August 19, 2006

Supporting Conservation Efforts that Work: Nature Conservation Foundation

In one of Natasha's first posts from Costa Rica she wrote about the importance of considering human needs when looking at how to save the natural world.

Still, both Holl and Cole recognize that for reforestation to progress, part of the equation is finding ways for local people to support themselves. Whether itís planning sustainable hardwood harvests, farm diversification or just restoring damaged land so that it can be passed on to the next generation, there are a number of ways for interested local farmers to earn a living and bring the forest back.

It seems to me that a common perception of the environmental science field is that people working in it would just like all the humans to go away. While some sensitive areas may require special protection and other areas may be unsuitable for certain uses, the people Iíve met and whose work Iíve read seem to agree that itís as important for a landscape to support humans as to support animals. Environmental scientists may not always write about these social considerations, but they sure seem to talk about them a great deal in person. Even groups like the Nature Conservancy expend a lot of their efforts looking at ways to provide for edible landscapes and sustainable economic development.

She's been researching how effective growing shade grown coffee is in providing viable habitat for creatures while sustaining the farmers on the land. (But, as she notes, the farmer's success in making a living is dependent on the market costs of their product which these days make it difficult to rely only on farming.)

sea tortoise
Sea tortoise
Courtesy of MIT

Nevertheless, as she says, this is a major concern for environmental scientists where ever there are pressures due to human populations encroaching on the last wild ecosystems. The Galapagos Islands is a study in how to balance the needs of humans with the needs of saving this unique area for the future. Yet even far into the Pacific Ocean, it is an hard point of contention for the Ecuadorians who see the richness of the marine ecosystem as a place that could relieve the grinding poverty of that country if only they could fully exploit the sea.

Increasingly, the world's wild places and the last refuges of the wild creatures are being pressed by humans trying to make a living and no place is this more true than in East Asia, where the majority of humanity is now living.

India is a country that is particularly stressed in that they are one of the most populous countries in the world but is also home to some of the most beautiful, unique and precious ecosystems that are to be found. India has an incredibly rich variety of ecosystems which in turn are the home of the some of the incredible creatures that have captured the human imagination for most of human history. So how can India save their elephants, tigers and large apes?

Recently, I attended a talk by one of the founders of an organization in India that was tackling that very problem by using the very best of environmental and biological science to devise programs that work to balance nature and human needs.

The Nature Conservation Foundation is a small organization as it goes, but it has had a large impact on the science of conservation as they have numerous prestigious awards and grants for their innovative science. Their charter is to conduct research into wildlife ecology and human society.

Indian Elephant (Click to enlarge)
Courtesy of NCF

For example, to see if they could lessen the problems of human/elephant conflict, they put researchers out in the field to gather information about what was actually causing conflicts between humans and elephants and then came up with workable solutions that allowed them to coexist more peacefully.

Over the one-year study, we recorded 157 conflict incidents including one human death, one elephant death, and a monetary loss of about Rs. 750,000. Estates toward the centre of the Valparai plateau faced higher monetary losses, although estates closer to the protected area boundaries were more frequently visited by elephants. Elephant movement, activity, and conflict incidents were highest between November and February.

The recommendations from the study include: (a) protection of remnant forest vegetation that serve as refuges for elephants (and other wildlife) and stepping stones on movement corridors, (b) restoration of riverine vegetation and of select degraded sites with bamboo, (c) regulations of selective felling of Eucalyptus fuel-wood plantations, (d) prevention of further conversion to tea plantations and creation of obstacles to elephant movement, and (e) installing information and alarm systems to warn of elephant presence near colonies, and (f) modification of food grain storage and distribution systems.

Arunachal macaque
Arunachal macaque
Courtesy of the BBC

They are also conducting biological surveys in regions that have yet to be fully explored and have discovered new species such as the Arunachal macaque which was unknown to science as well as finding other species that no one knew were to be found in India. They've used their research to propose methods that local communities can take advantage of their location to benefit from conservation through creating wild reserves. And they are committed to educating the public about the issues and have put together outreach programs to facilitate that. Beyond that, they are actively working to increase the capacity for India and the world to solve these problems by helping train the next generation of young PhDs from all over the world who are interested in working in this field.

This is an organization that is doing some incredible work, currently on a shoestring. Much of their funding is done by winning scientific grants that help fund their research. Yet, what they are doing is so important, that they should be getting more public support. Visit their website to find out more about this remarkable group, investigate the quality of their work and consider donating something to their cause.

[Note: I'm trying to find out what's the best way to donate to their cause. I'll update the post when I have further information.]

Posted by Mary at August 19, 2006 03:48 PM | Environment | Technorati links |