Mining and Indigenous Communities in Papua New Guinea: Environmental Impacts in the Context of Changing International Lending Regimes


AUGUST 7, 2011


        Papua New Guinea offers a fascinating backdrop for an investigation into the environmental impacts of mining in indigenous communities. While mining has played an important role in the country's economic development, it has also been a significant source of conflict and social upheaval. The complex interactions of local and national actors with transnational corporations and international lenders offer instructive lessons about the pitfalls and opportunities related to the extraction of natural resources in remote and sensitive regions. This paper investigates the role that mining has played in Papua New Guinea's economic development, focusing on the environmental impacts of large projects on indigenous communities. It also examines the role that international lending regimes and industry best practices can play in making mining less ecologically destructive.

        In the first section of the paper, a literature review examines global trends related to mining and indigenous peoples. This review covers issues such as community resistance and consent, indigenous land tenure and sovereignty issues, human rights discourses relating to indigenous peoples and the environment, and existing environmental and social safeguard policies for international lenders.

        The body of the paper examines environmental impacts of two infamous mining projects in Papua New Guinea- the Panguna (Bougainville) copper mine and the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine- in order to draw meaningful lessons about historical and current industry practices in Papua New Guinea. Emerging international lending regimes designed to mitigate environmental and social impacts of mining projects are then examined, particularly the International Finance Corporation's Performance Standards on Social and Environmental Sustainability. This section also discusses the concept of free, prior, and informed consultation (FPIC) and the shift towards proactive stakeholder engagement has been recently been embraced by most of the major transnational mining companies.


Community resistance and consent

        While mining operations often result in substantial economic benefits to local communities, they can also be a source of significant resistance and conflict. This is especially true when large-scale industrial mining operations displace small-scale artisanal miners, resulting in the loss of subsistence income and livelihoods. Garvin et al. (2009) examine the complex dynamics of gold mining in Ghana, showing how the actions of large transnational mining companies are viewed with suspicion by local communities, many of whom feel that promises of development that accompany the opening of mines do not live up to expectations.

        One of the reasons that large-scale mining operations are contentious is that the benefits of mining are perceived to be unequally distributed. This is particularly true when foreign companies operate mines in the developing world. In an examination of six mining operations in both developing and developed countries, Kemp et al. (2011) attribute mining conflict to unequal power relations between mining companies and local communities that go unaddressed, a lack of adequate dialogue between companies and their external stakeholders, and poorly designed stakeholder grievance mechanisms.

        The consent of local communities in allowing mining operations on their surrounding lands has gained increasing attention in recent years due to the increased scrutiny of NGOs and international project lenders. Filer and Macintyre (2006) discuss community responses to mining in Melanesia, noting the tradeoff between enhanced local economic livelihoods and the significant social and environmental impacts that mining operations tend to cause.

        A number of scholars write about the issue of prior consent in mining projects from a legal perspective, examining how community consent relates to issues such as human rights, land tenure, protected areas, and political sovereignty. They include Hunter (2003), Goodland (2004), MacKay (2004), Nakagawa (2004), Perrault et al. (2007), Laplante and Spears (2008), and Magraw and Baker (2008). Macintyre (2007) examines some of these subjects in Papua New Guinea, noting "The concerns of the community representatives are usually those that are best described as social and economic rather than environmental. Rightly or wrongly, the affected people generally perceive the mining project as a form of development, poverty alleviation and as a chance to be linked to the wider (and richer) world" (p. 52). She also points out that the question of who actually grants community consent can be problematic, making the important point that the voices of women are often marginalized in community consent processes in Papua New Guinea.

Indigenous land tenure and sovereignty issues

        Macintyre and Foale (2007) investigate land and marine tenure around the Lihir gold mine in Papua New Guinea, showing how externally introduced notions of private property have changed the perceptions of local clans about resources that were previously communally owned. They note that while local people are eager to embrace modernity and development, this creates a paradoxical situation in which traditional ideas about communal land and marine tenure are undermined.

        O'Faircheallaigh and Corbett (2005) examine agreements that have been made in between companies and indigenous peoples in Australia, discuss the role that local indigenous peoples can play in the environmental management of mining projects. Their findings show that while indigenous involvement in environmental management decisions can be beneficial in terms of reducing project impacts, inequalities in power relations between indigenous peoples and mining companies can easily complicate co-management efforts.

        Kirsch (2007) examines the difficulties that local indigenous peoples faced in their efforts to reduce environmental impacts on their lands and rivers that were associated with the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea. He notes that the alliance that local people formed with international environmental NGOs was an uneasy one, since it did not fit nicely into the narrative that indigenous peoples were opposed to industrial development. While local people found the environmental impacts of the mine unacceptable, they enjoyed the benefits of development that the mine had brought to their region.

        Fidler (2010) examines negotiated agreements between mining companies and indigenous peoples in the Canadian context, showing how such agreements can lead to more responsible mining development by involving indigenous peoples earlier in the project planning process. He uses a case study from British Columbia to illustrate how a company reached a negotiated agreement that clearly recognized the Tahltan Nation's land rights and included provisions that would benefit the local community through employment opportunities, contracting services, and educational initiatives.

Human rights discourses relating to indigenous peoples and the environment

        In recent years many indigenous peoples have begun to frame their struggles within the context of the international human rights discourse. Within a broader discussion of business and human rights, Ruggie (2007) argues that states have a duty to protect their indigenous peoples based on the current framework of international human rights law. Magraw and Baker (2008) give a good overview of some of the emerging legal issues related to human rights in the international context, focusing on community-based property rights and prior informed consent in the project development process.

        Page (2004) examines a number of legal cases involving indigenous peoples and prior and informed consent that have come before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Two of these cases, in Nicaragua and Belize, involved the granting of logging concessions on indigenous lands, and the court ruled that the two countries were in violation on international human rights laws for failing to consult with local indigenous peoples. Campbell and Anaya (2008) examine the Belize case in greater depth, discussing how it reflects a long struggle by the Mayan people to secure officially recognized land rights.

        Recent decisions made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights are also discussed by Finer et al. (2008) in an article investigating the major oil and gas concessions that regional governments have been granting in recent years in the western Amazon. The authors argue that a number of the concessions are likely to violate international law and that they will be harmful to indigenous people and biodiversity. Brockington et al. (2006) discuss the human rights of indigenous peoples in the context of conservation and protected areas, arguing that forced evictions of people from protected areas are counterproductive and that it is necessary for conservationists to embrace what they refer to as "ecologies of coexistence" (p. 251).

Existing environmental and social safeguard policies for international lenders

        A number of articles discuss the increasing attention that international lenders are paying to the environmental and social impacts of development projects. Lenders have come under increased scrutiny in recent years due to certain projects that have caused disastrous impacts, notably projects like the Polonoreste highway in the Brazilian Amazon and the Narmada dam in India that have been supported by the World Bank (Schaper, 2007). Goodland (2008) discusses how the World Bank made changes to its operational policies in the 1990s after observing the environmental and social consequences of these projects.

        Park (2005) argues that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which is the arm of the World Bank Group that provides loans to the private sector rather than sovereign loans to governments, has been "socialized" as a result of international pressure from NGOs (p. 95). This pressure resulted from an IFC loan to the Pangue Project in Chile, which was controversial for impacts that included deforestation and human rights abuses by the project proponent. She makes a convincing argument that the IFC adopted its Performance Standards on Social and Environmental Sustainability in response to what was framed by NGOs as unacceptable behavior for a financial institution of its stature.

        O'Sullivan and O'Dwyer (2009) provide some historical context for the process that led to the creation of the Equator Principles, which is a voluntary code of conduct in project finance transactions by private banks. Wright and Rwabizambuga (2006) are a bit skeptical of the intentions of these banks, arguing that while the mitigation of environmental and social risks in project finance is an admirable goal, the banks that adopted the Equator Principles were primarily concerned about risks to their own reputations.

        Clayton (2009) argues that the Equator Principles do not go far enough in protecting communities located near development projects, because lenders require proponents to consult with these communities rather than obtain their consent to proceed. Similarly, Vogel (2010) makes a good case that voluntary codes of conduct are not a substitute for stronger government regulation and enforcement with regard to environmental and human rights issues.


        Although the size and scale of mining projects vary greatly as a function of geology and the characteristics of the physical environment at any given site, economies of scale within the mining industry dictate that environmental impacts tend to be large. In Papua New Guinea these impacts have been particularly severe. The Panguna copper mine and Ok Tedi copper and gold mine are two large mining operations in Papua New Guinea that have had major environmental and social impacts, and large numbers of indigenous people have been directly affected by these mines.

The Panguna copper mine

        The Panguna copper mine opened in 1972 and was operated by Bougainville Copper Limited until 1989, when company equipment was blown up with explosives by local residents and the company was forced to close the mine (Bougainville Copper Limited, 2011). Located on Bougainville Island hundreds of kilometers east of the Papua New Guinean capital of Port Moresby, the mine led to armed conflict and a secessionist movement against the national government that lasted for almost 10 years (Regan, 1998).

        The reasons for this violence have been the subject of much debate, but it is generally agreed that local landowners in the vicinity of the mine felt that they were receiving few of its economic benefits, at the same time that they were left with the burden of its negative environmental impacts (Banks, 2002). The Bougainville crisis that began with the closure of the mine was the consequence of many years of unanswered grievances by local stakeholders and cost-cutting measures on the part of the company (Thompson, 1991).

        The local Nasioi indigenous people living on the mining concession were opposed to the mine from the very beginning and used all legal means available to keep their land, but the High Court of Australia dismissed their case on technical grounds, arguing that since Bougainville was an Australian territory at that time they did not have the same legal protections as Australian citizens (Thompson, 1991). The company proceded to spray aerial defoliants to clear vegetation, relocate 289 families from eight villages, and construct an oil burning electric power station to power the mine (Thompson, 1991).

        The mine was designed so that its tailings waste was discharged directly into the Jaba River, resulting in devastating impacts to freshwater ecosystems. In the main channel of the river, all of the fish were killed by the 140,000 tonnes of tailings that were discharged into the river every day (Wohl, 2006). 152 million tonnes of tailings were discharged into the river over the life of the mine, creating a 900 hectare delta at its mouth and resulting in river aggradation, an elevated water table, and swampy areas that were previously forested (Thompson, 1991). Additionally, the pH in the section of the river directly downstream decreased rapidly after the closure of the mine due to acid rock drainage, with the effect that it will not support life in the near future (Salomans, 1995).

