Conservationists Want Biodiversity, Poor Want Biomass: How Best To Protect Forests?

cornfield along highway photo

Corn field alongside roadway. Image credit:By Beatrice Murch, on Flickr, excerpted.

There's a new conservation approach being tested as an alternative to failed earlier efforts to preserve remnant natural forests (which continued to end up as fuel). At a London symposium held last year, 'Linking biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction: what, why and how?' a Nature Conservancy spokesperson summarized the reason for a new approach, as reported in In essence, he said, 'People don't care about biodiversity and you really can't engage the rural poor in protecting it.' Hence, the Conservancy "now focuses on regenerating areas that are already degraded rather than conserving pristine ones." How could this work? Here's a quote from to help explain.

"If you restore degraded lands, you will increase biomass and restore nature," Leisher said, adding that the result was a direct impact on poverty reduction.
Rural people who live near remnant natural areas can then rely on newly restored buffer zones or 'corridors' for firewood, medicinal plants, and building material.

Example of the need to for a changed conservation strategy: a summary of one of the papers presented at the symposium, Attitudes of Local People Towards Conservation and Alternatives to Forest Resources: A Case Study from the Lower Himalayas. (Available from Springer at the link.)

This paper examines the attitudes of local people living in and around the forest corridor linking the Rajaji and Corbett National Parks, northern India. The study revealed that in the area the concept of conservation of forests is well supported. Nevertheless, people are extracting biomass from the corridor forest for their sustenance. The dependence of the people on the forest is due to lack of alternatives to the forest resources, inability of the people to produce alternatives from market, and in some cases it is habitual or traditional.
There are other symposium papers which make the same, or similar points.

Back in the USA.

Here's an illustration from my home state of Wisconsin, which for me at least, drives home the need for innovative solutions.

A high school friend's family raised sweet corn on hundreds of acres . The field was adjacent to a rural highway linking a nearby city to outlying sprawl. Like many farmers, they'd signed on for incentives provided by the seed company, which required putting up signs along the road to advertise the source and variety.

Came harvest time, the family would see cars stop along the road, a passenger or driver emerge, and then, climbing over the fence marked with No Trespassing signs, steal sweet corn. By the time the Sheriff arrived, if summoned, the perps would be long gone.

No doubt each corn thief thought 'It's only a'll never be missed ... there's a ton of it.;' and so it went, as losses tracked traffic. (The sweet corn-thief rational is universal to Tragedy of the Commons. Nothing differs in motive between farmers living near an old growth forest in India and US suburbanites wanting fresh sweet corn.)

How were the corn losses stopped?
After bearing several years of this loss, they planted a roadside buffer of field corn. While most of the acreage stayed in sweet corn, several rows running parallel to the highway, were planted with inedible - identical looking to the thieves - field corn. The family entertained themselves running out of the farmhouse to shake fists in feigned anger as the thieves drove off with the field corn in hand - to ruined backyard barbecues or picnics.

After the buffer went in, sweet corn production losses went down overall. The field corn was good for wildlife and could be harvested as fodder late in the year, if desired. Problem solved.

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