Raising more than $90 million by bringing together private industry, regional governments, and local stakeholders, Ignace Schops led the effort to establish Belgium’s first and only national park, protecting one of the largest open green spaces in the country.Read more »
Speech After years of campaigning, IgnaceSchops has led the effort to establish Belgium’s first and only national park. Raising more than US$90 million by bringing together private industry, regional and European Union (EU) government, local stakeholders, and NGOs, Schops has created a new model for land conservation in the EU and beyond. After Coal, Conservation The province of Limburg in northeastern Belgium contains large woodlands, extensive pine groves, flowering meadows and many rare and unique animals. Since 1901, when coal was discovered in the region, the amount of open space has dwindled, making way for industrial and community infrastructure to support the population employed by the mines. For almost a century, the coal industry thrived in Limburg, but in 1990, the area’s seven mines closed, leaving 40,000 people unemployed. The region around the old mines, a highly industrial and densely populated area owned by the government, is adjacent to HogeKempen, an area within the province that has retained its natural beauty, despite nearby development. Following the closing of the mines, jobs were badly needed in the region and several corporations wanted to build factories in the HogeKempen. However, very few precious open spaces remained in the province and a conflict arose between conservation and development. In response to pressure from industry, the largest coal company and the largest NGO for nature conservation in Belgium, Natuurpunt, founded RegionaalLandschapKempen and Maasland (RLKM) in 1990. Their goal was to conserve the land in the province and continue to provide jobs and economic development. Through his engagement in nature conservation and his field study on herpetology (amphibians & reptiles), Schops began to see that nature conservation and biodiversity could be helped with a different, progressive approach based on enthusiasm and connectivity. In 1997, Schops and a group of friends began working with RLKM to campaign for permanent protection of a piece of the Limburg landscape through the creation of Belgium’s first national park. They believed that the park could provide jobs and revenue through eco-tourism, as well as conserve open space for the future. Since beginning his work in conservation in 1990, Schops had built a network of politicians, including mayors, parliament members and ministers who were willing to work with him. For six years, RLKM, Schops and his friends lobbied the government and funded the national park campaign. Under Schops’ leadership, over the next four years, more than US$90 million was raised from sources such as the Flemish government, the European Rural and Regional Development Fund, municipal and provincial development funds, the European Union, local stakeholders and the private sector. Many of the funds he secured were new funding sources for nature conservation and sustainable development which had not yet been utilized. In 2002, the minister of environment agreed to protect the area if a master plan was created and funding was secured. In 2004, Schops became director of RLKM and has spearheaded the final steps to securing the park’s future. Belgium’s First National Park In early 2006, the HogeKempen National Park was officially opened by the European Commissioner for Environment. It has become a source of inspiration for environmental protection in Belgium. More than six million people live within one hour’s drive of the park, and since its opening four hundred thousand people have visited. The projected economic revenue generated by the national park after operating for five years is US$48 million per year. The park has created 400 jobs for the local community and has conserved nature and brought economic revenue to the region. Five gateways to the park have been established. Car parks, camp sites and information kiosks are being built, and walking and bike trails have been developed. Souvenir stores and a cafeteria have been completed as well as shops to rent and purchase hiking and bicycling equipment. Additional attractions are planned over the next three years for increasing revenue, while still maintaining free entrance to the park. The first and only national park in Belgium, it contains nearly 6,000 hectares and stretches across six municipalities. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) plans to use Schops’s model of creating and funding the national park as an example for other member countries, not only in Europe but around the world. His model demonstrates how a successful public-private partnership in the use and management of nature can be an asset for local and regional development. Schops, as the director of RLKM, will oversee the management of the park and its continued development, and other conservation projects in Belgium.
“Let’s do at least what we expect from others. If densely populated, well developed and prosperous regions don’t take responsibility for biodiversity and nature conservation, why should undeveloped regions be held to different standards? It’s up to us. Let’s give a sign to our precious world!”