        In addition to losing their fishery, which was an important source of protein, the local Nasioi people lost the fertile agricultural land on which they grew cocoa as a cash crop (Thompson, 1991). As a consequence they became more impoverished at the same time that their dependence on processed foodstuffs was increasing (Thompson, 1991).

        The eventual violence that led to the closure of the mine was therefore at least partly attributable to the significant environmental impacts of the operations at the Panguna mine. However, Regan (1998) cautions that the Bougainville crisis that the mine closure set into motion also had cultural, ethnic, and economic causes. While environmental impacts at Panguna may have been the trigger that led to armed conflict, they were not necessarily responsible for the prolongation of the conflict itself.

The Ok Tedi copper and gold mine

        The Ok Tedi copper and gold mine has a similarly checkered history resulting from a long history of environmental degradation. The mine has been the subject of a number of lawsuits and created a great deal of negative publicity for Australian mining firm BHP Billiton, which divested its holdings in the mine in 2002. Located in the Western Highlands region of Papua New Guinea close to the border with Irian Jaya, the mine has been operational since 1984 and is expected to be operational until 2013 (Low and Gleeson, 1998).

        Although the original environmental impact assessment studies for the mine stipulated that a tailings dam would be part of the project design, a landslide that occurred during the construction stage in 1984 destroyed the area where the dam was supposed to be built, leading the company to abandon its plan to capture the tailings (Banks, 2002). Instead of investing additional funds to build an adequate impoundment, the company pressured the government of Papua New Guinea to temporarily allow it to dump the tailings into the Ok Tedi River (Kirsch, 2007). Keen to ensure the flow of tax revenues from the mine in order to pay the interest on its foreign debt, the government granted this request, and when the Bougainville mine was shut down in 1989 it allowed the mine to operate without a tailings impoundment until its closure (Kirsch, 2007).

        The mine is located in the headwaters of the Ok Tedi River watershed, and by the 1990s siltation from mining sludge had raised the height of the river to the point where villagers' gardens were flooded with sterile sand, rendering them unusable (Jorgensen, 2006). It is estimated that by the time the mine closes, over one billion tonnes of tailings will have been released into the watershed (Low and Gleeson, 1998).

        The deposition of this sterile sand during more frequent flooding events also has consequences for the lowland tropical rain forest that lies adjacent to the floodplain. It has been observed that the tree death and dieback are common along both the Ok Tedi River and the Fly River where flooding has deposited tailings sludge (Banks, 2002). In a worst-case scenario, 1,554 square kilometers of rainforest has already suffered from dieback, and it has been suggested that the entire 4,200 square kilometer flood plain of the river could ultimately be affected (Kirsch, 2007).

        Additionally, impacts to fish stocks have been observed, with consensus between both local indigenous peoples and Western scientists that the populations of key species have decreased dramatically since the mine opened (Swales et al., 1998). At some sites near the mine, there had been as much as an 89% reduction in fish biomass between 1984 and 1998 (Swales et al., 1998). This clearly has negative implications for both local livelihoods and biodiversity of these aquatic habitats.

        Ultimately many of the downstream users of the river did receive some monetary compensation for their losses in an out-of-court settlement with majority shareholder BHP Billiton. Worth approximately $500 million, the settlement also included provisions requiring BHP Billiton to substantially improve tailings disposal, but the dredging of the river that took place on an annual basis thereafter only mitigated the annual volume of mine waste by 20 percent (Kirsch, 2007). In 2002, BHP Billiton transferred ownership of its majority stake in the mine to a Singapore-based trust fund company managed by the Papua New Guinea government ironically dubbed the PNG Sustainable Development Program Ltd. (Kirsch, 2007). The transfer of its ownership stake effectively shielded the company from any future lawsuits (Kirsch, 2007).


        As the Bougainville and Ok Tedi case studies show, mining companies have operated with impunity in Papua New Guinea, causing devastating environmental impacts that have led to conflict and ruined livelihoods. It is worthwhile to investigate why this came to be and what can be done to prevent similar manmade disasters like this from occurring in Papua New Guinea in the future.

        Papua New Guinea is highly dependent on mineral extraction for tax revenues and foreign exchange, and mining accounts for 25 percent of gross domestic product and 70 percent of the country's export revenue (Macintyre, 2007). It is also highly indebted to foreign lenders, and these revenues enable the country to service its debt (Kirsch, 2007). Endemic corruption remains a problem as well; Transparency International ranks Papua New Guinea 154 out of 178 countries in its 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index (Transparency International, 2010).

        These structural economic issues, along with weak centralized institutions and a lack of adequate environmental regulatory oversight and enforcement, make it clear that environmental degradation often takes a back seat to other political priorities such as natural resource extraction and infrastructure development. Poor enforcement mechanisms and the lack of transparency in government give foreign mining firms few financial incentives to reduce their environmental impacts. Furthermore, local indigenous peoples in Papua New Guinea are often more keenly interested in the economic opportunities associated with mines- along with the schools, medical clinics, and transportation links that accompany them- than the environmental impacts that they initially create (Kirsch, 2007; Macintyre, 2007a).

        Given this context, it is worthwhile to examine how changing international lending regimes and industry best practices can contribute to improved environmental management of mines that operate in Papua New Guinea. The very nature of major mining projects dictates that they require large amounts of capital in the project planning and construction stages, and this means that international lenders have significant leverage over how mining companies design and operate their mines. Although in the past these lenders may have been willing to look the other way while companies rode roughshod over the environment and human rights, environmental and social standards in project lending have recently become institutionalized at the International Finance Corporation and many of the major banks in the private sector.

        The IFC Performance Standards on Social and Environmental Sustainability have become the benchmark for responsible lending in international project finance transactions in the developing world. They contain detailed best practice guidance to companies about social and environmental management systems, labor and working conditions, pollution abatement, community health and safety, biodiversity conservation, indigenous peoples, and cultural heritage (IFC, 2006). Before lending to a project, the IFC conducts an extensive audit process to ensure that all of these standards are being adhered to. Due to the way that project finance loans are structured, the IFC can withhold the second or third installment of a loan if project monitoring shows that companies are not meeting their social and environmental obligations. Similarly, the Equator Principles, a voluntary set of lending guidelines that have been adopted by many major private financial institutions, are based on the IFC standards and have similar loan covenants mandating ongoing social and environmental monitoring and compliance. There is therefore an important financial incentive for companies to adhere to the IFC standards.

        Performance Standard 7 deals specifically with the subject of indigenous peoples, containing a number of requirements designed to safeguard indigenous communities in the context of project finance transactions. These include provisions for the avoidance and mitigation of adverse impacts, guidelines for information disclosure, consultation, and informed participation, requirements regarding the identification of development benefits and opportunities for indigenous peoples throughout the life of the project, and standards that address lands under customary use, cultural resources, and resettlement (IFC, 2006). Importantly, however, the language relating to the consultation process is somewhat weak, and the standard requires 'free, prior, and informed consultation' rather than free, prior, and informed consent (IFC, 2006, p. 29). This phrasing does not give indigenous communities veto power over a project and has been a criticized by NGOs, demonstrating that although the IFC performance standards are a step in the right direction, they are far from infallible. Nonetheless, they have been instrumental in changing industry practices, and most of the major transnational mining companies have now taken a more proactive approach to community relations issues and the management of social and environmental impacts (Jenkins and Yakovleva, 2006). A new version of the IFC Performance Standards to become effective in January of 2012 mandates free, prior, and informed consent when projects taking place on indigenous lands have the potential to cause significant impacts on indigenous cultures.


        As case studies of the Panguna and Ok Tedi mines show, the environmental impacts of mining in Papua New Guinea have been severe. Freshwater ecosystems have been destroyed due to irresponsible disposal of mine tailings, and sedimentation associated with tailings discharges has led to higher water tables, more frequent flooding, and dieback of tropical rain forests known for their high biodiversity value. Indigenous communities living downstream from these mines have lost their lands and livelihoods and have felt the burden of these environmental impacts, often losing culturally or spiritually significant local resources while receiving scant compensation or economic benefit for their losses.

        Given these realities and the weak environmental regulatory structure in Papua New Guinea, international lenders can play a role in encouraging mining companies to act more responsibly through the rigorous application of the IFC Performance Standards and Equator Principles. Although they are imperfect, such international norms in lending can have a major influence on the way that mining projects are planned, designed, constructed, and decommissioned, leading to less severe social and environmental impacts. While the mining industry, by its very nature, will never be truly socially and environmentally sustainable, such requirements for project lending can go a long way toward ensuring that future mining operations in the developing world will be significantly less damaging in the future.


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A Compilation of Deepwater Drilling Resources


MAY 20, 2010

Offshore Continental Shelf Spill Incidents Greater than or Equal to 50 Barrels in the Gulf of Mexico that were reported from 1964-2009:

Central Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale Statistics- Bids Received by Water Depth:

Not a single well deeper than 1600 meters was leased before 2001.

Western Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale Statistics- Bids Received by Water Depth

Ditto my former comment.

Crude Oil & Condensate Production: Graph of Offshore vs. All Other Domestic Production

Conventional production is purple, offshore production is blue, and offshore production as a percentage of total production is yellow. As total production decreases, there is greater pressure to drill deeper offshore.

Gas Hydrates Offshore Louisiana

Note the hydrates in Mississippi Canyon, where the Deepwater Horizon exploded.

Deepwater Development Systems (Visual depiction of the different types of rigs and production platforms)

Blowouts & Loss of Well Control, 2006-2010

Offshore Continental Shelf Incidents/Spills Statistics by Category, 2006-2010: Fatalities, Injuries, Loss of Well Control, Fires/Explosions, Collisions, Spills > 50 bbls, Other

Exploration and Development Plans Database Search (An excellent resource if you want the details of a particular lease or company! A search by operator name for BP returns 768 results...)

Offshore Continental Shelf Regulations

Offshore Continental Shelf Civil and Criminal Penalties (This one is particularly upsetting- click on any year on the left hand side of the screen and you will see how these companies cut corners on a regular basis, creating dangers for rig workers and the environment.)

Deepwater Horizon Response: Official site of the Deepwater Horion Unified Command

Deepwater Natural Gas and Oil Discoveries and Fields (Good resource!)

