Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
year—represents what the eminent entomologist and popular-science writer E. O. Wilson
(2007) has called the “pauperization of earth.” Biodiversity loss diminishes the integrity of
earth's ecosystems and, in so doing, may ultimately lead to the collapse of our own species.
The establishment of protected areas of varying scales and purposes constitutes one of
history's most significant resource-management changes, a transition that is driven largely
by the discourse of biodiversity. In this sense, the move to set aside areas for conservation
in China represents part of global trend: at present, more than 100,000 protected areas exist
worldwide, covering more than 20 million square kilometers, or approximately 12 percent
of the world's land surface (West and Brockington 2006). Such a strategy has been called
“fortress conservation” (Brockington 2002) because of its exclusion of human activities,
generally through the use of law and policy rather than through the construction of actual
walls or fences, for the purpose of biodiversity conservation.
Proponents of fortress conservation argue that the ecosystems targeted for conservation
have long been threatened by human activity and must therefore be restored to their
original, “pristine” conditions. The biodiversity conservation discourse is bolstered by
a series of related concepts—diversity hot spots, threatened species, vulnerable ecosys-
tems—ideological constructions that tend to view natural systems as bucolic wilderness
rather than as tended landscapes that are the result of generations of human occupation
and sometimes intensive management. Henry David Thoreau, the American naturalist and
author whose thinking was foundational to the transcendentalist movement in which urb-
an people, stripped of their attachment to nature, sought to reclaim morality and spiritual
refuge in wild places, once famously declared, “In wilderness is the preservation of the
world.”
The fortress-conservation idea came to full fruition in America through the ambitious
efforts of iconic figures such as John Muir and their attempts to protect some of the enig-
matic landscapes of the American West, including Yosemite Valley and Yellowstone. But
the idea quickly grew legs, spreading to Australia, Africa, and Asia, often in step with colo-
nial occupation. Biodiversity is now arguably the chief organizing concept of conservation
efforts worldwide. It is simultaneously a scientific imperative to understand the complexity
of natural systems through interrelated fields such as botany, ecology, and genetics; a drive
to capitalize on biological agents, often as commodities for the pharmaceutical industry;
and a conservation target that resonates with donors, volunteers, and resource managers
(Harper 2002:33). 2
As I pointed out in detail in the chapters on the Lancang and Nu River basins, Yunnan's
natural areasarefreighted withepistemological significance; anidealized, conceptual land-
scape overlays the actual, physical one. In making the case for the Three Parallel Rivers
World Heritage Area, for example, UNESCO officials referenced the renowned biological
diversity of the region, including more than 6,000 plant species and an astounding array of
fauna, some 200 species of which occur nowhere else on earth (see table 7.2 ) . Some, such
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