Saving What Remains


July 31, 2012

Tropical forests have been inhabited by humans for tens of thousands of years, and human activities on a traditional scale may actually help promote forest diversity. Traditionally forest-dependent indigenous peoples have rarely over-exploited the resource that provides them with their livelihood, and they carefully practice rotational farming and sustainably harvest forest products and game. Yet these Indigenous peoples often take the brunt of the blame for the destruction of the rainforests. Creating reserves has sometimes evicted these traditional peoples from their lands and in some places national park rangers unfairly restrict their activities. Less so today, but frequently in the past, tribal peoples were disregarded when national government granted concessions to foreign oil, mining, and logging firms on their traditional lands. Indigenous people have missed out on most of the benefits garnered by forest developers.

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Indigenous people have intimate knowledge and perspectives of the forest ecosystem around them. Instead of looking as them with condescension, scientists, environmentalists, and conservationists must come to view Indigenous people as an asset to forest use and conservation.

Oscar Mishaja, rainforest guide in the Tambopata region. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Review questions:

  • What can we learn from Indigenous people about rainforest conservation?

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