Gulf of Mexico Permanent Deepwater Structures

Deepwater Production Summary by Year

GIS Data for Gulf of Mexico Gas and Oil Sands (ASCII Files)

Field and Reserve Information

MMS Deepwater News Releases and Additional Information

Useful PDF Resources:

BP Regional Oil Spill Response Plan (redacted- version 2; 598 pages, very heavy)

Current Deepwater Activity (There are currently 14 drilling operations deeper than BP's Mississippi Canyon failure.)

Deepwater Gulf of Mexico 2009: Interim Report of 2008 Highlights

Deepwater Gulf of Mexico 2008: American's Offshore Energy Future

Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Production Forecast: 2009-2018

Accidents Associated with Oil and Gas Operations, Outer Continental Shelf, 1956-1990

Details of each Offshore Continental Shelf Spill Incident Greater Than or Equal To 50 Barrels in the Gulf of Mexico by year:

1964 (5) 1965 (2) 1966 (0) 1967 (2) 1968 (2) 1969 (9) 1970 (7) 1971 (11) 1972 (1) 1973 (5)

1974 (8) 1975 (2) 1976 (3) 1977 (4) 1978 (3) 1979 (5) 1980 (9) 1981 (6) 1982 (3) 1983 (9)

1984 (2) 1985 (9) 1986 (3) 1987 (1) 1988 (4) 1989 (1) 1990 (3) 1991 (1) 1992 (3) 1993 (1)

1994 (4) 1995 (4) 1996 (3) 1997 (3) 1998 (9) 1999 (5) 2000 (7) 2001 (9) 2002 (12) 2003 (12)

2004 (22) 2005 (49) 2006 (14) 2007 (4) 2008 (33) 2009 (10)

This post would be incomplete without section 7.1 of BP's Initial Exploration Plan Mississippi Canyon Block 252: (Heavy PDF)

That's right, BP said it could handle a 162,000 barrel per day uncontrolled blowout. Based on what we've seen over the last four weeks, that statement is categorically false. If you want more information about the BP's Regional OSRP (Exploration) numbers above, you need look no further than here:

BP Regional Oil Spill Response Plan (Redacted version 2; 598 pages, Very heavy PDF)

Environmental Impacts of Armed Conflict on the Protected Areas of Central Africa's Albertine Rift


APRIL 14, 2010


        The Albertine Rift Valley is one of Africa's biodiversity hotspots. This area, also referred to as Africa's Great Lakes region, extends from the northern tip of Zambia all the way to Uganda and includes lands in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, western Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda. Formed by geological processes that have led the African continental landmass to split into two divergent tectonic plates, the area is host to a number of active volcanoes, deep freshwater lakes, and distinct physiographic zones that provide ideal habitat for a wide range of terrestrial and aquatic species. Notably, the Albertine Rift Valley contains more endemic vertebrate species than any other region in mainland Africa, and it is home to the world's last remaining populations of endangered Eastern gorillas (Plumptre et al., 2007a).

        The area's rich volcanic soils are ideally suited for agricultural production, and subsistence farming has long supported a sizable human population. The human population density of the Great Lakes region is one of the highest in Africa today, and this has put intense pressure on the area's flora and fauna. Poaching, charcoal production, and unsustainable extraction of non-timber forest products have all been identified as threats to the area's biodiversity (Burgess et al., 2007; Cordeiro et al., 2007; Naughton-Treves et al., 2007, Ndangalasi et al., 2007).

        Numerous protected areas have been created in the Albertine Rift over the course of the past century during both the colonial and post-independence eras. Some of those recognized by the scientific community to be of high conservation value are Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kibale, Semiliki, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks in Uganda, and Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda (Plumptre et al., 2007a).

        The natural beauty of the landscape masks a more insidious human reality on the ground. In Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, genocide, ethnic conflict, civil wars, and guerilla movements have destabilized the region since 1990, leading to protracted periods of armed conflict and a humanitarian crisis that has left an estimated 5.4 million people dead (International Rescue Committee, 2007). Refugees and internally displaced peoples number in the millions, and human rights abuses and sexual violence against women have become common (UNHCR, 2000; Human Rights Watch, 2005a).

        Armed conflict has had major impacts on the biodiversity of the Albertine Rift, and it is worthwhile to examine the relationship between war and environmental degradation in this area. This paper will examine the environmental impacts of armed conflict and refugee displacement on the protected areas of the Great Lakes region, focusing specifically on resource extraction within national parks and conservation areas.


        The problems facing the Great Lakes region are extremely complex. Ethnic tensions, political polarization, population pressures, and extreme poverty have been exacerbated in recent years by imports of weapons and ammunition from a variety of foreign governments and non-state actors. Porous borders in the Great Lakes region have enabled smuggling networks to become established, resulting in flows of minerals and weapons across international boundaries (Jackson, 2002; Taylor, 2003; Global Witness, 2009). Protected areas are now used as hideouts for insurgent groups, as places of transit for smuggling networks, and as sources of mineral ores and charcoal (Plumptre, 2003; Cordeiro et al., 2007).

        This paper will examine resource conflict in the Great Lakes region from an institutionalist perspective, arguing that international laws designed to prevent environmental degradation in the region’s protected areas have failed to adequately address the realities of the people living on the ground. Specifically, it will discuss the legal obligations of the D.R. Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda as signatories of the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). D.R. Congo and Rwanda have also signed the Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and their Habitats, administered by the CMS, which came into effect in 2008. The pitfalls associated with enforcement of these agreements will be investigated, and issues related to state sovereignty will be addressed.

        The paper will further argue that state control and legitimacy, particularly in the D.R. Congo, have been undermined by the lack of strong political institutions at the local and provincial levels in North and South Kivu provinces. This lack of state capacity has eroded the central government's ability to effectively administer its territory, protect its borders, and pay and control its own troops. The situation has led units of the FARDC (Congolese military) to establish mines and charcoal-producing operations in national parks and forests that the central government in Kinshasa is legally bound to protect (Global Witness, 2009). These areas include Virunga National Park and Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Lack of state capacity in the eastern D.R.C. has also enabled armed factions from Rwanda to assert their military presence and pillage the country's natural resources (Montague, 2002).

        External macroeconomic factors have played an important role in the region’s ongoing natural resource conflict, and the role of companies doing business in conflict zones will be examined. The lack of strong international institutions to monitor the activities of transnational corporations operating in the Great Lakes region has resulted in irresponsible corporate conduct and continued demand for minerals that come from the eastern D.R. Congo's protected areas (Fairhead, 2005; Global Witness, 2005; Guenther, 2008). The subject of collusion between mining companies and armed groups will therefore be investigated.

        There has been a noticeable shift in the conservation literature within the last decade that has attempted to bridge the parks vs. people dichotomy. Scientists and NGOs involved in conservation have increasingly come to realize that excluding local people from efforts to protect parks can lead to animosity and conflict, especially when local livelihoods have traditionally been dependent upon the use of park resources (Archabald, 2001; Naughton-Treves et al., 2007, Ndangalasi et al., 2007). Both the role of local communities in protecting parks in the Great Lakes region and local approaches to conservation will be examined.

        Finally, the role of the international community will be discussed, with the goal of addressing the problems that currently exist on the ground. The strengthening of institutions at the local, provincial, national, and international levels is crucial to reducing poverty and natural resource conflict and protected biodiversity in the Great Lakes region. Policy options moving forward will therefore be addressed.


        A literature review will precede the main body of the paper as a means of introducing the research that has already been conducted relating to conflict in the Great Lakes region. It will focus on five main themes: the relationship between natural resource abundance and war, the crisis of the nation-state in central Africa, the role of international actors in the conflicts of the Great Lakes region, human impacts on the biodiversity of the Albertine Rift, and conservation of protected areas in times of conflict.

        The Great Lakes protected areas that comprise the study will be identified and mapped for further reference. Each one will be briefly described to provide a context for discussion.

        The paper will then draw from numerous academic sources, using both quantitative and qualitative methods to paint a broader picture of the environmental impacts of conflict on protected areas in the Great Lakes region. Quantitative analysis will be used to assess species loss due to hunting and poaching, forest loss resulting from deforestation and charcoal production, habitat loss from human encroachment in protected areas, and economic impacts resulting from all of these activities. Qualitative methods will be used to assess those environmental impacts in protected areas that are difficult or impossible to quantify.

        These results and their implications will then be discussed. The failures and successes of local conservation strategies will be examined. Transboundary conservation, state sovereignty issues, and the failure of state actors to meet the obligations of international law will be investigated. Finally, existing policy options relating to environmental and economic security in the Great Lakes region and the possibility of mitigating future environmental damage will be explored.


The relationship between natural resource abundance and war

        Most of the recent scholarly literature discussing natural resource abundance and war in central Africa addresses conflict in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Rwanda, a civil war that began in 1990 culminated with the genocide of 1994 that killed an estimated 800,000 people (UNHCR, 2000). In the D.R. Congo, a rebel army headed by Laurent Kabila received military and logistical aid from Rwanda, Uganda, and the United States and overthrew dictator Mobutu in 1996 (Taylor, 2003). Rwanda and Uganda turned against Kabila in 1998 and supported rebels in the eastern D.R.C. opposed to his rule. This broadened into a complex regional war that involved eight African countries and violent clashes between various internal and external armed factions (Olsson, 2006; Aust and Jaspers, 2006).

        The motivations underlying these conflicts were complex, and natural resources were only one of many factors that started and contributed to the violence. However, ample evidence exists of how natural resources were exploited in these conflict zones, and Ross (2004) has shown that conflicts occurring in regions rich in natural resources provide a strong economic incentive to the prolongation of hostilities. Olsson and Fors (2004) show how the involvement of Rwanda and Uganda in the D.R. Congo's civil wars led them from exporting no diamonds before these conflicts to exporting $1.78 million and $1.26 million of diamonds, respectively, in 2000. These profits are then used to finance the purchase of arms and extract more diamonds (Samset, 2002).

        Between 1998 and 2004, Uganda exported a total of $310 million worth of gold but produced less than half a million dollars of it domestically (Human Rights Watch, 2005b). Uganda's Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development was unable to explain such a huge discrepancy, but Ugandan companies openly admit that they trade with Congolese traders in conflict zones (Human Rights Watch, 2005b). Other minerals originating in northeast D.R.C. being smuggled out of the country and exported through Uganda and Rwanda include cassiterite (tin ore), niobium and coltan, the latter of which is commonly used in cell phones and many popular consumer electronics products (Olsson and Fors, 2004). These minerals are commonly exchanged for drugs and guns that permit the cycle of violence to continue (Jackson, 2002).

