Saturday, May 4, 2013

One Hand Gives, the Other Takes Away

Mining titles and requests (in red and brown)
and protected areas. (Image Source)

Colombia has announced what might be a watershed effort to protect Colombian biodiversity: 300 million dollars to preserve two million hectares distributed over three ecosystems: dry forests, Orinoquia savannahs and marine waters.

It's certainly a critical effort. For example, Colombia has lost 98.5% and counting of its dry forests. Its marine areas are assailed by pollution, overfishing and climate change. And rainforest is being chopped down to make way for mines, illegal and legal agriculture and petroleum exploitation.

El Tiempo called the new plan, named 'Naturally Colombia,' "a vital step in the preservation of our biodiversity."

But, sadly, if we judge by the country's historic respect for its protected areas.
Deforestation in Valle del Cauca. (Image UNAL)

This report in yesterday's El Espectador starts off by observing that "in theory the national parks are untouchable," but in reality "there are 37 mining titles within national parks, threatening their equilibrium."

Colombia's intentions to protect its biodiversity are often admirable. But in practice, apathy,
corruption and weak laws often make those good intentions pointless. Colombia, after all, already has 56 national parks covering 12 percent of the country's land territory, which Naturally Colombia intends to expand to 17. (Two percent of its seas are officially protected. Naturally Colombia wants to expand that to 10 percent.)

But will expanding 'protected areas' just overstretch the frail protection resources even further? Will the same functionaries who hand out mining concessions in existing national parks see the new protected areas as anything more than new land for mining? Pressure to exploit minerals is only increasing with improved security in remote areas, and that will redouble if the FARC and government reach a peace agreement.

Naturally Colombia is a creation of Colombian government agencies working with the German government and NGOs including Conservation International, the Nature conservancy, the World wildlife Fund and the Fundacion Natura. Those are serious people, giving me hope that this will actually work.

Naturally Colombia could be a saviour for Colombian biodiversity - but only if it can avoid past failings.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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