This is the seventh in a series of weekly blog posts covering conservation topics with a focus on protected areas and the laws and institutions that support them (or don’t).
Catching up on protected area and PADDD (protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement) news after a 3-week hiatus should be simple, right? You may think: well, it must be very difficult and slow to change protected areas’ laws, so PADDD must not happen very often. My experience shows that this is not the case. The process that I use to mine the news and scientific evidence about protected areas and legal changes that affect them is enhanced by search engines, twitter hashtags, and RSS feeds. This searching generates loads of information that I further winnow down to identify the actual *legal changes* within parks, filtering out other topics (protected area planning, establishment, effectiveness studies, etc). After scrolling through dozens of stories about Cecil the Lion (which has inadvertently become the highest profile conservation story of the year, despite the fact that millions of endangered animals are killed legally and illegally every day), I’ve discovered several very important PADDD events. Globally, PADDD occurs more often that you may think. Here are highlights of the most recent protected area and PADDD news.
Bolivia: Bolivian president Evo Morales approved oil exploration in 7 out of 22 of its National Parks, where oil exploration was previously banned. By area, this change affects 22% of the land within Bolivian National Parks. If exploration led to the discovery of oil, this would ultimately lead to drilling and potential endangerment of public health and wildlife habitat. More information here.
United Kingdom: The UK government did a “U-turn” and announced that hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) will now be allowed within protected areas known as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). This is a reversal of the previous announcement from January 2015 that would have banned fracking in these areas. The Telegraph reports that there are about 3,600 SSSI locations in the UK. Fracking has been linked to water and noise pollution as well as small earthquakes. More information here.
Cambodia: A new report from Forest Trends reveals accelerating legal and illegal deforestation within protected areas in Cambodia. Forested areas are leased for concessions, many of which are slated as rubber plantations. However, these permits are not always utilized appropriately: From the BBC:
"What happens is that the companies set up sawmills within the concession areas, but they basically go outside and grab everything and buy from other areas, they bring it into the concession and they launder it via the concession - this can go on for 2 or 3 years, they clean out the whole area." -Marcus Hardtke, an expert on forest issues in Cambodia
Little to no enforcement of permitting allows deforestation to continue unabated. Without the legal frameworks in place to monitor protected lands, the “timber grab” is likely to continue.
United States: The House of Representatives and the Senate are considering several bills that would fast-track the permitting of gas pipelines in National Parks. If enacted, these bills would skip the requirement of Congressional approval for construction. The construction and operation of pipelines carrying natural gas poses risks to wildlife, public health, and safety. The construction process alone impacts local flora and fauna and throughout a pipe’s lifetime, ruptures and spills are possible.
These stories represent the top PADDD and protected area news stories of the past three weeks. The rate of new stories on protected area legal changes adds a layer of evidence suggesting that changes to protected areas occur constantly. However, the search for information on new legal changes is limited by what has already been reported in the traditional media and picked up on twitter. Hence, the information that can be gathered on PADDD (without intensive ongoing studies in each country) is likely to be an underestimate of the true magnitude of protected area changes. Only a large, concerted, international effort to track PADDD can hope to accurately quantify changes that affect protected areas on a global scale.