The crisis of the nation-state in central Africa

        Even the official armed forces of the D.R. Congo (the FARDC) profit from coltan and cassiterite mines under their control (Global Witness, 2009). At these mines, workers toil in slave-like conditions to make enough money to buy food and supplies from the army itself (Global Witness, 2009). Given that the D.R.C.'s central government in Kinshasa is unable to pay the soldiers' salaries, a tacit profit-sharing agreement has been worked out between the government and FARDC units who control these mines (Global Witness, 2009).

        If this arrangement seems bizarre, it is because the D.R. Congo epitomizes the crisis of the nation-state in central Africa. When Mobutu came to power in post-independence Congo, he became the figurehead for kleptocracy in Africa by creating clientelist networks that rewarded his inner network of supporters (Taylor, 2003). The exploitative, patrimonial relationship of ruler and subject that had existed in the Belgian colonial period was replicated under Mobutu's authoritarian regime (Van Hoyweghen and Smis, 2002).

        As Tshiyembe (2002, p. 581) notes, "the D.R.C. is neither a state, nor a republic or democracy, but on the contrary, an empty shell, moulded into a polity designed by colonial logic." Since independence, the government has provided few services for its citizens and has acted largely as a dysfunctional bureaucracy, albeit one that citizens have adapted to and grown used to. As Englebert (2002) shows, this presents something of paradox. He notes that "people's capacity to use the weak state as an instrument of predation is thus a crucial element to the logic of its survival and reproduction" (2002, p. 591).

        Tull (2003), Niemann (2007), and Vlassenroot and Raeymaekers (2009) reject the idea that the D.R.C. is a failed state, arguing that the warlord politics that persist in areas no longer under control of the central government in Kinshasa are simply reproducing at a local level the same networks of patronage that existed during previous regimes. Tull (2003) discusses this in the context of North Kivu province, which has been a hotbed of violence ever since 1.2 million Hutu refugees flooded over the border from Rwanda in 1994. Vlassenroot and Raeymaekers also discuss the situation in the Kivus (2009, p.484), arguing that "the fundamental obstacle to peace in the D.R.C. is the violent and privatized governance of public goods and resources" by local armed groups.

        Despite the weakness of its central government, the D.R.C. did modernize its mining code in 2002. Mining Code Law #007/2002 and Decree #038/2003 established the only existing Environmental Impact Assessment regulations in the D.R.C. (Walmsley, B. and Tshlpala, K.E., 2007). These stringent regulations provide procedural EIA guidelines for mining companies requiring a detailed Environmental Impact Study, a Mitigation and Rehabilitation Plan, and an Environmental Management Plan of the Project for each new mining project undertaken in the D.R.C. (Walmsley, B. and Tshlpala, K.E., 2007). These laws also set standards for water quality, air quality, and sound levels in mining areas (Walmsley, B. and Tshlpala, K.E., 2007).

The role of international actors in the conflicts of the Great Lakes region

        A great deal of literature discusses the role of the international community in the conflicts in Rwanda and Congo. This literature largely focuses on international political institutions, international resource demand, and the roles and responsibilities of transnational corporations whose raw materials originate in zones of conflict.

        Autesserre (2002) discusses the failure of peace-building efforts in the D.R. Congo, noting that international accords designed to reduce conflict are often undermined by the interests of non-state actors at the local level. Bariagaber (2006) takes a fairly skeptical view of MONUC, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the D.R.C., pointing out that only 17,000 personnel have been allocated to restore calm to a region as large all of the land east of the Mississippi River in the United States. Kobia (2002) explains the European Union's official policy in the D.R.C., showing how it has committed significant financial resources to supporting poverty alleviation strategies and the strengthening of institutions that support internal development.

        Several articles investigate conflict in the Great Lakes region from the perspective of international demand for natural resources. Most authors argue that consumption patterns in industrial countries play an important role in fueling conflict in the Great Lakes region. Guenther (2008) shows how increasing demand for raw materials by China and India, particularly in the manufacture of electronics, has led to a rise in international commodity prices for metals and minerals that originate in conflict zones in the D.R.C.. Montague (2002) researches columbite and tantalum specifically, two minerals that are almost always found together and are commonly referred to as coltan. Tantalum is used in the manufacture of cell phones, computers, pagers, automobile electronics, and goods for the aerospace industry. 80% of the world's tantalum reserves are in Africa, and four-fifths of these reserves lie in the war-torn eastern D.R.C. (Montague, 2002). The Rwandan and Ugandan armies have played a major role in illegally smuggling coltan, and companies in these two countries have been shown to export conflict minerals to international markets (RAID, 2004).

        Taylor (2003) describes the close ties between Laurent Kabila, the military dictator who toppled Mobutu in a coup d'etat in 1998, and American Mineral Fields (AMF), a company whose headquarters at the time was located in Bill Clinton's hometown of Hope, Arkansas and whose senior stockholders were political friends of the president. AMF and other foreign companies obtained lucrative mining concessions from Kabila in exchange for support of his military campaign to overthrow Mobutu. When Kabila's forces entered the capital of Kinshasa, they were accompanied by U.S. Special Forces and received technical support and spy satellite imagery from the Defense Intelligence Agency (Taylor, 2003).

        Kapelus et al. (2009) discuss the roles and responsibilities of transnational corporations whose raw materials originate in conflict zones, taking the example of AnglogoldAshanti (AGA), the largest gold mining company in the world. The NGO Human Rights Watch revealed that in January 2005 AGA paid $8,000 to a rebel group called the FNI for security and protection in the eastern D.R.C., in spite of the FNI's reputation for widespread human rights abuses (HRW, 2005b). This triggered a firestorm of criticism for the company, whose own policies specifically included commitments to ethical and responsible business practices. However, the company continued to operate in the region and by October 2009 had acquired a 70% stake in Moto Goldmines, which owns a $22 billion mining concession in the same area (AnglogoldAshanti, 2009). OKIMO, a D.R.C. state-owned mining company, owns the other 30% stake (AnglogoldAshanti, 2009).

        A recent report by the NGO Global Witness details the activities of a large number of transnational corporations trading in conflict minerals from the Great Lakes region (Global Witness, 2009). Similarly, Rights and Accountability in Development examines flaws and inconsistencies in the statements that many companies made to the U.N. Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo (RAID, 2004). In its 2002 report, the U.N. Panel of Experts found that 85 companies had violated the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (United Nations, 2002). Although the D.R.C. is a candidate country for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, most of the companies operating there are junior mining companies, many of whom do not yet support EITI (EITI, 2009). One notable supporter of EITI is AnglogoldAshanti, which agreed to support EITI in 2006, perhaps after the public relations disaster discussed earlier.

Human impacts on the biodiversity of the Albertine Rift

        Burgess et al. (2007) show that there are strong correlations between high human populations and species richness in the Albertine Rift. Climate regimes on mountain slopes with rich biodiversity are also perfectly suited to the establishment of permanent agricultural systems. The authors note that "a primary conservation challenge in the African tropical mountains is... finding solutions to the livelihood needs of dense rural populations that are dependent on agriculture, but still suffer from poor human infrastructure and high levels of poverty" (2007, p. 173).

        Cordeiro et al. (2007) give a broad overview of the various processes at play that result in biodiversity loss in the region. They discuss forest degradation, plant harvesting, and the bushmeat trade as major proximate causes of biodiversity loss. Forest degradation includes illegal timber harvesting, the collection of firewood by local communities, and the production of charcoal for export to larger population centers. In a case study in Uganda, Naughton-Treves et al. (2007) show that firewood collection has the least impact on forests and that the charcoal trade is a serious threat to biodiversity. Ndangalasi et al. (2007) study the harvesting of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in two sites located in Uganda and Tanzania, concluding that frequent collection of NTFPs can alter forest structure and composition and threaten species in high demand such as medicinal plants and vines used for basket weaving.

        Redmond (2001) examines the role that coltan mining in remote regions has played in the hunting of bushmeat in the D.R.C. Bushmeat is a locally available source of protein in these areas, and he shows that mining activities put major pressures on local wildlife populations.

Conservation of protected areas in times of conflict

        McNeely (2003a) makes some very interesting observations about the different roles that forests play in war. He shows that forests often act as military buffer zones and that armed groups may value them for the cover that they provide. Civilians may be afraid to use forest resources out of fear that they will encounter armed personnel. The plant and animal resources within the forest can become quickly degraded in the presence of armed groups, however, and the net impact is generally negative. Indeed, the use of these areas by armed groups may make forests more susceptible to ecocide, which McNeely defines as "the destruction of the environment for military purposes" (2003b, p. 9). As an example he points to the use of defoliants and herbicides in war, as was the case when the United States sprayed massive amounts of Agent Orange on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in an attempt to expose Viet Cong smuggling operations (McNeely, 2003b).

        Hart et al. (1996) and Plumptre (2003) draw from personal experience in protected areas in the D.R.C. and Rwanda but arrive at similar conclusions about conservation in times of conflict. These authors emphasize that the training of junior staff members is of critical importance to conservation of protected areas when hostilities occur. In many cases these staff members will continue to work for months without wages, with the expectation that they will be renumerated when hostilities cease. These employees have proven to be the last line of defense for these protected areas. However, as Debonnet and Hillman-Smith (2004) point out in their discussion of World Heritage Sites in the D.R.C., parks with little existing infrastructure are significantly more vulnerable to armed conflict than those that are well-staffed and funded.

        It is worth noting that almost all of the literature cited in this section also discusses the after effects of war. As will be seen in the sections that follow, the relative peace that follows conflict often results in more environmental destruction than the conflict itself. Refugees and displaced people driven by desperation can have major environmental impacts.


Virunga National Park

        Situated in the D.R.C. on the border with Rwanda and Uganda, Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was Africa's first national park, created by the Belgian colonial regime in 1925. It is divided into northern, central, and southern sectors and covers the largest continuous area of habitat in the Albertine Rift Valley (Plumptre et al., 2007a).