In the shadow of polluting factories in Cataño, Rosa Hilda Ramos led the movement to permanently protect the Las Cucharillas Marsh, one of the last open spaces in the area and one of the largest wetlands ecosystems in the region.Read more »
In the shadow of polluting factories surrounding San Juan’s low income community of Cataño, the wetlands and mangroves of Las Cucharillas Marsh provide important habitats for aquatic and migratory birds as well as flood protection and much needed open space for nearby residents. After leading a movement to hold nearby polluting industry accountable for Cataño’s high incidence of respiratory disease, Rosa Hilda Ramos successfully convinced the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to direct millions of dollars in pollution fines to establish long term protection of the Las Cucharillas Marsh. Environmental Justice Leads to Conservation In the 1990s, Cataño, a community of 35,000 within greater San Juan and adjacent to Las Cucharillas Marsh, was found to have the highest rate of respiratory diseases and cancer incidence in Puerto Rico. Air pollution from nearby oil-powered electric power plants, run by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), was primarily responsible. The EPA knew about the high levels of pollution in the Cataño area and had notified the Puerto Rican government that it was unsafe for residents; however, as of 1991, neither entity had taken action to address the problem. When Ramos’s mother died of cancer causes in 1990, Ramos decided to donate the medical equipment used by her mother to people in need , after learning that in some of the less privileged communities of the town some people had to share respiratory machines. Realizing that many neighbors were suffering from the same respiratory and cancer problems, Ramos and other community leaders founded Communities United Against Contamination (CUCCo) in 1991 to seek justice. That year, Ramos and CUCCo brought their complaints directly to the Puerto Rican Department of Health and the State environmental Quality Board, demanding action from the EPA. In response to Ramos and CUCCo’s persistence, the EPA held a public hearing to address the matter. As a result, PREPA was found in violation of the federal Clean Air and Clean Water acts by the EPA, and was also fined US$10,000 by the Puerto Rican Environmental Quality Board. While the decision was an initial victory for CUCCo and the Cataño community, by 1993, the plants had failed to reduce their toxic emissions. Ramos and CUCCo sued PREPA pro se in federal court. Ultimately PREPA was found responsible for the respiratory and related health ailments of Cataño’s residents, and was fined US$7 million. The case represented the first time that citizens in Puerto Rico sat down to negotiate directly with the EPA and regulators, a landmark environmental justice success for the island. The court ordered PREPA to pay the US$7 million directly to the federal government. Ramos and CUCCo had a different idea about where the funds should go. They recommended to the EPA that it use the multi-million dollar fine to purchase Las Cucharillas marshland from the collection of private entities that owned the land in order to permanently protect it. Community Victory for Conservation The 1200-acre Las Cucharillas Marsh bordering Cataño is part of Puerto Rico’s San Juan Bay Estuary, the only tropical estuary in the US National Estuary Program, and provides habitat for the largest diversity of aquatic birds in the region. The marsh also serves as a respite from the surrounding complex of warehouses, highways, electrical plants and multiple manufacturing facilities. Its mangroves and wetlands are an important buffer zone protecting Cataño communities from frequent threats of flooding, which have increased with the intensity of tropical storms in recent years. Despite its long-term ecological and community significance, the marsh was not officially deemed a protected area. Cataño rallied behind Ramos’ proposal to direct the fines to protect Las Cucharillas. In 1999, Ramos and CUCCo succeeded in convincing the EPA to redirect US$3.4 million of the original $7 million PREPA fine toward the purchase and protection of Las Cucharillas Marsh. The funds were not sufficient to purchase Las Cucharillas’s entire 1,200 acres of marshland, so in 2001, Ramos and CUCCo brought together a diverse constituency to develop strategies for additional land acquisition and conservation. The coalition worked against the clock to prevent warehouse construction within large sections of privately-owned Las Cucharillas marshland. In late 2004, the Bacardi Corporation, which operates a factory in Cataño, transferred 10 acres of land worth approximately US$1 million to the Las Cucharillas Marsh reserve. Encouraged by Ramos’s talks with the company, the transfer was part of a settlement reached by Bacardi and the EPA over the company’s Clean Water Act violations at its factory. In April 2007, with a similar agreement, the EPA announced that Wal-Mart would provide nearly US$100,000 for the preservation of land in the Las Cucharillas Marsh watershed. By 2007, Ramos and CUCCo’s efforts had resulted in the acquisition and permanent protection of 300 acres of Las Cucharillas marshland. As a result of Ramos’s sustained advocacy, in August 2004, the Governor of Puerto Rico issued an executive order to designate Las Cucharillas Marsh a protected area. Governor Calderón then sent the process to the Puerto Rico Planning Board, where it went through various stages of review. The board has scheduled public hearings on the issue, which will mark the final step in the process to establish Las Cucharillas Nature Reserve.
