Getting Scale (and Context) Right

Imagine standing in a vast grassland, a gently undulating sea of grass underneath a cloudless blue sky. The only sound is the wind howling across the landscape, sending pale yellow stalks rippling in waves. You are tiny, no more significant than one of those blades of grass. This is the Daurian Steppe, the grasslands of eastern Mongolia.

Mongolian Steppe

It is the home of the Mongolian gazelle. They roam across an area of 250,000 square kilometers, approximately the size of Oregon. They move continuously across the landscape, following the greening of the grass. However, the location of the best grass changes from year to year, as rainfall patterns vary. A herd of gazelle might visit an area one summer, and…

No-Go at the WPC

The topic of no-go on industrial activity was salient at the 2014 World Parks Congress. It came up particularly in reference to conservation of World Heritage Sites, one of the conference’s cross-cutting themes. Natural World Heritage sites are internationally recognized as the world’s ecological jewels. They include the Galapagos Islands, the Grand Canyon, and the Great Barrier Reef, places so treasured they are recognized as having “Outstanding Universal Value” by the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, an international conservation framework ratified by 187 countries. Numbering only 200, they encompass less than 1 percent of the world’s surface and only 10 percent of all protected areas, yet, as one would reasonably expect, their immense ecological and cultural value earns them special designation among protected areas. The World Heritage Committee’s position has long…

Who's Gonna Stand Up?

The closing ceremony of the 2014 World Parks Congress capped a long week of discourse on the future of protected nature. It was a week of didactics, discussion, and occasional debate, impassioned at times but often fragmentary and frustrated. In the opening ceremony we’d been hit with over-the-top theatrics involving fog machines, cirque de solei acrobats, choreographed dancers, and one very distressed owl. The closing ceremony was notable less for its spectacle and more for its stifled political undertones, glimpses of an unspoken contentiousness underlying both the congress and conservation and sustainable development at large.

After warming up the audience with droning didgeridoos and chanting, the ceremony went promptly into high-ranking bureaucrats making wonderfully neutral speeches. Each began by acknowledging the “traditional owners of this land and elders past and present.” Manicured…

Why (do) We Fly

The total carbon footprint for my round trip flight to Australia – from New York JFK to Sydney via Beijing – amounts to 3.18 metric tons of CO2 equivalent. The 15 of us who went to Australia arrived on 7 different flights and left on 9, most with layovers. Conservatively estimated, each of those trips emitted 1.69 tons of CO2e. Our round trip flights to Australia emitted about 27 tons of carbon equivalent. According to the EPA, that’s equal to the total annual emissions from 5.7 passenger vehicles or the carbon sequestered by 22 acres of U.S. forest. Yikes.

Of the many experiences and reflections I have brought back with me from Sydney, I also return with inner conflict about the air miles we just logged…

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like . . . Exam Time

With my first F&ES semester coming to an end and finals just around the corner, I thought I would take a moment to answer one of the most common questions I get from visiting students: What are the exams like? As a joint MEM/law student who has spent the last two years in law school, the F&ES exam season is like a breath of fresh air! Current and former law students know the law school routine: at the end of each semester, you sit for three or four essay-based exams, where you write (or type) furiously for four hours in an attempt to convey all you have learned over the semester. Occasionally, there might be some multiple choice questions or short answers thrown in, and in upper level electives, you…

Credit: Screenshot from Twitter.com

After seven marathon days of projects, narratives, and figures, the World Parks Congress was winding down. The lessons from each stream were summarized, and a few master plenaries offered closure. One was dedicated to storytelling, a theme previously discussed by Clara Rowe in an earlier post. Panelists on this plenary were leaders in their respective communication fields: Beth Foster (Vice President of Communications for National Geographic Society), Thomas Friedman (award-winning journalist and author in the New York Times), Adrian Steirn (award-winning wildlife photographer), and Jeff Koinange (a host on the Kenya Television Network).

Their brief presentations under the heading “Inspiring Solutions – Communicating the Message and Stories for Protected Areas” were beyond refreshing, punctuated by stunning photography and fantastic anecdotes. Steirn used the example of…

Penan community, Sarawak. Toponyms are added to maps as they are recorded (Photo by Bruno Manser Fonds)

An indigenous leader walks around the land, stopping at sites used for hunting, collecting nuts, and worship. The points are recorded using a handheld GPS device and then transferred to a computer. These points are overlaid with other land uses in the territory, and a map is produced. The map shows where oil-drilling sites are located on the same place as the community’s ancient burial ground, and where pollution from the oil operations runs through their main water source. The community now has evidence to make a case against the company. This scene was a novelty just a few years ago, but today, it is a reality for many communities around the world.

Can technology and the way it lets us understand the world help indigenous and traditional communities…

Basking in the afterglow of a lovely Thanksgiving spent at home with my family in Pennsylvania, I thought it appropriate to take a moment and consider what I am most thankful for about F&ES! It’s been such a blessing to even have the opportunity to study here in the first place. But there are so many things about the school that make it an amazing, unique place to study the environment.

I’m thankful for the classes I’ve taken this semester and professors I’ve had, especially my land use and planning seminars. The professors have so much practical experience and expertise in their areas, and are so eager to share with students and really engage with the class. I’m also thankful that this semester, for the first time in two…

After the lines are drawn: The importance of protected areas governance

It’s tempting to think that once we declare a protected area protected, all the species, ecosystem services, and ecosystem functioning within the area will be conserved in perpetuity. Unfortunately, this is not the case. We cannot simply establish protected areas, draw lines on a map, and leave these areas alone. These areas, and the biodiversity within, are still subject to internal and external threats – threats like climate change, invasive species (like these flowers in Blue Mountains National Park), and poaching, to name a few. In order to ensure that protected areas will continue to function and conserve species well into the future, we need to also ensure that these areas are effectively managed. For this reason, one of the streams at the World Parks Congress was focused on…

Closing Plenary of the World Parks Congress: What is the Focus of Conservation for the Next Decade?

 

The closing plenary of the IUCN World Parks Congress was full of inspiring speeches and presentations summarizing the work achieved during the Congress. The closing plenary represents a week-long intense conference and many years preparation. Information presented during this final plenary gives insight into what conservation may look like going forward.

A key part of the IUCN World Parks Congress system was stream designation. To facilitate the many discussions occurring between the 6,000+ delegates, the congress was broken into 12 streams and cross-cutting themes. These represent some of the most important tenets of the conservation movement today. These calls to action for the next decade (until the 2024 IUCN World Parks Congress) will shape conservation for the next decade. Here I’ve listed the key information…