Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
1. Biden suspends drilling leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has paused oil drilling in a protected area in the Arctic, reversing a key achievement of the previous administration.
The story: The move, which will pause oil leases within the refuge pending an environmental review, could halt oil drilling in “one of the largest tracts of untouched wilderness in the United States,” write Coral Davenport, Henry Fountain and Lisa Friedman for The New York Times.
The big picture: The Biden administration’s decision to pause oil drilling in this region is a rare bright spot for the refuge, which has long been a target for legal attempts to open it for oil extraction. “There have been over 100 attempts to downgrade the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — more than any other protected area, ever,” said Rachel Golden Kroner, a scientist at Conservation International and a global authority on legal rollbacks to protected areas (a phenomenon known as “PADDD,” short for protected area downgrading, downsizing and degazettement).
The refuge — considered sacred ground by the Gwich’in peoples, and which supports significant wildlife habitats — is not yet “safe forever,” Golden Kroner cautions. “The underlying legislative authorization to drill in the refuge still stands for now, so a future president could overturn this decision and pursue drilling,” she said. Permanent protections for the refuge, she continued, are necessary to place it forever off-limits to oil drilling and other associated development.
“The world needs to reduce emissions drastically to meet the Paris Agreement,” Golden Kroner said. “What better place to start than protected areas and public lands?”
Read more here.
The recent return of the U.S. National Bison Range to Indigenous management heralds a paradigmatic change in conservation.
The story: “Throughout the United States, land has been or is being transferred to native tribes or is being co-managed with their help,” writes Jim Robbins for Yale Environment 360, noting a broader global movement to repatriate lands to their original — often Indigenous — owners. In doing so, he notes, governments are increasingly accommodating Indigenous “perspective and participation” in the management of these lands — and importantly, the wildlife that inhabit them.
The big picture: Indigenous management is increasingly seen by conservationists as “synergistic with the global campaign to protect biodiversity and to manage nature in a way that hedges against climate change,” Robbins writes. Already, Indigenous peoples steward nearly 40 percent of the world's intact landscapes, and evidence shows that Indigenous approaches to conservation work. For example, studies have illustrated that forested areas managed by local communities see less deforestation than protected forests, according to Minnie Degawan, director of Conservation International’s Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program.
Read more here.
- Further reading: Indigenous leaders: Traditional knowledge can save the planet
Efforts to decolonize forest protection have been stalling for years. COVID-19 might give the movement the urgency it needs.
The story: Behavioral science suggests that one reason that public campaigns to “save the rainforest” have not succeeded to the extent needed is that people do not perceive themselves to be at personal risk, Sarah Sax writes for Yes! magazine. But signs point to change: Although scientists are still working to determine how COVID-19 emerged, a growing body of evidence points to deforestation as a major factor in disease outbreaks and pandemics. And the COVID-19 pandemic, some hope, may provide a silver lining in the form of fiercer public support for protecting forests around the world.
The big picture: Sax notes a significant caveat to current discourses in tropical forest protection: the Western notion that forests abroad are essentially “empty landscapes.” Ignorance of the connection between forests and the millions of people who live in them and depend on them directly, she writes, is a legacy of colonialism that could stand in the way of effective efforts to stop deforestation.
The continued erasure of Indigenous and traditional peoples from such landscapes has led to some “very alarming narratives around tree planting, which is very popular right now,” environmental scientist Rachael Garrett told Sax. “I mean, talk about colonial. It’s like, ‘Here’s some money in the Global North. Let’s plant some trees in the Global South. Who cares how people are using the land right now?’ ”
The confluence of pandemic risk — and a growing awareness of the benefits of Indigenous stewardship of lands (as mentioned in the previous two stories) — portend a potential turning point for the protection of forests, which could provide a third or more of the action needed to prevent a climate catastrophe.
Read more here.
- Further reading: Protect nature or risk future pandemics, expert warns
World leaders ‘ignoring’ role of destruction of nature in causing pandemics
Conservation International’s Pandemic Prevention Fellow Dr. Neil Vora joined public health and environmental experts at a recent side event of the World Health Assembly — the decision-making body of the World Health Organization — to discuss the importance of protecting nature to prevent the next pandemic.
Read more here.
Bruno Vander Velde is the senior communications director for Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.
Cover image: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)