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For whom should we conserve the forests?
Somini Sengupta reports on the human impact of India’s burgeoning wildlife preserves in an article from the April 16th edition of The New York Times.
In Nagarhole National Park in India, the tiger population is thriving. K. Ullas Karanth, a wildlife biologist heading up the Wildlife Conservation Society’s India program, claims that Nagarhole, and its neighboring preserves in southern India, are home to one of the largest concentrations of tigers on the planet. But achieving this feat in wildlife conservation has come at great cost to the area's human inhabitants. The situation raises the question: for whom should India be conserving its forests?
This question has assumed added significance since India’s new forest land law has taken effect this year. The law formally recognizes the land rights of indigenous peoples who inhabit India’s forests, recognition that is instrumental in protecting forest peoples’ livelihoods. Yet according to critics like Karanth, guaranteeing the land rights of forest peoples is incompatible with preserving a robust tiger population. Karanth has worked assiduously with park officials to relocate hundreds of forest peoples out of sanctuaries like Nagarhole.
The creation of wildlife preserves has driven many forest peoples from ancestral lands that are the basis of their livelihoods and to which they often have familial ties. “It’s not their grandfather’s property,” said one forest villager. “They don’t understand the value of the forest.”
Government-sponsored efforts to relocate forest peoples displaced by the creation of protected areas like Nagarhole are often plagued with broken promises: opportunities for the resettled are scarce, means of subsistence are unreliable, government pledges of electricity and clean water have proved dubious, and employment is difficult to come by. Perhaps worse is the injustice of being forcibly removed from one's own land. “The forest grew because of us,” Kamala, a displaced former forest dweller said. “Now we are being thrown out.”
Read the article in its entirety here.
Posted By Colby Clabaugh at 11:31am on April 21, 2008
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