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…

What is the extractive sector doing at a conservation congress?

Mining that transforms a rainforest into a moonscape, habitat into toxic tailing ponds. Oil exploration that leaves rivers polluted. Banks that finance these operations, cashing in while pristine areas bear the cost. For a long time, the private sector was the antagonist of conservation. Environmentalists only knew to confront corporations through protest and opposition.

That story has taken a slight turn, at least evidenced at the World Parks Congress. Businesses were explicitly recognized as an important stakeholder in preserving the integrity of protected areas. Several extractive sector representatives from Rio Tinto, Shell, BHP Biliton and DeBeers, to name a few, were actively engaged in the Congress, and discussions on the intersection of business and biodiversity were well-attended by those working in conservation. Rio Tinto had a strong presence…

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…

Telling Conservation Stories

There were many narratives at the World Parks Congress—conservation for justice, conservation for development, conservation for indigenous culture, conservation for ecosystem services, conservation to prevent climate collapse, conservation for all of the above—and so conservation becomes infinitely complicated, multifaceted, difficult to define.  Of course conservation should be complicated because resource use, ownership, and access are complicated, as are balancing the needs/wants of the present and future.  But all too often these complicated narratives blend and confound conservation methods (poverty reduction, education) with motivations and results (ten thousand hectares of forest unlogged or seas unfished).  In promising to deliver everything, these conservation narratives lose authenticity.

Enter Harvey Locke, one of the many interesting individuals we had the opportunity to sit down with at the World Parks Congress.  Harvey was a…

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…

An Island Vibe at the World Parks Congress

At any conference, it’s always good to break up the daily routine of PowerPoints and panels with a bit of color, a bit of fun. After all, networking is one of the main goals of events like this week’s World Parks Congress (WPC), and many important connections have been made over drinks or meals intermixed within the usual conference schedule. Leading the way in this respect during the WPC has clearly been the WIN Pacific Pavilion, which is a collaboration between a number of Pacific organizations, including IUCN Oceania, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP), and ­­­­­the World Indigenous Network (WIN).

This pavilion, set in the middle of the congress’ main hall, has been described as the heart of the congress. Regularly you can pass by…

On electric dragons and building a unified voice of the Pacific

The vaka is the heart and the spirit of the community. Its sails sewed together and painted by hand.   Its mast felled from the forest at the center of the island, its floorboards originated from the same stand. This canoe is guided by nature. Its double-hauls are pushed forward by the wind and its power comes by way of the sun.  The lead navigator looks to the stars for direction, feeling the waves for confirmation on their bearing.  When the winds are silent, the vaka bobs, listlessly.  The crew throws fishing lines off the back reeling in tuna, finishing the first before throwing the line out again to catch the next. Each night, under the light of a billion stars, stories are told.

Across the hundreds of events that…

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…

Foresters with Talent

I think there’s always a trepidation when beginning to think about returning to school after spending time working, traveling, or taking time off, as there’s a perception that graduate school becomes a vortex of the “all-work and no-play” mindset. While this, to some extent, is a totally true of the F&ES Program, I’ve found that this school supports and encourages social events just as much as it emphasizes academic and professional networking.

Most students here are creative. It makes sense; as environmental professionals and scientists, we’re asked to find new and innovative approaches to help conserve, protect, manage, and use the environment in ways that promote diversity, social justice, and economic prosperity. In this way, our student body is highly diverse in that it brings together thinkers from different…

Nature Needs Half

A bold statement is reverberating across the International Union for Conserving Nature’s World Parks Congress: Nature needs half. Conservation must think big. It must plan at the scale nature requires. True conservation of nature necessitates that large spaces be protected. As many wilderness managers, research scientists and policy makers have been reiterating throughout the World Parks Congress, this means half of the world’s land and marine ecosystems must be conserved.

The arguments supporting the Nature Needs Half movement range from strict ecological rationales, to climate change mitigation strategies and to emotional pleas for better protection of the earth.

Migratory species threatened by climate change especially need protected spaces where habitat remains. Only spaces geographically large enough and ecologically rich enough can provide the quality and quantity to keep…