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Where Conservation and Development Collide: Win-Wins or Trade-Offs?

by

Erin Myers Madeira

The Nature Conservancy's Senior Advisor, Global Lands

February 2015

Fisherman casting his net on the Amazon River in Brazil. Photo © Haroldo Palo, Jr.
Fisherman casting his net on the Amazon River in Brazil. Photo © Haroldo Palo, Jr.

In preparation for the latest episode of Earth A New Wild tonight, my daughter and I binge watched the first three episodes. In this new series by PBS and National Geographic, Sanjayan takes us on a journey to understand how people are shaping the planet’s wildest places.

From learning about how trained elephants are protecting villages by driving their wild cousins back to the forest to scientists dressed up in panda costumes to re-introduce pandas into the wild, I am a fan of the new series’ focus on the idea of the New Wild.

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for baby pandas and am amongst the millions who tuned into the PandaCam to watch Bao Bao explore his first snowfall. But what I appreciate about this series is that it looks at nature and people from a fresh perspective.

Nature is key to people, and people to nature.

This principle underpins much of my work at the Conservancy where I am a Senior Advisor focusing on how our work can improve local well-being and empower communities in land use decisions.

The Best Stewards

For example, indigenous people and forest-dependent communities are known to be some of the best stewards of the forest. By working with them to develop land use plans that account for their cultural and livelihood needs, we can help them get legal recognition for their land, and map out a long term sustainable development trajectory that incorporates forest-friendly development with the conservation of the forests that are important both for their cultural heritage and for the ecosystem services—food, water—and other things they provide.

The author eating cacao pulp during a trip to Sao Felix do Xingu, Brazil. © Erin Myers Maderia

So, it’s not a surprise that I liked the most recent episode about forests where Sanjayan and team journeyed deep into the Amazon, a trip not that dissimilar to one I made a couple years ago boarding a rickety canoe to travel far upriver to see the Conservancy’s work with the Apyterewa people in the Brazil’s Xingu watershed.

Let’s be honest—people are everywhere. We touch everything. Is there really any system on Earth that isn’t shaped in someway by man? And in so many landscapes it’s been that way for a really really long time.

Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing kayakers trek into wild, unexplored rivers but Sanjayan’s new series really resonated with me. My own roots are in a coastal town in Maine where fishing drives the local economy. Growing up, the connection between a thriving community and a thriving ecosystem was obvious.

Summer in Maine coastal harbor towns are always bustling with boats and people. Photo © Jen Molnar
Summer in Maine coastal harbor towns are always bustling with boats and people. Photo © Jen Molnar

But in today’s world where development puts so much pressure on the environment, it is hard not to worry about whether people and nature can continue to co-exist. I look at the fishermen I knew growing up who were committed to maintaining a healthy coastal ecosystem so that their children could continue their way of life. Are local efforts alone enough? Of course not—we need regulations and programs that encourage sustainable resource use, whether through carrots or sticks.

"But at the heart of any thriving landscape, it seems you always find people who are committed to a future where they are stewards of a natural environment that is absolutely critical to their way of life."
- Erin Myers Madeira

When I visit different communities all over the world, I am constantly inspired by those that have taken control of decision about how their land is used, and have developed long-term plans that will result in more conservation, as well as a thriving local economy. Even though the geographies are different, the theme is the same: how to improve their way of life and the natural resources that make it possible. However, these examples are not as widespread as they could be, and there are also examples where conservation efforts and development interests are in conflict.

Dean Yiburk, an aboriginal elder and guide to Arnhem Lands in Australia talks with the Conservancy’s Northern Australia program director Geoffrey Lisett-Moore. Photo © Ted Wood
Dean Yiburk, an aboriginal elder and guide to Arnhem Lands in Australia talks with the Conservancy’s Northern Australia program director Geoffrey Lisett-Moore. Photo © Ted Wood

Exploring the Connections Between Conservation and Local Development

For the next several months, I’m going to be writing a regular blog series dedicated to exploring projects that aim to achieve environmental and local development goals. I’ll also examine whether conservation and local development efforts can really be mutually reinforcing.

We will look at Mayan farmers who are using federal agricultural programs to support their ancient farming traditions, indigenous tribes trying to access carbon markets, and other efforts around the world. In doing so, we are going to try to understand why some efforts succeed where others fail, and ask whether and how the successful models can be scaled up.

Follow this series to see how these different dynamics play out in the real world. In the coming weeks, I am going to be focusing my attention on the ethnomapping underway in Brazil’s Amazon. I’ll be reporting back on March 17th.

Above photo caption: The author eating cacao pulp during a trip to Sao Felix do Xingu, Brazil. © Erin Myers Maderia.


Originally Posted on Conservancy Talk

February 17, 2015