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Bridging the Nature/Culture Divide with Ecological Restoration

By Guest Observer July 28, 2016

By Jon Weller

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago, Canada Courtesy: Jon Weller

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago, Canada
Courtesy: Jon Weller

Lately, many members of the conservation community have been asking the question of how we resolve the dissonance in our thinking between the goals of conserving ‘nature’ and ‘culture’. One area where this question is being dealt with in an engaging way is within the field of ecological restoration. What the dialogue happening within this field demonstrates is that far from being antagonistic towards each other, as it is often portrayed, the goals of conserving ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ can be intricately intertwined and mutually reinforcing.

Restoration ecology is a practice that has traditionally sought to return disturbed natural environments to what they were before a point of human disturbance. But, this is increasingly recognized as an unlikely goal. On the one hand there is a growing awareness that there has never been an original point of pre-human contact to return to, and secondly, in a world where anthropogenic change is pushing flora and fauna far beyond their historical range it is “futile to try to restore past conditions.”1 Therefore, contemporary restoration ecologists do not aim to ‘recreate’ the past, so much as to reestablish the historical trajectory of an impaired ecosystem in order for it to continue its evolution.

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago  Courtesy: Jon Weller

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago
Courtesy: Jon Weller

More than a changing understanding of the role of history, however, the field has also broadened its mandate beyond the natural world. What is being called ‘comprehensive ecological restoration’ is an approach to intervening in ecological systems that takes as its goal the recovery of the entire socio-ecological system. A comprehensive approach recognizes that, if successful, its efforts contribute to the overall well-being of the ecosystem and the societies that rely on them by renewing economic opportunities, rejuvenating traditional cultural practices, and enhancing ecological and social resilience to environmental change.2 Emphasizing this broader picture pushes ecological restoration into the realm of what alternative fields understand as cultural landscape management. Furthermore, a broader mandate injects an important element of transparency, engagement, and communication with citizens and stakeholders to determine the goals and objectives of interventions.

Off the west coast of Canada, on a small island in the Gulf Islands archipelago, The Galiano Conservancy Association offers an exciting model of how traditional nature conservation, can, and is, being transformed by these dialogues and practices. Formed in 1989 with a mission “[t]o preserve, protect and enhance the quality of the human and natural environment” on Galiano Island, the Galiano Conservancy Association was one of BC’s first community-based land trusts.3

Galiano IslandPrtotected Areas Network Courtsey: Jon Weller

Galiano IslandPrtotected Areas Network
Courtsey: Jon Weller

Originally organized as an “instrument for community-based acquisition, management and conservation of land and habitat,” the Conservancy has successfully protected important ecological communities through direct land purchase and cooperative partnerships. It conducts work such as extensive long-term biological monitoring; but it has also grown to take on a broader range of activities than traditional conservation organizations that focus on the preservation of relatively intact ecosystems. This work includes the stewardship and restoration of ecosystems, (much of the island’s land was degraded through intensive logging operations) as well as efforts to educate the public and raise awareness of sustainable human relationships with the natural world. Instead of simply seeing their sites as degraded ecosystems, the Conservancy has embraced the history of human habitation (and degradation), not by preserving it in the sense of a cultural landscape, but rather by documenting it, allowing it to remain, incorporating it into educational programming, and refashioning it in contemporary ways such as establishing food forests on earlier agricultural land.

Galiano Island Courtsey: Jon Weller

Galiano Island
Courtsey: Jon Weller

The management of a multi-use landscapes is most certainly a complex and complicated process, but because of the kind of activities that are available it is possible, in the words of Conservancy Board Member Lorne Wilkinson, to “begin to create a model of how we might bring together natural systems and human systems in ways that are mutually reinforcing” and serves also to educate “people in their relationship to the natural world.”4 More than simply a protected natural or cultural landscape, the Conservancy’s properties are an ongoing example of how the restoration and conservation of natural and cultural systems can be integrated in a sustainable way. Such a model for community-led restoration of ecological systems, where the cultural connections to the land are deeply connected to all of the activities, offers a compelling case for reconciling the division between nature and culture.

1) Luis Balaguer, Adrián Escudero, José F. Martín-Duque, Ignacio Mola, and James Aronson, “The historical reference in restoration ecology: Re-defining a cornerstone concept,” Biological Conservation 176 (2014): 13.