        The national park is best known for its southern sector, which includes the steep volcanoes of the Virunga Range that lie within the D.R. Congo's borders. One of the last populations of endangered mountain gorillas forages on the slopes of these mountains. These magnificent animals, threatened primarily by forest degradation and habitat loss, are currently estimated to number from 359 to 395 individuals (Kalpers et al., 2003). The central and northern sectors of the park provide wetland and grassland habitat for a great range of plant and animal species.

        Virunga National Park is located in the province of North Kivu, which has been plagued by violence ever since the Rwandan genocide of 1994 led to an influx of approximately 1.2 million Hutu refugees. The impacts of this population pressure on the park's resources will be discussed shortly.

Kahuzi-Biega National Park

        Located in the eastern D.R.C., Kahuzi-Biega National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It straddles North and South Kivu provinces and contains important habitat for eastern lowland gorillas, which are more numerous than the mountain gorillas of the Virunga landscape and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The park contains both highland and lowland sectors and a minimal amount of infrastructure. Notably, it is quite close to the city of Bukavu, which experienced a large influx of refugees after the Rwandan genocide.

Parc National des Volcans

        The Parc National des Volcans lies in Rwanda on the border of Uganda and the D.R.C.. It is connected with Virunga National Park in the D.R.C. and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. Together these areas constitute a transboundary protected area, although not in the legal sense of the term. The Parc National des Volcans is best known for its mountain gorillas, and Dian Fossey conducted her research in this park.

        The Parc National des Volcans was partially occupied by the rebel army of Paul Kagame during the Rwandan civil war. The RPF began operations in the park in 1991 (Plumptre, 2001). It was used as a staging area for the military campaign that eventually overthrew the Hutu leaders who started the genocide of 1994.

Akagera National Park

        Akagera National Park is located on Rwanda's eastern border with Tanzania. Although it is situated in an area of the country that has less precipitation than the rest of Rwanda, it still contains swamps and wetland habitats ideal for large ungulates. The dominant vegetation is savannah grassland, and there is less forest habitat here than in the rest of the country. Akagera is considered to be the most complex savannah ecosystem in eastern Africa (Kanyamibwa, 1998).

        Before moving its operations to the Parc National des Volcans, the Rwandan Patriotic Front established bases in Akagera National Park (Plumptre, 2001). The area was used as a staging ground for the RPF's military operations at the beginning of the Rwandan civil war in 1990. After little success in making territorial gains from Akagera, the decision was made to move to the Parc National des Volcans, where forest cover provided better camouflage for military maneuvers.


Virunga National Park

        The boundaries of Virunga National Park are situated just 4 km. from the city of Goma, which lies just over the border with Rwanda. After the 1994 genocide, Goma was overwhelmed by 850,000 refugees from Rwanda, many of them ex-army genocidaires who feared reprisals from the new Tutsi government led by Paul Kagame (UNHCR, 2000). The United Nations and various NGOs set up camps for these refugees hastily and failed to consider that their operations might be taking place near a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although the aid organizations were able to provide refugees with shelter and food, people had nothing to cook their food with. The result was that deforestation occurred at a very rapid pace, with up to 1,000 tons of wood being cut daily in the southern sector of Virunga National Park (Kalpers, 2001). Overall, a total of 105 square km. of forests were cleared during the park from 1994 to 1996, although approximately two-thirds of this total occurred in young forests of low biodiversity value that had become established on old lava flows (Kalpers, 2001). Former Rwandan military personnel also established large-scale poaching operations and a charcoal industry estimated to account for 20 square km. of the deforested area during this time (Biswas and Tortajada-Quiroz, 1996).

        Other environmental impacts of the refugee camps were observed at the time. The defecation area for the Kibumba refugee camp encroached into 6 square km. of national park (Biswas and Tortajada-Quiroz, 1996). Medical waste was disposed of in the national park in an area inhabited by monkeys and baboons, exposing these animals to transmission of human diseases (Biswas and Tortajada-Quiroz, 1996). Desperate refugees also used valuable genetic strains of coffee and chinchona trees for firewood (Biswas and Tortajada-Quiroz, 1996).

        The outbreak of civil war in the D.R.C. in 1996 resulted in the return of many refugees back to Rwanda, relieving pressure on the park's resources somewhat. Nonetheless, the charcoal trade is still estimated to be worth $30 million a year today and provides a source of profit for the unpaid Congolese army units operating in the area (National Geographic Society, 2007). Agricultural pressures within the park continue to be a problem, with 38% of all Virunga management units reporting 10-100% encroachment in the parts of the park under their jurisdiction (Debonnet and Hillman-Smith, 2004).

Kahuzi-Biega National Park

        Kahuzi-Biega National Park presents a stark example of how armed conflict and its wake can be devastating for protected areas. Kahuzi-Biega is cursed with rich mineral deposits of coltan and cassiterite, and the exploitation of these minerals by the FARDC (the D.R. Congo's national army) has had severe environmental impacts on this World Heritage Site. In addition to mining, agricultural encroachment, deforestation, and poaching all present major problems.

        Kahuzi-Biega straddles both North and South Kivu provinces, and thousands of Rwandan refugees and internally displaced Congolese have settled within its boundaries. Following the Rwandan genocide, 250,000 refugees were housed in U.N. camps less than five kilometers from the park boundary (Yamagiwa, 2003). It is estimated that the human population in the park is now greater than 35,000, all of whom are present illegally (Glew and Hudson, 2007). The presence of this population has led to land conversion, poaching on an unprecedented scale, and corresponding declines in wildlife counts (Redmond, 2001).

        In the highland sector of the park, less than ten African bush elephants still remain of an initial population of 750 (Inogwabini et al., 2005). Similarly, the population of Grauer's gorillas has declined precipitously in the highland sector of the park that is regularly monitored for wildlife, with losses of at least 50% but possibly as high as 67% (Sato et al., 2000; Yamagiwa, 2003; Glew and Hudson, 2007). Over 60% of this highland sector is threatened by agricultural encroachment (Inogwabini et al., 2000).

        Things are even worse in the lowland sector of Kahuzi-Biega, where park infrastructure is virtually nonexistent and at least 10,000 coltan miners and 300 professional hunters armed with Kalashnikovs have been operating (Hayes and Burge, 2003). These hunters brought back meat from big game animals to mining camps throughout 1998, but by March 2001 tortoises, birds, and small animals were the standard haul (Redmond, 2001). Since Kahuzi-Biega National Park is home to an estimated 86% of the global population of Grauer's gorillas, this raises the harrowing prospect that within a period of just over three years, 80% to 90% of the world's population of this species was hunted out of existence (Hayes, 2003). Probably fewer than 2,000 to 3,000 still remain out of a population originally estimated at 17,000 (Redmond, 2001).

Parc National des Volcans

        During the Rwandan civil war, land mines were set in the Parc National des Volcans by the Rwandan army and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (Kanyamibwa, 1998). This activity occurred along an approximately 6 km. battle line on the eastern periphery of the park, but with the aid of the International Gorilla Conservation Program these mines were eventually removed (Plumptre et al., 2001). Additionally, the Rwandan army tried to restrict the movement of the RPF by clearing a 10-meter swath of vegetation through the park (Plumptre et al., 2001).

        Mountain gorillas killed in the transboundary area numbered 12 to 17 individuals over the period from 1992 to 2000, representing an approximate 3-5% decline (Kalpers, 2003). Additionally, ungulate populations in the park dropped significantly due to poaching from 1992 to 1996. The duiker and the bushback fared worst, and they shifted their habitat ranges to higher elevation to avoid poachers (Plumptre et al., 1997). The same study found that buffalo populations in the park remained relatively steady during this time.

Akagera National Park

        Armed conflict and its aftermath had major impacts on the wildlife of Akagera National Park. Following the initial invasion of the park by the RPF in October 1990, poaching became a common practice with all of the military forces operating in the area. Additionally, Banyambo poachers from Tanzania who had previously been held in check by the park's guards took advantage of the instability to resume their activities (Kanyamibwa, 1998). Various studies have shown extremely large species declines in this park. Between 1990 and 1997, population sizes of buffalo, impala, topi, warthog, waterbuck, reedbuck, oribi, and zebra declined by an average of 70% (Plumptre et al., 2001). Other reliable estimates place the decline in large mammal species at 90%.

        Following the end of hostilities in 1994, the Kagame government decided that returning Tutsis needed land for agriculture and cattle grazing, and they redrew the boundaries of the park to 30% of its original size. Scientists estimate that this will lead to the loss of 15% of tree and shrub species, 20% of herbaceous species, and 13% of bird species that used to be protected by the park (Plumptre et al., 2001). At least 600,000 cattle are now thought to graze in the former parkland (Kanyamibya, 1998). This has led to higher populations of perennial weeds and has affected the entire savannah ecosystem (Glew and Hudson, 2007).


        As the examples from Virunga, Volcans, Akagera, and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks make clear, the environmental impacts of war manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Some of these impacts, such as deforestation, are easy to measure and quantify. Others, such as coltan mining controlled by military brigades, are more difficult to quantify but have a greater secondary impact as a result of deforestation, poaching, and other forms of land degradation. Importantly, although armed conflict undeniably results in environmental impacts, it is worth noting that the relative peace following refugee crises and internal displacements has led to the greatest environmental impacts in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

        These examples make it clear that international law has very little meaning when weak states are unable to ensure the territorial integrity of their borders or control the actions of their own armies. The D.R.C. may be party to a number of conventions designed to protect its natural heritage, but it has shown neither the ability to enforce these laws nor the willingness to make its own military forces abide by them. Similarly, although post-genocide Rwanda may now be praised by some in the international community as a model of African development, it is important to keep in mind that its leader had no qualms about occupying two of the country's national parks with a rebel army during his ascent to power.

        Conflict in the Great Lakes region shows an inherent weakness in international agreements like the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). These "laws" are only effective to the extent that the signing parties are willing to enforce them within their own borders. And although one could argue that it is praiseworthy that both the D.R.C. and Rwanda recently signed both the 2005 Kinshasa Declaration on Great Apes and the 2007 Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and their Habitats, ultimately words without action are meaningless. Given that the D.R.C. is single-handedly responsible for allowing the planet's Grauer's gorilla population to plummet at least 80% in the past decade, one has to question its sincerity in upholding any of its binding obligations under this agreement.

