Conflict conservation: Biodiversity down the barrel of a gun (Economist)

[Editor's note: Featuring the DMZ on the Korean peninsula and Chagos Islands (Diego Garcia) of the Indian Ocean. Both of these features can be found in Natural Earth, the free GIS map of the world.]

Republished from the Economist. Feb 8th 2010

THERE was a time when conservation meant keeping people away from nature. America’s system of national parks, a model for similar set-ups around the world, was based on the idea of limiting human presence to passing visits, rather than permanent habitation.

In recent years this way of doing things has come under suspicion. To fence off large areas of parkland is often impractical and can also be immoral—in that it leads to local people being booted out. These days, the consensus among conservationists is to try to manage nature with humans in situ. But there are still “involuntary parks”, to borrow a phrase from the writer and futurist Bruce Sterling, that serve to illustrate just how spectacularly well nature can do when humans are removed from the equation.

Some such “parks” are accidents of settlement, or its absence. Nature is preserved in those rare places that people just have not got round to overrunning—for example the Foja Mountains in western New Guinea, an area of rainforest that teems with an astonishingly rich variety of plants and animals. Others are accidents of conflict: places from which people have fled and where the fauna and flora have thrived as a result.

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