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17.7.05

Misguided Deforestation Policy

Biodiversivist at Gristmill has a post up asserting the popular conclusion that poverty causes desperate third-worlders to chop down all their forests, and thus that aggressive use of force to protect conservation areas (combined with some unspecified anti-poverty measure) is necessary to save the environment. At some point in the near future I'll hopefully get my notes together to write a more coherent post on the causes of deforestation. For the moment I'll leave it at pointing out that one of the most common processes seems to be the entry of commercial logging, which creates roads and does the hard work of getting most of the trees out of the way, after which government resettlement programs send poor urbanites out into the forest, where they turn logged areas and other areas along logging roads into permanent cropland or pasture.

For now, I'll just make mention of a process somewhat the inverse of the "poverty causes deforestation" thesis. In many cases we see that rigid conservation policies of the type advocated by biodiversivist can cause or reinforce poverty. In precolonial times, the people of the third world typically made use of most of the landscape, albeit at different intensities in different areas. Colonial and post-colonial governments, fearing the degrading effects of human presence, took areas below a minimum threshold of intensity of use (as measured by the amount of human alteration of the environment visible to them) and made them off-limits to any human use, herding everyone into more compact "civilized" settlements. In many areas this made it difficult for people living near the new reserves to access non-timber forest products, such as mushrooms or small-diameter wood, thus lowering their standard of living.

Another damaging result of the creation of conservation reserves relates to the depredations of animals. Elephants, babboons, and other animals will sometimes come out of the woods and trample or eat crops, causing serious losses for farmers. Ordinarily, the response to this would be to kill problem animals, pursuing them into non-agricultural areas if necessary. However, the advent of conservation reserves put these strategies off-limits, as the animals were deemed to belong to the reserve and hence could not be killed. What's more, the worst-off people are the worst hurt, as their lack of money and clout leaves them stuck with the land closest to the borders of the reserves.

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