        One of the lessons that conservationists have learned from the experiences of the past twenty years in central Africa is that the lack of strong state institutions creates a vacuum during periods of armed conflict. One of the ways that this vacuum can be filled is by establishing strong ties with local communities living around protected areas to ensure that conservation organizations retain their continuity of purpose in times of political instability. The more that local communities benefit from conservation in times of peace, the more likely that local staff will continue working towards conservation goals in times of conflict. This was the case during the Rwandan genocide, where junior staff working for the International Gorilla Conservation Program and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International continued to work despite a lack of pay and threats of physical violence (Plumptre, 2003).

        Importantly, it may also be necessary for conservation organizations to reexamine the role that they play in local communities when they are operating in countries with weak state institutions. Rather than seeing local communities as a means to an end, it is worthwhile to see the communities as ends in and of themselves. Ensuring that tangible infrastructure in the form of schools and medical clinics is available in such communities is just as important as hiring anti-poaching patrols or attracting ecotourist dollars. Clearly many nonprofit organizations are strapped for resources, but it may actually be a more worthwhile use of resources to take a multidimensional approach to conservation that better recognizes the complexities of life on the ground. Sending teachers or medical workers to such communities is arguably just as valuable as sending conservation biologists because such workers foster trust and respond directly to basic human needs and aspirations. Integrated strategies of development are the only way that true poverty alleviation and stability can be achieved.

        Authorities in Rwanda, D.R.C., and Uganda have been working more closely in recent years to coordinate conservation efforts within the parks on their shared borders that together comprise the greater Virunga landscape. This has resulted in better communication, the articulation of shared interests, and a willingness to cooperate on issues of concern (Plumptre, 2007b). What is now an informal transboundary administrative structure could be further improved by the formal creation of a single transboundary park. Such a park would allow visitors greater freedom of movement and enhance conservation efforts by creating a formal framework for intergovernmental cooperation. In a region that needs peace badly, it would be one tiny step in the right direction.

        Lastly, transnational corporations need to be held responsible for where they source their materials and sanctioned as necessary when their activities are found to have contributed to violations of human rights. The convoluted network of middlemen and smugglers currently exporting conflict minerals out of the D.R.C. gives these international buyers a degree of plausible deniability that generally does not hold up under close scrutiny. International legal mechanisms need to be strengthened so that these abuses are no longer allowed to occur. Specifically, the original 85 companies identified in the 2002 U.N. Panel of Experts report as having violated OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises should face fines and trade sanctions in OECD countries if the forthcoming December 2009 Panel of Experts Report shows that they are still being investigated for ongoing violations.

        In the United States, bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate addressing conflict minerals originating in the D.R.C. The Senate version (S. 891) is known as the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009, and the House version (H.R. 4128) is called the Conflict Minerals Trade Act. Although the neither bill has made it out of committee yet, the stronger House bill would bar the importation of unrefined conflict minerals from the D.R. Congo, require all importers of suspect electronic goods to certify whether or not the products they are selling contain conflict minerals, and allow for the labeling of products as conflict-free.

        Stability will remain elusive in the Great Lakes region until stronger legal regimes are put into place. In the absence of direct regulation, corporations can also voluntarily adhere to higher standards of transparency through industry initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Electronics manufacturers in particular have a strong financial interest in assuring that their components and raw materials come from conflict-free zones. The trend toward corporate social responsibility is a fairly recent development in the business world, but there is an increasing realization amongst corporate managers that conducting business responsibly can create economic benefits and minimize liabilities.


        Armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda has resulted in a variety of place-specific environmental impacts that vary in their degree of severity. The environmental impacts of the conflicts themselves were generally dwarfed by the environmental impacts of the refugees and displaced peoples that they created. Wildlife populations have been decimated by illegal poaching in Rwanda's Akagera National Park and the D.R. Congo's Kahuzi-Biega National Park, and it is unlikely that they will ever recover.

        Many of these impacts resulted from weak national institutions and the counterproductive activities of military authorities or rebel groups operating within protected areas. International laws have little meaning in such contexts. Until the activities of transnational corporations doing business in war zones are more closely regulated and the demand for conflict minerals is greatly reduced, a financial motivation will always exist for armed groups to control local resources in central Africa. Fortunately, there seems to be an increasing realization on the part of both state and non-state actors that the status quo is unacceptable.

        Although conflict may be difficult to avoid, conservation groups can work closely on the ground with communities to ensure that there is continuity to their operations, even in times of political instability. By improving training and capacity, building local infrastructure, and taking a more integrated approach to addressing complex issues, conservation groups can lay the foundation for truly sustainable development in the communities that live near protected areas.


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Bridging the Nature-Culture Divide: A Case Study of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, New Hampshire


AUG. 1, 2009

                                                                                Photo: Marianne McEwen (2005)


        There are few visible traces of human civilization from the summit of Mt. Bond, a prominent peak that rises above the Pemigewasett Wilderness to offer what the Appalachian Mountain Club refers to as "unsurpassed views" of New Hampshire's White Mountains (AMC, 1987). When weather permits, forests and granite-crowned mountaintops stretch into the distance, rendering it possible for an observer to see into Maine, Vermont, and Canada. Songbirds dart through the alpine scrub, serenading the occasional passerby as the scent of balsam fir permeates the rarified air.

        Yet a closer look reveals traces of an earlier era, one in which railroads crisscrossed the region, hauling out timber to feed demand for paper and charcoal in the industrial centres of southern New England. Rusty fire towers dot distant summits, reminders of the devastating consequences of uncontrolled logging that led certain observers to compare parts of this region to scenes from Dante's Inferno just over a century ago.

        The natural history of the Pemigewasett Wilderness is ultimately inseparable from the human cultural history that led to its conservation. A living testament to the overlapping forces of nature and culture, the area creates a fascinating backdrop for the study of how intrinsic and instrumental valuations of nature compete and, over time, can be reconciled. It offers an excellent example of why wilderness is what Cronon (1995) refers to as a social construction. Finally, the tale of this land and its people provides an important lesson for those who would write off degraded natural landscapes as destroyed or irreparable; by showing how ecosystems are capable of responding with resiliency when subjected to severe natural resource extraction, it provides a model for rehabilitating and protecting lands currently considered to be of marginal conservation value.


An introduction to the literature

        In order to describe how human agency has transformed the Pemigewasset Wilderness and discuss the area's historical and current importance to the conservation movement in the United States, it is necessary to review the academic literature relating to these research topics. The literature review will identify what is already known about landscape change, conservation, and ecological dynamics in New England, with the goal of situating the Pemigewasset Wilderness within a broader historical, theoretical, and scientific context. Given the vast body of literature available on these three subjects, a certain degree of discretion has been exercised in an attempt to balance highly influential works with lesser-known articles that are relevant to the case study area.

The changing landscape of prehistoric and colonial New England

        To the extent that landscape is what Nash (1970) refers to as a historical document, a number of different sources have been used to decipher its meaning. Whitney (1994) adopts an integrated approach to the study of pre-colonial ecology in New England, complementing an extensive investigation of the scientific literature with an examination of legal documents, land surveys, and first-hand accounts by some of the early settlers and travelers in the region. Spear et al. (1994) use pollen samples taken from sediment cores drilled in small lakes in the White Mountain region to show how plant communities have competed for space at different altitudes and under different climatic regimes in the 14,000 years since the last glaciation.

        Starbuck (2006) pieces together archaeological evidence from the last 14,000 years to reconstruct the evolution of indigenous cultures in New Hampshire. He documents how a shift occurred from big game hunting in the Paleo-Indian period (14,000 to 10,000 YBP) to the formation of larger family units in the Archaic period (10,000 to 3,000 YBP). This process then culminated in the establishment of semi-permanent seasonal villages growing maize, beans, and squash in the Woodland period (2000 to 400 YBP) that preceded the arrival of Europeans.

        Several scholars have explored the important role that indigenous people played in influencing the structure and species composition of New England's ecosystems prior to European settlement. Day (1953) examines how sedentary agricultural practices necessitated the clearing of forests to construct villages, meet fuel-wood needs, establish agricultural plots, and provide land for opportunistic hunting. He also investigates the indigenous use of fire as an ecological tool that released essential nutrients into the soil for the production of crops. Cronon (1983) notes that when these nutrients were depleted after several years of use, agricultural plots would normally be abandoned. This agricultural system of shifting cultivation, extensive rather than intensive in nature, was common to many indigenous cultures in the region (Cronon, 1983). Day and Cronon agree that agriculture was probably less important in the indigenous societies of northern New England than those of southern New England.

        The Abenaki people originally inhabited the areas of northern New England that today lie within the boundaries of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine (Starbuck, 2006). Day (1953) and Johnson (2006), following the distinction made by most historians, refer to the Abenaki as two separate groups: the Eastern Abenaki, who lived in Maine and were largely dependent on the sea for their livelihoods, and the Western Abenaki, who lived in New Hampshire and Vermont, spoke another dialect, and were dependent on forest resources for their basic needs. Johnson (2006) further distinguishes the Pigwacket and Pemigewasset tribes of the White Mountain region from the larger population of Western Abenakis, noting that they were probably more dependent on hunting than other tribes due to an abundance of game animals in the area.

        In a book by the same name, historian Alfred Crosby (1972) coined the term "the Columbian Exchange" to describe the transfer of European organisms and diseases to the New World and the subsequent transport of New World agricultural crops like maize, squash, and tobacco back to Europe. He later expanded upon this idea, referring to the process as 'ecological imperialism' (Crosby, 1986). The crux of his argument is that the assertion of European hegemony in the New World was aided by the introduction of both intentionally and unintentionally imported biological agents.

        To support his theory, he points to the spread of diseases like plague, pox, syphilis, and influenza that ravaged local indigenous populations (Crosby, 1972; Crosby, 1986). Starbuck (2006), while acknowledging that precise numbers do not exist, estimates that the Abenaki population declined by approximately 98 percent as a result of disease and war following the arrival of Europeans, from a peak of 10,000 to 12,000 people to a mere 250 individuals.

        Whitney (1984) and Crosby (1986) also show how the spread of European plants and weeds like dandelion, clover, buttercup, nightshade, and stinging nettle replaced native species that were unable to compete with the newly introduced exotics. In 1672, John Josselyn noted that at least 40 species of European weeds had "sprung up since the English planted and kept cattle in New England" (Whitney, 1984, p. 289). Whitney quotes a traveler visiting New England in 1849 as saying the region had become "the garden of European weeds" (1984, p. 290). He also statistically documents the introduction of exotic species to New England over time; the number had risen to 66 by 1785, 83 by 1814, 140 by 1840, over 600 by 1905, and at least 877 by 1969 (1984, p. 290). Crosby (1986) notes that this process was aided by the importation of European animals like the honeybee that pollinated the newly introduced species, allowing them to propagate.

