Parks Beyond Borders: Global National Park News—Ecologist in Australia Urges Park Sell-Off; While Ecuador Promotes Park Preservation

An ecologist in Australia is sparking talk about the possibility of selling-off national parks, while Ecuador is creating a global public relations campaign to foster international buy-in for an effort to offset the cost of saving Yasuní National Park, one of the globe's undisputed gems of biodiversity. (Mapa cortesía de Markusquit/Map courtesy of Markusquit).

Ecologist Talks Park Economics in Oz

With taxpayers all over the world thinking about how to sustain national parks, an ecologist in Queensland Australia is stirring up national debate saying it might be time for the country to reduce the number of its parks.

Professor Hugh Possingham, of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, says the goal of protecting ecosystems and species may be furthered by reducing the country’s parks. Currently, about 2000 national parks encompass 12 per cent of the continent.

Coverage by Sky News, owned by Australian News Channel, said the ecologist is concerned that Australia’s “native species are still disappearing at a rate of 100 to 1000 times faster than normal” and that “may mean selling off smaller parks that are not viable” and concentrating on “putting resources into those national parks and species where we have the best chance of achieving something.”

One newspaper said, “Species at threat even include the Herbert River ringtail possum, the National Parks and Wildlife Service symbol.”

The scientist’s statements are receiving coverage in newspapers and media outlets all over the country. His argument is essentially that Australia is spending only about one tenth of what needs to be spent to protect species and ecosystems—so why not reduce the scope of spending and focus on larger, more important regional preservation schemes.

Writing in the Courier-Mail newspaper in Queensland, reporter Brian Williams called the University of Queensland's Possingham “one of the nation's most eminent ecologists.” The paper paraphrased Possingham as saying that if “national park performance (were) measured against properties outside reserved areas ... scarce conservation funds could be better spent in stewardship agreements with farmers under which they would be paid to reduce grazing pressure and change fire regimes. It might turn out that lightly-grazed properties held under Land for Wildlife or nature reserve schemes could preserve species as well or better than parks.”

Possingham places a lot of confidence on the private sector, saying sold off parks wouldn’t necessarily lose preservation value because, “many well-off Australians were interested in looking after native bushland and its species on a private basis ... revegetating cleared land with native trees, leading to recovery in native species.” Possingham said, “Australians should be encouraged to care for, rather than clear, privately-owned land,” according to the Courier-Mail.

On The World Today, an ABC News program, a report by Tom Nightingale quoted Possigham saying, “There are some national parks that deliver a bigger return, that are going to deliver more conservation outcomes per dollar than others and maybe some of those other national parks need to be managed in a much more cost effective fashion, and maybe they’d be better off managed by people other than governments.”

The Courier-Mail paraphrased Possingham as saying, “Ironically, Queensland was in a better position to address the problem than other states because - with just 5 per cent reserved - it was still putting together a national parks system. It compared poorly with SA (South Australia), which had 20 per cent in parks, and Victoria, with 15 per cent.”

A reader response to the Courier-Mail piece said, “Many private property owners do a terrific service in environmental management. The problem is when property is sold it becomes another person's choice as to what they do with it. It's too unpredictable to be a serious long term solution. National Parks need to be left as natural reservoirs for species.”

The debate is bringing intense ideological schisms to the surface in a country that has a well-developed social welfare system. One national park advocate, Ian Seels, president of the Noosa Parks Association and a specialist physiotherapist working with Queensland Health, proposed charging for some medical services under the national Healthcare system and giving the savings to parks. A story in the Sunshine Coast Daily by Kathy Sundstrom quoted Seels as saying, “To suggest selling off environmentally sacred land is unforgivable."

Reader comments were sharp. One noting recent efforts to gain mining privileges in parks, said, “We don't need to choose between Public Health and Parks ...” Aiming at “Predatory Capitalists and their constant war against Social Democracy,” the writer said, “Everything must be priced, nothing valued. Public systems of solidarity and sympathy must be smashed, replaced with a competitive every man for himself situation to feed their insatiable greed.”

The ABC News program asked Dr. Paul Sinclair, of the Australian Conservation Foundation, to weigh-in on Possingham’s point that unheeded campaigns for increased funding have “only proven that it isn’t a high priority for voters, so it's unrealistic to expect more government funding.

Sinclair maintained that increased funding is the only solution. “We spend more on a single desalinisation plant to guard against the drying climate than we do on the protection of our country that generates multiple times more water,” he said.

Ecuador Reminds the World to Protect Amazon Park

Ecuador is undertaking a public relations campaign called “I am Yasuní” to remind the world of Yasuní National Park’s importance and keep other countries focused on the role they play in its preservation. The effort centers on a Youtube video featuring a New York City park.

Back in 2007, Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa pledged preservation of Yasuní National Park if the developed world would contribute US $3.6 billion over 13 years, or less than 50% of the estimated market value of the 846 million barrels of oil under the park (about 20% of Ecuador’s resources). The program, administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), would make it unnecessary to tap the reserves and undermine the preservation value of one of the Amazon’s most pristine area.

Yasuní is huge, one of the world’s most biodiverse areas—where two indigenous tribes that Wkipedia calls “uncontacted,” the Tagaeri and Taromenanewho—still live isolated, primitive lives.

Ecuador is undertaking the public relations campaign in an attempt to keep the global community dedicated to the program. The effort to bring the park closer to home for millions around the world centers around a YouTube video and Facebook campaign. The video shows a work crew setting up an oil rig in a New York City park. The work attracts an indignant crowd that starts protesting. One person says, “this is our park!” The implication is that Yasuní is “our park, too.”

Wikipedia says, “Yasuní National Park is arguably the most biologically diverse spot on Earth. The park is at the center of a small zone where amphibian, bird, mammal, and vascular plant diversity all reach their maximum levels within the Western Hemisphere. ... The total of its amphibian species are more than the United States and Canada combined. ... In spite of covering less than 0.15% of the Amazon Basin, Yasuní is home to approximately one-third of amphibian and reptile species. The park also harbors high levels of fish diversity with 382 known species. This number is greater than the amount of fish species found in the whole Mississippi River Basin. Yasuní also is home to at least 596 bird species which comprises one-third of the total native bird species for the Amazon. ... Yasuní has over 100,000 different species of insects which is roughly the amount of insect species that can be found in all of North America. The park also boasts one of the world’s richest levels of vascular plants.”

The preservation agreement's background is described by Wikipedia this way: “There has been extensive controversy over the construction of ‘oil’ roads by Texaco for the exploitation and production of petroleum within the park. Famous scientists including Jane Goodall, E.O. Wilson, and Stuart Primm protested against this construction.

Since June 2007, the Ecuadorian government has been promoting the Yasuní-ITT Initiative ... that seeks to leave the oil fields untapped under the core of Yasuní National Park in exchange for compensation from the international community for lost revenue, from ... an international compensation fund equivalent to at least of 50% of the profits that it would receive were it to exploit the reserves.

Actor Leonardo Dicaprio ... and former Vice President of the United State Al Gore are supporting the Ecuadorian government.”

The video was created by EO Integration and Sound Lounge, both New York City media companies. An article on “I am Yasuní” appeared recently in Biz Community, "the B2B site of choice in South Africa and Africa for anyone wanting to know the who, what, where and why of what's happening in the advertising, marketing, media, retail and related sectors."