Preservation Of Natural Habitats And Ecosystems

9.2.1 National Parks

Natural resource policies aim to provide people the opportunity to enjoy and benefit from natural environments evolving by natural processes with minimal influence by human actions. The National Park Service (NPS) will ensure that lands within park boundaries are protected. Where parks contain nonfederal lands, the NPS uses cost-effective protection methods. Preservation of the character and resources of wilderness areas designated within a park, while providing for appropriate use, is the primary management responsibility. The National Parks and Conservation Association is a national nonprofit membership organization dedicated to defending, promoting, and enhancing our national parks, and educating the public about the NPS. It was established in 1919 to protect parks and monuments against private interests and commercialism and to block inappropriate development within parks. Most recently, this organization has done a magnificent job of mobilizing citizen action to prevent clear-cutting of timber and mining within and adjacent to national parks. They have also helped to protect these parks from undue human intrusion with recreational vehicles, helicopters, campers, and "vehicles" of all types (including boats, jeeps, motorcycles, mountain bikes, snowmobiles, and dune buggies). Limiting access to the national parks because of "people pressure" and consequent over-crowding has become the norm. Together, these efforts help but citizen action groups such as the National Parks and Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Fund, and the many other organizations who operate in the individual states, must be ever vigilant and ready for concerted action.

9.2.2 Sustainable Biopreserves for Indigenous Peoples

Based on a recent United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the U.S. has placed forest management and protection as a priority of UNCED. Further, discussions by U.S. government agencies and nongovernmental organizations have concluded that a provision needs to be included on the needs of indigenous peoples who use the forests for their livelihood, social organization, or cultural identity, and who have an economic stake in sustainable forest use.1 Actions include promoting means for indigenous peoples and members of local communities to actively participate in decision-making processes for any proposed forest-related actions where their interests are affected.1 Other propositions are to identify ways to enhance the value of standing forests through policy reform, more accurately reflecting the costs and benefits of alternative forestry activities, in addition to identifying economically valuable forest species, including timber and nontimber species, and the development of improved and sustainable extraction methods.2

Nabhan3 has indicated that the following criteria offer the best guidelines for ensuring that indigenous peoples and other peasant communities benefit from applied ethnobotanical development, and that projects sustain rather than deplete or destroy biodiversity.

• The project should attempt to improve the objective and subjective well-being of local communities rather than seeking cheap production sites and importing inexpensive labor.

• Cultivation in fields or agroforestry management should be considered if there are threats that wild harvests will deplete the resource.

• Wildland management and sensitive harvesting practices should be introduced in cases where the resource might sustain economic levels of extraction in the habitat.

• The plant(s) chosen should offer multiple products or be adapted to diversified production systems.

• When possible, programs should build on local familiarity, use, and conservation traditions for the plant being developed.

• If possible, these programs should be based on locally available genetic resources, technologies, and social organizations to enable local people to retain control over the future of the resource.

We now turn to the topic of ethnobotany and the sustainable use of plant resources based on work of the World Wildlife Fund, UNESCO, and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, United Kingdom. The People and Plants initiative is creating support for ethnobotanists from developing countries who work with local people on issues relating to conservation of plant resources and indigenous ecological knowledge. Rather than promoting the discovery and marketing of new products, emphasis is placed on subsistence use and small-scale commercialization of plants which benefit rural communities. In cases of large-scale commercialization of wild plants, emphasis is on improving harvesting methods and mechanisms that allow communities an increasing share of profits.4

One example is provided by the Kuna Indians of Panama. They have successfully established the world's first internationally recognized forest park created by indigenous people. The reserve provides revenues directly to the Kuna from the sale of research rights, and from ecotourists who come to learn about the rainforest. Coupled with this, it helps protect and preserve their native heritage. Scientists conducting research in the park are required to hire the Kuna to assist and accompany them during their stay. The Kuna control access to sites and require reports on all research. These terms allow the Kuna to patrol and protect outlying areas while learning from the scientists.

Head and Heismann,5 in Lessons of the Rainforest, tell about the organization called Environmental Restoration in Southern Colombia. It is composed of 56 Indian communities that are organized to protect Indian lands, resources, culture, and rights in an area where the forest has been destroyed by mines and cattle ranches. The organization began a forestry program with three tree nurseries which provided seedlings to those communities that agree to plant a minimum of 1000 trees of native species. To date, one community has completed nine reforestation programs.

9.2.3 Work of the Nature Conservancy

The main objective of the Nature Conservancy is to protect plants, animals, and ecological communities that represent biodiversity. To do this, they rely on conservation science to guide their work. Conservation science programs encompass biological, ecological, and technological knowledge that is used to identify and protect sensitive biodiversity, and in management methods and practices used to ensure its survival. The Natural Heritage Program and the Conservation Data Center Network programs collectively track in their databases the protected status and locations of rare and endangered species and ecological communities. Over the past 4 decades, the Nature Conservancy has protected more than 8.1 million acres (3.28 million ha) of habitat based on information about the location, range, and status of rare species. This number is even higher for total acreage protected to date — 9.3 million acres (3.77 million ha) of land in the U.S. and 40 million acres (16.19 million ha) throughout Latin America, the Carribean, and the Asia/Pacific regions. Indeed, it operates the largest system of privately owned nature preserves in the world.

