Worldwide Experience in the Creation of Areas for Conservation

By Douglas Tompkins

"I have taken part in the legislation involved in the creation of dozens of national parks and the pattern is always the same. When you propose the creation of a park, visit the area and present the case to the local inhabitants, they will threaten to strangle you. Then you go back 5 years later and they will tell you it is the most wonderful thing that has happened to them."

Morris Udall (U.S. Congress Legislator for 30 years)

"I have had first-hand experience with regards to local opposition to national parks, even smaller parks; it is valuable knowledge. This opposition has been there in 95% of the battles for national parks that I have participated in; for example, in North Cascades, Olympics (in its expansion of 1976), Hell's Canyon Recreation Area (it is not a national park—even though it should be—but the principle is the same, a great reserve that was previously open to total exploitation), ALL the great parks in Alaska... not to mention the hundreds of campaigns in natural areas since the 1960s. In fact, local opposition has been so universal that I tend to take it as a given, almost as an axiom in the politics of land protection in the USA... a law of nature, perhaps."

Brock Evans (the main lobbyist for Sierra Club, Audubon, in Washington, D.C.; he is a member of the Restoration Council, and throughout his life has taken part in all sorts of conservationist battles. He is, perhaps, the most experienced living conservationist in the United States.)

These statements, by two highly experienced veteran conservationists, one of them a lobbyist in Washington, the other a long-term member of the US Congress, show experiences that the Conservation Land Trust (CLT) has also witnessed first-hand.

Our 16 years of experience in Chile have shown that local resistance to conservation is nothing more than a temporary opposition that must be seriously addressed, but directly so, through a process of clear programs that can win over the trust of the local populace. CLT has also observed that conservation projects are conflictive by nature and that with time, local opposition becomes unconditional support. Today nobody would even think of disaffecting Nahuel Huapi, Los Glaciares or Iguazú National Parks, to name a mere three protected areas in Argentina. The Perito Moreno Glacier, the Iguazú falls, the amazing scenery of Perito Moreno National Park in Santa Cruz province, or even the most recent addition to the Argentina National Parks Administration Monte León N. P. are by now national monuments well engraved in the Nation's psyche. They are PATRIMONY.

The real meaning of patriotism is loyalty towards the land on which a nation is settled, and conservation is the most elemental for of patriotism. Even though it takes time for this concept to take root in the national conscience, it first arrives by hand of those who have found profound humane necessity in having a healthy, vibrant natural environment, whose spiritual, emotional and vital nutrient—the centre of native cultures worldwide—is now a pressing subject that concerns all societies, both urban and rural.

In the creation of every one of the 77 national parks of the United States there has been conflicts and opposition from the most diverse range of developers or created economic interests. Some of these oppositions took up to sixty years (!) to be overcome before the creation of the park was possible. It is worth mentioning that for each of these parks there existed some form of private philanthropic help, either total or partial.

It is important to understand that this local opposition is normal; it comes attached to the land itself, and in a sense, is part of the process. In many cases conservationists—especially those who are unaware of the history behind the efforts towards conservation in other places or countries—feel intimidated by the opposition and conflicts they generate and lose confidence in the idea that their projects are viable and reachable. It is our wish at CLT that the members of our team and those who support us to be aware of this and that not only they feel confident but also that they understand that it is part of the challenge to find the particular arguments that will help us win over the local support for each of our conservationist projects. To conclude, local support is the key to success, but it requires time, patience and good manners as well as perseverance and dedication.