“Wetlands are mysteriously designed to embrace our rivers’ raging waters before they flow into the sea, filtering them and making their path more calm and safe for humans and animals. Wetlands are one of the finest examples of God’s creation; a gift to us for a rich and safe life. No human design can substitute the pacifying effect wetlands have over a flooding river. We are blessed to have CienagaCucharillas wetlands. It is a blessing we are not willing to lose.”
Creating a Mosaic of Protected Lands in the Amazon In a lawless, remote, northern region of the Brazilian Amazon, where land grabbing and illegal logging are destroying communities and the environment, Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva leads a grassroots coalition to protect the tropical forest and the people who live there. Working with local organizations, Feitosa revealed massive illegal logging and human rights abuses. Their work prompted the government to protect a mosaic of tropical rainforest areas that, together with existing indigenous lands, make up the world’s largest area of protected tropical forest, bigger than the state of Minnesota. The 240,000-square-kilometer area includes the Verde para Sempre Extractive Reserve, the Riozinho do Anfrizio Extractive Reserve, the Serra do Pardo National Park, and the Middle Lands Ecological Station. Working in a Deadly Environment Feitosa, 35, has spent more than 10 years fighting for human rights, environmental protection, and sustainable development in the Xingu and Middle Lands of Pará, some of the most remote areas of the Amazon. He works with the Pastoral Lands Commission, the social justice arm of the National Conference of Bishops (of Brazil), and is one of the elected leaders of the Movement for the Development of the Transamazon and the Xingu (MTDX), several of whose leaders were assassinated in recent years. In February 2005, Sister Dorothy Stang, an American nun who worked in Pará alongside Feitosa, was murdered. Feitosa has documented illegal logging activity, and in one high-profile action, tipped off government officials who raided the logging sites, seized 6,000 illegally felled mahogany trees, and sold them at auction to raise $1.5 million to create a fund supporting sustainable development and conservation efforts. Feitosa also helped organize a protest in which community members linked their boats to barricade the mouth of a major river, blocking barges carrying illegal logs. They were able to seize about 2,000 logs. Seeking Environmental Justice in Remote Regions Feitosa’s work is carried out in an extremely remote area that is a two-day boat ride from the nearest significant town. The northern state of Pará encompasses more than one-quarter of the country’s Amazon and boasts extensive unspoiled forested regions and freshwater river beaches. It also is home to many traditional and indigenous communities that live in almost total isolation from the outside world. But starting in the 1970s, the government began to build roads through the Amazon to Pará, bringing in thousands of settlers. Pará now is one of the deep Amazon’s most lawless and environmentally threatened regions. Land grabbing, uncontrolled deforestation, illegal logging, and fires are rapidly destroying and degrading its forests. Logging has affected Pará more than any other region of the Amazon, resulting in the loss of one-fifth of the state’s tropical forest cover. Together, Pará’s deforested areas are about equal in size to the state of Colorado. The Brazilian government has begun to pave the last 1,174 kilometers of road connecting Pará to the rest of Brazil. Without controls or protection, this road will open one of the final intact swaths of the Amazon to expanded cattle ranching and soy production, easier access for loggers and a greater influx of settlers who will set more fires to clear forest for their crops. In the Amazon, deforested areas receive less rainfall, and the plants and trees retain less moisture. As the area dries, the entire region becomes more susceptible to widespread forest fires like those in 1998 that engulfed much of the Amazon, and to droughts like the one in 2005 that left many Amazon tributaries completely dry, fish dying in the sun and many communities stranded and hungry.