        Cronon (1983) and Foster et al. (2002) show that European colonists also succeeded in eradicating a number of native animals from New England altogether, including the lynx, wolverine, cougar, and grey wolf. They note that these were all predator species whose ability to hunt introduced livestock species from Europe led to the perception that they were a menace. Foster et al. (2002) also show how other animal species that suffered historic declines after the arrival of Europeans have subsequently recovered in number. To illustrate this point, they single out the beaver, which was valued for its pelts, the white-tailed deer, which ate crops and was valued for its meat, and the moose, which was hunted for its meat (Foster et al., 2002).

        The works examined to this point show how the ecological landscape of New England was transformed in the prehistoric and colonial era by indigenous peoples and European settlers. However, further investigation of the existing literature is necessary to understand how changes in the New England landscape during the late 19th century– particularly in New Hampshire– laid the foundation for the emergence of the modern environmental movement and the creation of present-day wilderness areas.

Land degradation, wilderness creation, and restoration ecology

        Johnson (2006) explains how heightened demand for raw materials to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding industrial sector after the United States Civil War (1861-1865) led to the construction of logging railroads into the White Mountains. He points out, however, that these newly constructed railroads served a dual propose; they also made the region accessible to the fast-growing tourist industry (2006). Belcher (1980) meticulously examines the growth of New Hampshire's logging railroads, providing details about the seventeen companies that built them and the different methods they used to extract timber.

        Simpson (1992) links the influential publication in 1869 of William H.H. Murray's Adventures in the Wilderness; Or, Camp-Life in the Adirondacks to the birth of the tourist industry in northern New England, explaining how Murray's book "delineated a new recreational relation to wildlife and the woods" (p. 564). He notes that most of the tourists visiting northern New England came from wealthy elites in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia who supported the growing movement for environmental preservation (Simpson, 1992). Preservationism, Simpson argues, served the purpose of dividing the land between sacred, protected landscapes and secular, working landscapes, thereby assuring the cultural hegemony of corporate capitalism (1992). This enabled industrial elites to impose their instrumental and intrinsic valuations of nature on the hinterlands from which they had extracted their fortunes (Simpson, 1992). Cenkyl (2006) further discusses this idea in the context of the White Mountains, showing how local, instrumental valuations of the landscape often clashed with the intrinsic valuations of nature that tourists attributed to the region.

        Belcher (1980) shows how private logging operations in the White Mountains resulted in widespread ecological devastation that galvanized public opinion and led to the creation of national forests publicly managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Cenkyl (2006) notes that many of the initial proponents of protection for these forests were the same elites who had first been exposed to the region through tourism. However, New Hampshire's forests were part of a wider societal debate about environmental conservation and the protection of lands perceived to have intrinsic value. Given that many of New Hampshire's clearcut forests later recovered from land degradation to become designated as federal wilderness areas, it is important to examine why the wilderness discourse is relevant to conservation and restoration ecology.

        Cronon (1995) explains that the concept of wilderness gained traction in the American psyche in the late 1800s with the perceived disappearance of the frontier. As Spence (1999) makes clear, the land that European settlers perceived to be a frontier had long been an ancestral home for the country's indigenous peoples. Spence shows how white settlers appropriated the land for their own use, dispossessing the American Indian in the process (1999). By pointing out how the delineation of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier national parks prompted the forced removal of indigenous people by the federal government, he hints at why wilderness is a problematic concept (Spence, 1999). Cronon (1995) argues that the parks model that emerged in the United States was based on a highly questionable notion: the idea wilderness had ever existed in the first place.

        A number of other ecological historians and natural scientists have also questioned the concept of wilderness in recent years. Several researchers point to case studies of indigenous peoples in tropical and subtropical forests to show how human-environment interactions that occurred for thousands of years have shaped the ecological structure of present day ecosystems (Gomez-Pompa and Kaus, 1992; Denevan, 1992; Wood, 1995). Hayashi (2005) shows how forests that today are referred to as pristine, primeval, or virgin often have a long archeological history of human use. If humans have long been an important agent contributing to the dynamic processes taking place within these forests, the implication for conservation is clear: humans are not simply destroyers but can also play a constructive role in creating positive ecological outcomes.

        In another take on the matter, natural scientist David Cole (2000) discusses the legal definitions of wilderness and their implications for environmental management. In the United States Wilderness Act of 1964, for example, the meanings of 'primeval character,' 'natural condition,' and 'untrammeled by man' carry different meanings with distinct ecological ideals. These meanings dictate whether a manager should follow a policy of active management to ensure that historical ecological conditions are kept intact or whether policies of benign neglect or sustainable management are more appropriate practices.

        The policy of benign neglect is a particularly relevant concept for the New Hampshire landscape because it is the model for ecological recovery that has enabled lands that were heavily logged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to become designated as federal wilderness areas. Puplicover and Poppenwimer (2002) observe that many forests in northern New England that were deforested in the past one hundred years have now recovered to a mature state through the process of ecological succession resulting from benign neglect. Similarly, Foster (2002) notes that many former agricultural fields that were intensively cleared and farmed in the mid-1800s have been abandoned and are today covered with forests once again.

        Forest degradation in New Hampshire and the reactions that it provoked are part of a larger debate over wilderness and the protection of landscapes perceived to have intrinsic value. The historical processes of deforestation and afforestation in New Hampshire show that landscapes significantly altered by human agency have the ability to recover over long time periods, even to the point where they may be subjectively defined as wilderness.

Important themes in the literature

        A large body of literature relevant to the subjects of landscape change, conservation, and ecological restoration has been examined, with the goal of providing an appropriate historical, theoretical, and scientific context for further discussion of the Pemigewasset Wilderness study area. The important historical role that indigenous peoples, European colonists, railroad companies, tourists, and conservationists have played in shaping New Hampshire's present day natural environment provides a strong research framework that will be used to describe how human agency has transformed the landscape of the Pemigewasset Wilderness itself. Literature that has examined the relationship between human valuations of nature and the creation of wilderness areas will provide a solid foundation for contextualizing the historical and current importance of the Pemigewasset Wilderness to the conservation movement in the United States.


A Pre-Columbian Baseline

        In order to describe how human agency has transformed the landscape of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, it is important to investigate the ecological conditions that existed in this area in the prehistoric epoch that preceded European arrival. An examination of paleoecological evidence and the role that the indigenous Abenaki people played in altering the landscape is necessary in order to establish an ecological baseline against which subsequent alterations of the landscape due to human action can be compared.

        It is worth noting from the outset that ecosystems are dynamic; as a result, landscape change is inevitable over time. On a geological time scale, changes in climate regimes such as temperature and precipitation affect the composition and spatial distribution of species. Similarly, natural disturbances like fire, windthrow, and the spread of pathogens influence the process of forest succession over shorter periods of time.

        The primary evidence for the prehistoric composition of forests within the Pemigewasset Wilderness comes from the study of sediment cores taken from ponds and lakes in the White Mountain region. These cores contain fossilized grains of wind-borne pollen that have settled over time, enabling scientists to analyze the altitudinal distribution of plants and tree species since the last period of glaciation 14,000 years ago.

        Paleolimnological evidence shows that the composition and distribution of tree species within the Pemigewasset Wilderness remained relatively stable in the 1,600 years that preceded European arrival (Spear et al., 1994). At altitudes below 800 m., hardwood species– specifically beech, sugar maple, and yellow birch– were the primary climax vegetation. These hardwoods grew in the river valleys and lower mountain slopes of the study area. Above 800 m., forests were dominated by red spruce and paper birch, with balsam fir growing at the uppermost extent of the tree line (Spear et al., 1994). Given the relative stability of forest conditions in the Pemigewasset Wilderness in the 1,500 years prior to European arrival, these altitudinal gradients for species composition and distribution will serve as the ecological baseline for further discussion of how human agency has transformed the study area's landscape in the era that followed.

        The two Abenaki tribes that inhabited the White Mountain region of New Hampshire were the Pigwacket and the Pemigewasset (Johnson, 2006). Details of their culture and lifestyle are difficult to ascertain due to their relative geographic isolation and the epidemics that later accompanied European settlement (Johnson, 2006). Day (1953) suggests that most Abenaki tribes went through annual cycles of migration, staying close to rivers in the spring for fishing and planting, moving southward during the summer, and heading off into the deep woods to establish hunting camps in the late fall and winter. Given the poor soils and abundance of game in the region, it is likely that the Pigwacket and the Pemigewasset were more dependent on hunting and gathering than other Abenaki tribes in northern New England (Johnson, 2006).

        Although indigenous Abenaki peoples likely used the Pemigewasset region on a seasonal basis for hunting, fishing, and the collection of both edible and medicinal plants, no archeological evidence exists of permanent Abenaki settlements in my study area. The physiographic characteristics of high altitude, rough terrain, and poor soil fertility make it highly unlikely that sedentary agriculture would have been a feasible or desirable pursuit in this area. The use of fire as an ecological tool by Abenaki peoples is also believed to have been extremely limited (Day, 1953). Aside from the impacts that the Pigwacket and Pemigewasset tribes had on local wildlife populations, the role that indigenous Abenakis played in altering the landscape and ecology of my study area was likely very minimal.

European arrival to 1893

        Following European arrival in New England, Abenaki populations are estimated to have declined from a height of 10,000-12,000 people in the pre-colonial era to a mere 250 individuals after an outbreak of plague or smallpox that took place from 1616 to 1618 (Starbuck, 2006). While it is not clear how many of the surviving Abenaki belonged to the Pigwacket and Pemigewasset tribes, it is known that the last Pigwacket Abenakis left the White Mountain region in 1725 following a conflict with colonial settlers (Johnson, 2006).

        Settlement in the region was only sporadic until the French and Indian War ended in 1763 and the American frontier began to expand (Johnson, 2006). European arrival was accompanied by the introduction of exotic species and the extirpation of many native animals. Hunting and trapping led to the disappearance of the cougar, lynx, grey wolf, eastern timber rattlesnake, wolverine, and beaver in northern New England by the mid-19th century (Foster, 2002). The White Mountain region was probably one of the last refugia for many of these species due to its rough terrain and inaccessibility.

