Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Even the parks aren't safe

By Marian Starkey

Kutai National Park on the island of Borneo is trading its many species of mammals for one much more menacing species--humans. Already, half of the park has been degraded by illegal logging and development. There are at least 27,000 people living inside the park. All of them need houses, fuel wood, and jobs. The resources that the park boasts (coal, timber, and oil) provide those jobs, as evidenced by the factories that have set up shop on the park's perimeter.

It's hard to blame people in a country that grows by 2.7 million people every year for encroaching on protected areas. Population density in Indonesia is 122 people per square kilometer (compared with 33 people per square kilometer in the United States). When protected lands are some of the only fertile and forested lands remaining in a country or region, they are vulnerable to settlement by ambitious and/or desperate internal migrants. I wrote an article about this dilemma in the Peten province of Guatemala in the February 2009 issue of The Reporter.

Until we achieve zero population growth and everyone lives on already-settled land, national parks will continue to be threatened. As so many examples around the world have shown, humans will (often illegally) encroach on protected land, fight with other species over territory, and unsustainably extract natural resources in order to survive. Population stabilization is imperative for the survival of wildlife and the entire biosphere.

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