“Here in the Amazon we have the greatest corridor of protected areas in the world. This is important to guarantee the lives of the human populations that depend on the forest to survive and to give continuity to the forest and its resources. The municipal, state and federal governments of Brazil should now assume their clear role in protecting these forests.”
Her campaign against a nationwide road-building program resulted in the cancellation of 60 road projects and the development of new transportation policies.Read more »
In 1989, the British Department of Transport announced a £23 billion national road building program, which was boasted as the largest of its kind since the Roman Empire. The plan would destroy hundreds of officially designated protected sites for wildlife, history and landscape and devastate local communities. On her way to Winchester every day to work as a children's librarian, Emma Must passed Twyford Down, a hillside that was known in England for its rare natural habitats and archeological significance. Despite 20 years of overwhelming local opposition, highway construction through the down began in 1992. Unable to tolerate this destruction, Must joined a small group of youths camped on the hill to protect it. The group was forcibly removed from the site and it seemed that the battle was lost. However, new inspiration came from Must, who began to mobilize large protests. By using tactics that included chaining herself to a bulldozer, she brought national attention to the issue. In the coming months, more than 50 peaceful demonstrations took place. Must was later imprisoned for defying a High Court injunction by participating in a demonstration. She then joined the organization Alarm UK!, an umbrella group for the nationwide road building protest, and continued to work with local anti-road groups by promoting direct action, building coalitions and pressing for policy reforms. Though ultimately Twyford Down was not saved, it drew the country's attention to the nation's massive road building program and symbolized a turning point in the campaign to stop it. The movement grew and crossed all social and political boundaries. In response to the public outcry, the British Department of Transport completely reversed its road building policies in 1994. In the summer of 1998, the new British government published the first "White Paper" on the subject in 20 years, laying out proposals for legislation on sustainable transport. The National Roads Programme has been cut to just 37 schemes, out of almost 600 in 1989, a true victory for the anti-roads movement. Must, through her work with Transport 2000, developed a network of regional grassroots campaigners to help insure that the alternatives are carried out on the local level. Meanwhile, Must has been spreading the word to campaigners in Central and Eastern Europe, helping to set up an East/West network tackling the Trans-European Road Network and passing along lessons learned in the United Kingdom regarding halting large-scale road-building. Must is currently working with the World Development Movement in London, calling multinational corporations into account for their overseas activities.
"People power is forcing a transportation revolution."
Submitted by jumayrmaldonado93 on Mon, 2006-03-06 16:12
United disparate groups to work for the protection of Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world’s highest coastal mountain range.
Colombia's Juan Mayr led a brilliant campaing to protect the world's highest coastal mountain range, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Rising abruptly from the beaches of the Caribbean to 18,947 feet, the Sierra Nevada is a striking example of Colombia's phenomenal biodiversity. Every type of ecosystem is represented - arctic tundra, rainforest, desert - and like the larger world, it is imperiled. Read more »
Colombia's Juan Mayr has led a brilliant crusade for the world's highest coastal mountain, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Rising abruptly from the beaches of the Caribbean to 18,947 feet, the Sierra Nevada is a striking example of Colombia's phenomenal biodiversity. Every type of ecosystem is represented - arctic tundra, rainforest, desert - and like the larger world, it is imperiled.
A photographer turned environmentalist, for two years Mayr made his home in the Sierra Nevada and lived with the Kogi, one of the last functioning pre-Colombian civilizations. The Kogi, who live in villages high on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada, worship knowledge and believe that they are the "Elder Brother" of Mankind. They feel responsible for keeping the balance of the universe and view the rest of mankind as the "Younger Brother" who through ignorance and greed is killing the Great Mother (Earth). The Kogi, who Mayr now promote as exemplary managers of the environment, have resolved to have minimal contact with the outside world.