In carrying out its work, the Nature Conservancy addresses ecological function and influences of people and develops better conservation planning methods and tools that will allow planning across immense biologically defined regions and the range of a particular ecological community. Stewardship of land and its resources are an important component of the work of the Conservancy. In protecting areas identified as critical for biodiversity protection, boundaries of those areas are carefully chosen to encompass important biological components and the ecological processes that sustain them. Its presence in local communities enables it to address ecosystem protection, find solutions to environmental problems, and form partnerships. An organization-wide network electronically links all the Nature Conservancy's offices to support the information systems plan which provides up-to-date information.6

9.2.4 Conservation of Medicinal Plants in Belize, Central America*

Of the medicines of the world, 80% have been derived from plants of tropical forests. These forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Perhaps the greatest source of destruction comes from the poor local farmers who do not have access to any other land. They clear sections of forests to plant their crops. While these farmers need to eat, what will happen to all of the medicinal resources and research when these forests are gone? Even more pressing, what is being done to ensure the continued success of these highly useful plants, and to preserve the forests in which these species live along with many thousands of animal species?7

A tropical rainforest is unlike most other forests of the world in that it is climax vegetation. This means that, left alone, it is self-renewing and ecologically stable. When logging, farming, or any other outside influences occur, this can only result in degradation. This makes the concept of conservation quite simple. The best way to protect a tropical rainforest is to preserve it, banning any interference, including management. It is a rare occurrence for people nowadays to see a forest which is truly old-growth and pristine. Because there are so few of these forests left, those remaining are often believed to be in need of management and even betterment. But when these forests are influenced in these ways, they lose stability, thereby making continued management necessary. In other words, the best action we can take is to leave these pristine forests alone.8 But how can we utilize all of the nontimber resources (such as medicinal plants) of the tropical forest if they are set aside as preserves, thus limiting our access to them? An encouraging example of conservation of tropical forests for medicinal plants can be found in the small Central American country of Belize9 (Figure 9.1). In l988, the Belize Center for Environmental Studies, along with the Ix Chel Tropical Research Foundation and the Institute of Economic Botany

* This section has been prepared by Stacie Klein, a 1977 graduate of the University of Michigan. She worked with Dr. Rita Arvigo on medicinal plants of the tropical rainforests of Belize and has prepared this essay based on her studies there.

FIGURE 9.1 Map of Belize, Central America. (Modified from Arvigo, R., Sastun, Harper/Collins, Publishers, San Francisco, 1994.)

of The New York Botanical Garden founded the Belize Ethnobotany Project (BEP).10 Their intent was to record how all of the many different peoples of Belize (including Mayan, Gariuna, Ladino, Mennonite, Creole, and more) utilized the plants of their particular region(s).11 With the help of traditional healers from these different Belizean peoples, many of the plants have been collected and chemically screened by the National Cancer Institute in hopes of finding medicines for cancer and HIV.12 In addition, several of the herbs collected are prepared and sold as home remedies locally and abroad. These are marked with titles such as "Rainforest Remedies" or "Agapi". With correct supervision, such products have much potential for adding to the financial gain of the community. If the locals can make enough money to survive off of these products, then there will be less destruction of the forests due to their farming.

In l993, the Belizean government put aside a piece of tropical forest (6000 acres, ca. 2400 ha) to be used as a "government forest reserve, for the purpose of providing a source of native plants used locally in traditional medicines."12 The hope was that the research, tourism, and traditional medicine collection of this area would serve to financially reward the local community, to allow for connections and idea-exchange between healers and scientists, and to educate all involved. The reserve is still in its beginning stages, but there is much positive outlook, as it is a pioneer in the field of ethnobotany. This project, stemming from the BEP (which was mostly an attempt to record data), has so far served to educate scientists, local and foreign citizens/governments, and educators. It has linked all of these people together, and they have formed a connection to the many traditional healers involved in the project.9 The project, therefore, has been successful in emphasizing the importance of the connection between flora, fauna, medicine, and the different people of an area.

As we have seen in the example of Belize, a key method of keeping rainforests intact is to make the production of nontimber products from the forests economically and academically rewarding to the surrounding community. If the locals and natives benefit, then they will not only be less likely to clear the forest for farming but also they will be more protective of it, as it will be the source of their livelihood. Belize has thus shown that people and the forests can benefit from and live in harmony with each other. In this way, this small, developing country has set an encouraging example for the rest of the world to follow.

For more information on this topic, contact:

• Shaman Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 213 Grand Avenue, South San Francisco, CA 94080-4812.

• Michael J. Balick, Institute of Economic Botany, The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY 10458-5126.

• Drs. Rosita Arvigo and Gregory Shropshire, Co-Founders, Ix Chel Tropical Research Foundation, San Ignacio, Cayo District, Belize, Central America.

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