2) Society for Ecological Restoration International Science & Policy Working Group, The SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration, Society for Ecological Restoration International (Tucson, AZ, 2004)

3) Galiano Conservancy Association, “Our Mission.” http://galianoconservancy.ca/our-mission#Purposes (accessed 18 June 2015)

4) Deborah Curran, Resource Guide to Collaborative Conservation Planning (Galiano, BC: Galiano Conservancy Association, 2013), 8.

Jon Weller is a researcher and heritage advocate from the University of Victoria where he studies alternative approaches for culture-based land and resource management. This article was first presented as a paper at the University of Massachusetts’ 2016 conference ‘Nature/Culture: Heritage in Context’ in Prague

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Our Predictions for Living Landscapes in 2013: How Did We Do?

By Brenda Barrett January 2, 2014

Last December, the Living Landscape Observer ventured a few predictions for the coming year of 2013. So looking backward, how did we do? Let’s answer the question.

1. The large landscape movement will continue to expand. With no big change in course at the national level the landscape scale programs at the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management will continue to grow and prosper. The America Great Outdoors initiative will frame the work of the Department of the Interior. The National Park Service will issue guidance on how to “Scale Up” efforts around National Park Units. On the private side, conservation organizations will come together around the new Large Landscape Practitioners Network.

Answer: Yes, we were right on! Sally Jewell the new Secretary of Department of the Interior is just as committed to the large landscape approach as former Secretary Ken Salazar: highlighting large landscape efforts US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, encouraging the National parks to Scale Up and issuing departmental Order 3330 “On Improving Mitigation Policies” in part through landscape scale planning . On the nongovernmental side, a new web site to connect large landscape practitioners is launching in the New Year.

2. National Heritage Areas will be pulled back from the brink. One of the country’s premier large landscape programs, the National Heritage Areas, are in a precarious position. The twelve original areas are facing a loss of funding and most of the newer areas are severely underfunded. We predict the program will be rescued, but remain unsure on whether much needed program legislation will be passed.

Answer: Just barely, but nobody is a winner in this game of chicken. In 2013 the sequester followed by the government shutdown played havoc with all protected area programs. National Heritage Areas were particularly hard hit. For example, the future of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor is very problematic. Once a shining example of public private partnership, it is struggling to keep the doors open, more on this story in the coming months.

3. The concept of cultural landscapes will be revitalized. New ideas about cultural landscapes including Indigenous Cultural Landscapes and Historic Urban Landscapes are attracting new and diverse audiences, including the conservation community, regional planners and urban developers. Look for these approaches to proliferate and shake up traditional concepts of cultural significance. Just one example of new ways to think about landscape is what’s happening at the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge.

Answer: On track to succeed, the National Park Service launched a series of initiatives to rethink the meaning of cultural landscapes in the National Register program. For more information on another innovative idea, the Indigenous Cultural Landscape Initiative, see our post on the sessions at the George Wright Conference in March of 2013.

4. The Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor will be in the spotlight. This is a given – after all the Commission has been honored by an invitation to march in the 57th Presidential Inaugural Parade on January 21, 2013. With a newly completed Management Action Plan, this should be an important year for the preservation of this national treasure. See our post on the Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor.

Answer: Congratulations to the Gullah Geechee Corridor for their strong promotional efforts in 2013. These include offering banners and highways signs for the region and advancing awareness of the corridor through gubernatorial proclamations. Despite limited funding and the budget woes of their National Park partner, the corridor is moving forward. The observer covered the float in the Inaugural Parade , the new Gullah Geechee Commission and the challenges of community conservation on Sapelo Island. Despite limited funding and the budget woes of their National Park partner, the corridor is moving forward. The next step, a nationwide search is on for the corridor’s first executive director.

Also in 2013:

Not predicted, but we all should have seen it coming, was the United States’ defunding of UNESCO and the impact this has on the World Heritage program . Just when there is a popular ground swell of interest in World Heritage designation in places as disparate as San Antonio, Texas and southern Ohio, the United States has stepped back. Follow this issue thanks to the work of Preservation Action.

The Living Landscape Observer predicts that there is plenty of unfinished work for 2014. What do you think?

 

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UNESCO adds 26 new World Heritage Sites

By Eleanor Mahoney August 15, 2012

UNESCO recently announced the addition of 26 new sites to its world heritage list.