In 1986, Mayr founded the Fundación Pro-Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and served as its executive director. Using his great communication skills, Mayr has worked hard to develop a participative conservation strategy to bring together regional government, peasant farmers, indigenous peoples, scientists, local and international conservationists and different armed groups that operate in the region for the mountain's conservation. After four years of meetings, workshops and consultations, the Fundación Pro-Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta developed a participatory conservation development plan for the area.
In June 1994, after 500 years of struggle, 19,500 hectares of traditional lands on the Caribbean coast were returned to the indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada by the Colombian government. Over 300 Kogi, Arsario and Arhuaco Indians walked down from the mountain to the sea to attend this historic event.
In August 1998, Mayr was appointed minister of the environment by the Colombian President Andres Pastrana. Mayr resigned as the director of the Fundación Pro-Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, but remains an active board member.
"We have found that education and water resources are key to bringing all different parties together."
Submitted by gicatsadorakis01 on Mon, 2006-03-06 10:31
Biologists by training, Catsadorakis and Malakou led the creation of the first trans-boundary protected area in the Balkans, an area better known for conflict than cooperation, at the borders of Greece, Albania and Macedonia.Read more »
The wetlands of Préspa in northwestern Greece are one of the most biologically rich and diverse regions in Europe. Over 260 species of birds migrate, winter and breed there, including the world's largest colony of the rare Dalmatian pelican. In the mid-1960s, government projects introduced large irrigation systems, commercial fertilizers and mechanized farming, quickly endangering the intricate wetland's ecology. Biologists Myrsini Malakou and Giorgios Catsadorakis used their research in the region to help the local communities seek alternatives. They taught organic farming and reintroduced traditional practices that sustained both the people and the wetlands. They founded the community-based Préspa Center for Man and Nature, and they continue to serve as scientific advisors for the Society for the Protection of Préspa. Thanks to their dedication and years of work, the destruction of the wetlands has been halted and restoration has begun. Their singular groundbreaking achievement came on February 2, 2000, when, in response to their proposal, the prime ministers of Albania, Macedonia and Greece signed an agreement establishing the first transboundary protected area in the Balkans. At the signing ceremony, the prime ministers declared that the Préspa Park would be a model of peaceful collaboration among their countries. Malakou and Catsadorakis are currently working on a management plan for the sustainable development of the new park.
"There is a huge single challenge to the modern world: Humans must define what prosperity means on a healthy planet capable of sustaining all equally. The effort to find this optimal modus vivendi has no borders, and natural entities must be used to inspire, enrich, empower and unite peoples."
Submitted by edbustillos96 on Mon, 2006-03-06 10:19
Undeterred by local drug lords, Edwin Bustillos blocked logging in the Sierra Madre despite violent attempts on his life and founded the Advisory Council of the Sierra Madre to preserve the ecosystems that are home to the Tarahumara and Tepehuan communities.Read more »
The Sierra Madre Occidental in Northern Mexico extends for over 1,000 miles and is the most biologically diverse ecosystem in North America. The Sierra Madres' isolation and deeply corrugated topography has attracted drug traffickers and illegal logging operations. Only two percent of the region's old growth forests remain.
Undaunted by the violent climate generated by the drug trade, Edwin Bustillos (d. 2003), an agricultural engineer, was determined to create a 1.3 million acre biosphere reserve in the Sierra Madre to protect both its highly endangered ecosystems and 12 native Tarahumara and Tepehuan communities that have lived in the mountains for two thousand years. To accomplish this Bustillos, a native of the Sierra Madre, founded a human rights and environmental organization called CASMAC (Advisory Council of the Sierra Madre) in 1992. Thanks to the work of Bustillos and CASMAC, two indigenous old growth forest reserves were officially declared by surrounding communities. CASMAC helped developed proposals from 10 other communities to integrate all or part of their forests into the Biosphere reserve as well.
Bustillos paid a high price for his commitment to the Sierra. He survived three attempts on his life and sustained severe back and head injuries incurred in the attacks.
