This week some of the good stuff is really good. Not just good news and not just good for the planet, but really good for the people and wild places and creatures in locations many of us have never been to and may never visit. There is a deep sense of calm knowing that there are some places that will remain wild forever. The article UN draft plan sets 2030 target to avert Earth’s sixth mass extinction discusses the UN plan to protect and restore some of the most important and biologically diverse areas on the planet.
We now know that biodiversity, climate and poverty are all closely linked, and now the UN is taking steps to ensure that we will be spared the worst parts of what is being referred to as the sixth major extinction event. It’s scary and important and hell yeah, you are absolutely right to be worried and angry about it. But there is hope. While we can’t ever bring back the species that have been rendered extinct, mother nature is a tough lady.
I’ve always been really impressed with the ability of nature to regenerate after significant degradation. Like in the Elwha River story from last year: two dams built in the early part of the last century were removed from an important river system starting in 2011 and the recovery was amazing. Within weeks there were fish, plants and animals returning to parts of their historic range that had been cut off from them for a century.
Two stories in the top 5 this week are about nature’s power to regenerate herself. In ‘Mother Nature recovers amazingly fast’: reviving Ukraine’s rich wetlands, the author writes about the removal of a dam network in the wetlands of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve in the Ukraine, Europe’s largest wetland area.
Built in the 1970’s as an alternative to footbridges, their only purpose was to allow foot traffic through the area. After 50 odd years of man-made interruption of natural cycles, the rich and biodiverse wetlands were left a “reeking swamp”. At least that’s how they were up until the late 2010’s when the group Rewilding Europe began work to remove these eleven earthen dams. Like the Elwha, within weeks of removal of the first of the dams, fish, otters and other creatures were observed upstream from their previous man-made limits.
The second part of this program is the re-establishment of large herbivores in the area. The group introduced wild Konik (a breed of primitive Polish horse), kulan donkeys and a type of water buffalo called the Tauros were brought in to provide the area with the grazing that would normally have occurred there. While the Aurochs that would have lived there historically are now extinct, these distant cousins can provide a very similar service to the land.
But this program is not just about the animals. The third and maybe most important part of this program is about people and their quality of life – poverty. The Danube Delta region is economically depressed, with high levels of unemployment, rural depopulation, low living standards and a strong dependence on natural resources. This means that the people who live there need to be taken care of too. If not, they may turn to poaching or other destructive means for survival. The program therefore is allocating resources to train local people in conservation practices, hiring them for construction of nature tourism infrastructure (such as wildlife watching towers and blinds) and is following it up with education and training sessions how to provide wildlife watching activities. The goal is to bring much needed sustainable tourism dollars into the region and to instill a sense of pride and ownership of the now wild area.
Personally, I think the human aspect is the most important part of this equation even if not the most immediately gratifying part of it. Without the buy in of the local people whose lives are directly affected by these changes, how could they be expected to protect it? I believe we cannot be expected to protect something that we don’t understand or have never experienced.
Mother nature is tough and resilient but not invincible. By providing people the direct incentive and motivation to take ownership and pride in their natural world, we give them the opportunity to thrive and live in harmony with the land and that becomes a very powerful force for good.
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