New Inscribed Properties

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Fall Meetings and Networking

By Brenda Barrett July 25, 2012

This Fall Meet Up on Large Landscapes

Summer is the time to plan for  the upcoming conference season. Until recently there have been limited opportunities for folks on the ground to learn and share their best ideas on the large landscapes movement. However, this fall has produced a good crop of chances to get together. On the east coast, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is hosting the Conservation Landscape Summit: Naturally Connecting People and Places October 29-30, 2012 in Harrisburg PA.  This gathering will include elected officials, local organizations, and business owners who are working in seven conservation landscapes across the commonwealth to use natural assets for conservation and economic revitalization efforts.

Meanwhile for those on the west coast, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is holdings its annual conference for the first time in Spokane, Washington. On Friday November 1, 2012, there will be two sessions of interest. The Indigenous Cultural Landscapes: New Ideas on Place will look at defining larger landscapes from the perspectives and lifestyles of pre-Colonial Native peoples. A second session, Conservation on a Grand Scale: Large Landscape Approach, will provide an opportunity for the cultural community to shape the new landscape movement and develop working partnerships with environmental organizations. The speakers at both sessions are leaders in this new field and welcome your questions and participation.

This is all part of a trend to adapt the large landscape movement to encompass community sustainability and cultural heritage.  Oh, one more reminder from the Living Landscape Observer. If you are interested in cultural landscapes at a global scale consider attending the October 12-13 Cultural Landscapes Challenges in the 21st Century, Rutgers University, NJ . Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention and the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on Cultural Landscapes, the conference will bring together scholars and professionals from around the world.

 

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Let’s Give a Shout Out to World Heritage

By Brenda Barrett June 27, 2012

Mission San Jose in San Antonio TexasIn most countries inscription on the World Heritage list is highly prized. Designation is seen as bringing honor, recognition, and tourists to a nation’s most outstanding historic and scenic sites.  For this reason, many countries vie to increase the numbers of properties that are imprinted with the World Heritage brand.   This has not been the case in the United States – quick – name three US properties on the world heritage list: Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Monticello, yes, Mount Vernon actually no. To see a list of the 21 World Heritage sites in the US go here.

But perhaps the American perception of the value of World Heritage designation is changing.  Let me tell you what happened earlier in June at the usually staid US/ICOMOS annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas.  US/ICOMOS is one of over 100 National Committees with a formal role in the nomination and protection of World Heritage Sites and as a national committee provides technical advice to UNESCO’s on World Heritage issues.  The purpose of this year’s US/ICOMOS conference was to consider the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention featuring multiple scholarly presentations and behind the scene tours with the curators of the region’s heritage sites.

However, the US/ICOMOS conference dinner in celebration the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention had a different vibe. Keynote speaker, US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, brought a Texas crowd to it feet hooting and hollering when he announced his support for designating the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage sites.  While this might have been a little disconcerting to conference attendees and to the other candidates for World Heritage status also attending the meeting, this extra enthusiastic response might be a sign of the rising cachet of World Heritage designation in this country. Read the press release here.

According to a recent article  in the George Wright Forum, from 1960 through its ratification in 1972, the United States played a leadership role in developing the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the “World Heritage Convention”). Today this document has become one of the most widely recognized international environmental agreements in history and has been ratified by almost every nation on the globe. In the United States, however, the World Heritage Convention has come under increasing attack. During the Reagan Administration, the U.S. withdrew its support from UNESCO, the larger entity that oversees World Heritage designations. Congress also passed legislation requiring 100% owner consent to any world heritage listing, which rules out the designation of large cultural landscapes. And right now, the U.S. has again withdrawn financial support to UNESCO because of the organization’s vote to grant membership to Palestine.

Given this history, it is very heartening to see such a ground swell of interest in the idea of World Heritage and in Texas to boot! Supporters of the designation for the San Antonio Missions report that 80% of the local community is in favor of the nomination. The elected officials, the San Antonio River Authority, and most importantly the venerable San Antonio Conservation Society are all on board with idea. The Spanish ICOMOS National Committee also has offered to help with documentation requirements. Okay, so the number of fans for designating the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage Site wouldn’t fill Long Horn Stadium, but it is a start.

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What Makes Us Take on Large Landscape Conservation?