Despite the odds, Bustillos and CASMAC helped stop two illegal logging operations and worked to protect the land rights of over 300 Tarahumara families. Although a very small organization, CASMAC and Bustillos were also instrumental in developing a landmark constitutional proposal for indigenous rights in the state of Chihuahua, which nearly became law before being defeated by a newly elected congress in 1996.
CASMAC proceeded to change strategies for defense of indigenous rights by embarking in ecologically friendly and culturally appropriate economic alternatives to drug production and logging. CASMAC, with its U.S. partner, the Sierra Madre Alliance, developed a permaculture training program and a native craft program. Organic paper production and a project to develop non-timber forest products such as medicinal plants began in the fall of 1998. CASMAC further enabled native communities with a leadership training program, a radio communications network and a program for training and certifying indigenous forest inspectors. CASMAC continues to research community problems and take legal action on behalf of communal native forests and lands.
"Those who live in harmony with their surroundings live with intelligence."
Isidro Baldenegro was jailed for 15 months for organizing protests against illegal logging in the Sierra Madre Mountains and his work to defend the forests, lands and rights of indigenous people.Read more »
Indigenous Leader Defends Forests in Mexico Isidro Baldenegro López, 38, is a subsistence farmer and community leader of Mexico's indigenous Tarahumara people in the country's Sierra Madre mountain region. He has spent much of his life defending old growth forests from devastating logging in a region torn by violence, corruption and drug-trafficking. Ninety-Nine percent of the Old-Growth Forest Is Gone The spectacular Western Sierra Madre mountain range hosts one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, ranging from snow-covered peaks to four separate canyons, each deeper than the Grand Canyon in the United States. In addition to the 120 species of neo-tropical migratory birds which winter in the region, it is also home to 26 threatened or endangered species including thick-billed parrots, spotted owl, northern goshawk, military macaw, as well as a number of native fish, reptiles and amphibians. The region is also home to the Tarahumara, one of the largest indigenous groups in North America. But the region's long history of resource extraction, violence and corruption threatens both the forest and the indigenous communities. Ever since the Spanish invaded Mexico in search of precious metals, the Tarahumara and other native peoples have sought refuge in the remote mountain valleys. Today, loggers and ranchers seek lumber and land at any cost, forcing many people to flee and destroying the vast majority of old-growth forest. In fact, 99 percent of the region's old-growth forests have been logged. In the Name of His Father According to local and international non-governmental organizations, the area is controlled informally by violent local crime bosses who gained power in the last 30 years by laundering drug money through logging and ranching operations. The government has been largely unresponsive to the violence, resulting in regional impunity. Tragically, Baldenegro is acutely aware of the grave risks involved in defending the forest. As a boy, he witnessed firsthand the assassination of his father who was killed because he opposed logging. In the face of these serious risks and repeated threats against his life, Baldenegro has chosen to remain and defend the forest and ancestral lands his community has inhabited for hundreds of years. In 1993, Baldenegro developed a non-violent grassroots resistance movement to fight the logging, gaining support from local and international NGOs. In 2002, he organized non-violent sit-ins and marches, prompting the government to temporarily suspend logging in the area. The following year he mobilized a massive human blockade of mostly women whose husbands had been murdered, resulting in a special court order outlawing logging in the area. False Arrest Following the 2003 blockade, Baldenegro suddenly was jailed on what would later prove to be false charges of arms and drug possession. His arrest generated international solidarity from important environmental and human rights NGOs, and Amnesty International declared Baldenegro a prisoner of conscience. Released in June 2004 after 15 months of prison, he emerged even more determined, encouraged by the immense international support. Soon after, he and his supporters won two more government logging suspensions. Motivated by his success, he established an environmental justice organization, which currently has cases pending in the federal courts. Defending a Way of Life Baldenegro's courageous efforts have made him a national and international hero. He has brought world attention to the beautiful, ecologically crucial old-growth forests of the Sierra Madre as well as the survival of the Tarahumara.
"To seek a better future for the communities and the coming generations, to denounce the injustices committed against the indigenous people and to protect the forest and natural resources of the Tarahumara Sierra."