved areas where local communities decide on their own to conserve local biodiversity for political, cultural, spiritual or ethical reasons.
Bottom Line: Local people can solve local resource problems if they are given the power to do so. Outsiders and elites are more likely to create problems or extract wealth (respectively) than a community that is given the responsibility of managing its resources. After all, local poor people will live in the area long after the latte-swigging aid workers and rich jet back to their urban enclaves.

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