By Guest Observer June 27, 2012

Dealing with Threats (and Opportunities) at Sufficient Scale. (Part 1 of 2)

Editors’ note: In this first of a two part series, author Amy Rosenthal, secretary of the board of the Amazon Conservation Association, explores the history, contemporary challenges and benefits of working on a landscape-scale in the southwest Amazon. As the scale and rate of industrial development in the region grow exponentially, local communities and associations, place-based nonprofits and other collaborators have come together to plan and execute an ambitious initiative to address the environmental and human needs of this unique place.   

The southwestern Amazon has been a remote place for most of human history. It is a steamy region, where lush jungles support an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. Bands of monkeys swing through the trees. Jaguars and pumas hunt white-lipped peccaries and capybara. Harpy eagles and macaws nest in trees 16 stories tall. The giant, ancient arapaima vies with schools of piranha to rule the rivers. And, many-colored ants, butterflies, grasshoppers, and beetles number in the millions. We are still discovering new species today.

Unlike historically populous areas of the Amazon, this area now known as the MAP Region (Madre de Dios, Peru; Acre, Brazil; and Pando, Bolivia) is thought to have been inhabited by small, disperse bands of peoples. The first waves of non-Indigenous immigration took place in the late 1800s, when colonists sought to reap the benefits of the rubber and gold rushes. Yet, roads and urban construction – the hallmarks of the human footprint – were slow to appear. The first paved roads arrived only in the 1980s, accompanied by rampant violence and deforestation, and the world’s first eco-martyr, Chico Mendes.

The impacts of mining are visible in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo courtesy of Amazon Conservation Association

Today, the MAP Region is being transformed. From the air, instead of a rich green carpet, you see what appears to be a long spine, with a series of fishbone cuts deep into the jungle. Dusty red cities crop up –Cobija, Puerto Maldonado, Iberia – and one metropolis – Rio Branco – full of cars and shopping malls. Peri-urban zones are flat, yellow or grayish green and dotted with white cows; they spread in every direction and along the spine as far as you can see. On the Peruvian side, smoke wafts up from grey-brown holes in the forest – gold mines; these sites appear almost overnight, quickly fill with Andean migrants and mercury, and over days are dug down to sand and bedrock. On the ground, in many places, there is no reminder of the cathedral forests and the crouching jaguars, save the early morning sounds of macaws flying overhead or the lonely sloth that wanders into an urban downtown.

On the one side, this is a story of successful development: paved roads, modern bridges, sparkling new cities, and more jobs for the Andean poor.

On the other, it’s a calamity for people and for the environment. In 2009, the U.S. EPA measured urban air emissions of mercury in this region to be the highest found almost anywhere in the world. Waters, fish and birds are poisoned, and people are afraid to eat local foods. Indigenous groups have no alternative sources for their water and protein needs and so they suffer some of the worst health effects. The forest burning literally chokes the cities. Over the past decade, Rio Branco has had to close its airport numerous times because of low visibility due to smoke. While living in Rio Branco in the early 2000s, I saw ash fall from the sky like rain. Rates of respiratory illnesses – especially in children – are up. Hunting has decimated many monkey populations. The fishbone roads, towns, and mining camps disrupt critical migration pathways for jaguars, macaws, and peccaries.

And, the effects of climate change are beginning to be felt: the region has had successive years of devastating floods in the rainy season and sickening droughts in the dry season. Thousands of people have lost their homes, and rainy season emergencies have become the norm. In the dry months, many people fall prey to water-borne illness and diarrhea. Rates of dengue and malaria have increased, and some studies have demonstrated a relationship between rates of infection and deforestation.

What can we do? Learn more in Part II:  What Makes Us Take on Large Landscape Conservation? Dealing with Threats (and Opportunities) at Sufficient Scale.

Amy Rosenthal contributed this article. Ms. Rosenthal, an occasional observer for this website, isScience-Policy Interface Specialist with the Natural Capital Project, a collaboration among the WWF, The Nature Conservancy, Stanford University, and the University of Minnesota to create tools that map and value ecosystem services and help policy makers, companies, and multinational institutions make good decisions about development. From 2007 to 2010, Amy was Deputy Director for Projects at the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA), where she designed and managed major conservation initiatives and established ACA’s REDD program. Prior to her work with ACA, Amy contributed to the book The Last Forest: the Amazon in the Age of Globalization and established an environmental management training program with the Federal University of Acre in Brazil.

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