        The first roads passing through the White Mountains were not built until the mid-1770s, and they were largely constructed to facilitate the flow of commerce from the Upper Connecticut Valley to the New Hampshire coast (Johnson, 2006). These roads ran roughly north to south and cut through 'notches' in the mountains that were part of the natural topography. Not until the late 1820s and early 1830s did these roads begin to receive significant stagecoach traffic (Johnson, 2006).

        It is important to note that road building never took place within the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Bordered on the east by Crawford Notch and the west by Franconia Notch, the area's mountainous terrain presented a natural barrier to the expanding network of roads that was being established. For similar reasons, no European settlements were ever built in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

        The invention of the steam locomotive had major ramifications for the White Mountain region. The first railroads through the region were built in the 1840s and 1850s, connecting the cities of Boston and Concord to the south with Montreal in the north (Johnson, 2006). Following the roads constructed before them, these railroads passed through Franconia Notch and Crawford Notch as they wound through the mountains.

        After the American Civil War ended in 1865, the rapid economic expansion of industrial cities in southern New England created heightened market demand for timber, charcoal, and wood pulp. Seizing upon this demand to spur economic development in his state, New Hampshire Governor Walter Harriman made the decision in 1867 to sell 70,000 hectares of state-owned forested land to private speculators for $26,000 (Belcher, 1980). 18,000 hectares of the forested land that was sold comprise what is today known as the Pemigewasset Wilderness. In essence, the entire study area was sold by the state government at this time.

        Shortly after the sale of these public forests took place, the construction of logging railroads within the White Mountain region began. The first of these logging railroads was built in 1870, and 17 others were constructed in the years that followed (Belcher, 1980).

        The ecological changes that occurred within the Pemigewasset Wilderness during the period that elapsed between European settlement in New England and 1893 tended to be subtle and gradual rather than obvious and abrupt. The indigenous Abenaki who inhabited the region were greatly reduced in number between 1616 and 1618 due to European diseases. They had left the area entirely by 1725, but the Abenaki impact on the landscape is believed to have been minimal to begin with. The construction of roads and railroads in the White Mountain region that took place during the 18th and 19th centuries left the Pemigewasset Wilderness untouched. Perhaps the greatest changes that took place during this period of time were the introduction of exotic species and the extirpation of several animals as a result of hunting and trapping.

The logging era

        Between 1884 and 1893, a logging company known as J.E. Henry and Sons consolidated its land holdings within the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and construction of the East Branch and Lincoln Railroad began in 1893 (Belcher, 1980). This railroad grew in length over time, following the numerous tributaries that feed the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River.

Source: Belcher (1980). Vector data from USGS.

        The company was owned by logging magnate J.E. Henry, an astute businessman who would amass a sizable fortune from his Pemigewasset land holdings in the years to come. Henry's centre of operations was the town of Lincoln, New Hampshire, where his family owned everything from the schools and the stores to the boarding houses that lodged the company's workers (Belcher, 1980). Built in a matter of months, the town operated both a sawmill and a paper mill and would become the lifeblood of Henry's success (Belcher, 1980).

        Henry was known for his thriftiness and the efficiency of his clearcutting operations. He established over twenty mobile logging camps that could be transported by railroad cars when the timber in any given area had been cut (Belcher, 1980). His workers followed a set of strict rules, many of them related to the treatment of the horses his lumberjacks used to drag spruce logs down the mountain slopes (Belcher, 1980).

Source: Belcher (1980). U.S. Forest Service Photo

        Over the course of the next 25 years, J.E. Henry & Sons clearcut a vast majority of the red spruce forests in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, changing the landscape in an unprecedented manner. For the Henrys, it was strictly a matter of business. Interviewed by writer Ernest Russell for Collier's, J.E. Henry's son remembers his father once saying "I never see the tree yit that didn't mean a damned sight more to me goin' under the saw than it did standin' on a mountain" (Belcher, 1980, p. 131)

Source: Belcher (1980). U.S. Forest Service Photo

        In 1903, forester Alfred Chittenden was hired by the New Hampshire Forestry Commission to conduct a forest survey in northern New Hampshire. In his observations about the Pemigewasset watershed, he notes, "Practically the entire watershed was originally covered with a spruce forest. Of this original growth but little now remains. . . . Nearly all the pure hardwood forests are second growth, and are due to a change of species after lumbering and fire" (Chittenden, 1905, pp. 36- 37). Later in the report, he notes, "The conifers are able to hold their own after logging on the spruce slopes and flats, but not on the hardwood lands" (Chittenden, 1905, p. 47). These observations support the idea that the systematic logging of red spruce led to an increase in hardwoods at lower altitudes within the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

        Major forest fires raged in the Pemigewasset Wilderness in 1903 and 1907 when dried-out logging slash was ignited by lightning (Belcher, 1980; Goodale, 2003). These fires burned out of control, together destroying approximately 6,000 hectares of forests, or one-third of the entire study area.

Sources: Belcher (1980); Goodale (2003). Map by Andrew L. Sanford.

        J.E. Henry died in 1912, and his sons sold J.E. Henry & Sons to the Parker- Young Company in 1917. Belcher notes that by this time "the lumber that remained was way up high, deep in the backcountry, or tucked away in tight, steep valleys" (1980, p.142). Parker-Young continued to extract red spruce from the Pemigewasset Wilderness for the next 31 years, and it wasn't until 1948 that logging finally ceased in the Pemigewasset. By this time, the entire study area had been logged. The only remaining old-growth forest in the Pemigewasset region lies just outside the border of the federally designated wilderness area along the Nancy Brook Trail, where 500 hectares of virgin red spruce swamp flat survive to this day (AMC, 1987; Davis, 1996).

        Human agency dramatically changed the landscape of the Pemigewasset Wilderness during the logging era. Over a period of 55 years, J.E. Henry & Sons, and later the Parker-Young Company, systematically cut down all of the red spruce within the study area. Red spruce was eliminated at lower altitudes where previously it had been abundant and replaced with hardwood forests. Additionally, two large forest fires occurred within the study area in 1903 and 1907, together burning one-third of the entire Pemigewasset Wilderness.

        Viewed in the context of what has been discussed about the history of landscape change prior to 1893, the logging era shows that humans did more to transform the Pemigewasset Wilderness from 1893 to 1948 than they had in the past 2000 years.


Conservation in the early 20th century

        The preservationist movement that emerged in the United States in the late 19th century laid the foundation for the 20th century conservation movement. The preservationist movement owes its origins, at least in part, to the growth of outdoor recreational tourism after the American Civil War. Following the publication of several highly influential travelogues, such as William H.H. Murray's Adventures in the Wilderness; Or, Camp-Life in the Adirondacks (1869) and Moses Sweetser's White Mountains: A Handbook for Travelers (1881), wealthy elites from urban industrial centres such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia began to take trains to northern New England during the summer to appreciate the beauty of the region's natural landscapes (Simpson, 1992; Cenkyl, 2006; Johnson, 2006). In New Hampshire, these tourists were lodged in what were known as 'grand resort hotels,' places where they could play golf and tennis or take pony rides and guided hikes into the mountains (Johnson, 2006).

        Proponents of the preservationist movement argued that nature had value regardless of its utility to human beings and that it should be protected from the destructive practices of unfettered industrial capitalism. However, it is impossible to ignore two striking ironies about the early preservationists. First, elite tourists were privileged with the wealth and leisure time to appreciate natural landscapes that others had neither the time nor the money to enjoy. Second, these tourists took trains to reach their destinations. The trains that brought these privileged tourists closer to nature were a potent symbol of the industrialized society that many of them were trying to escape.

        Conservationists, by contrast, took a more instrumental view of nature. From the perspective of the conservationist, nature had value to the extent that it served human purposes. The distinction is important because it helps to explain why early efforts to protect the Pemigewasset Wilderness failed and later efforts succeeded.

        J.E. Henry's methods of logging received intense scrutiny from the growing environmental movement in the United States. Prior to its purchases of land in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, Henry's company operated on an adjacent property in the Zealand Valley that fell victim to a devastating forest fire in 1886. This fire's aftermath incited the vitriol of one of New Hampshire's earliest forest commissioners, Joseph B. Walker, who remarked in a 1891 speech, "As one now looks upon the two towering sentinels of fire-blasted rock which mark the opening of this valley, there blazes into his mind, in letters of living fire, the terrible inscription which Dante in his Divine Comedy placed over the entrance to hell: All Hope Abandon Ye Who Enter Here" (cited in Belcher, 1980, p. 101).

        The sheer efficiency of Henry's clearcut logging operations was deeply troubling to many of the early visitors to the region and the business owners dependent upon tourism for their livelihoods. In 1901, a coalition of concerned citizens and hotel owners formed the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (Smith, 1960). This group actively lobbied politicians at both the state and federal levels to create protected forest areas by buying back land from the timber companies operating in the White Mountains. Advancing the argument that the long term value of recreational tourism was greater than the short term benefits that logging provided, they actively publicized their message in town hall meetings and through prominent members of the academic community (Smith, 1960).

        The forest fires of 1903 were the largest in New Hampshire history and played a major role in galvanizing public opinion against the ongoing destruction of White Mountain forests (Belcher, 1980; Goodale, 2003). The spring season of 1903 was the driest in the historical record, and the fires that burned in May and June accounted for over half of all the forest areas burned between 1800 and 1923 (Goodale, 2003).

Source: Belcher (1980). U.S. Forest Service Photo

        The 1903 fires received intense scrutiny from the national news media, environmentalists, and government forestry officials, leading New Hampshire Senator Jacob Gallagher to propose a bill in Congress later that year appropriating five million dollars for the creation of a federal forest preserve in the White Mountains (Johnson, 2006). This legislation met with strong opposition from lawmakers representing other regions of the country, who argued that the federal government had no role to play in dealing with the environmental problems of individual states (Johnson, 2006).

        Forester Alfred Chittenden's landmark report, published in 1904 for the New Hampshire Forestry Commission (and later republished the following year by the federal government's Bureau of Forestry), described how soil erosion within deforested areas was causing siltation problems that threatened river navigability and the economic viability of industries dependent upon water resources downstream. A highly influential report that supported arguments for forest conservation with scientific facts, it contained the first recommendations for the protection of watersheds in U.S. history. It also noted that, "Since an excellent opening exists for the creation of a forest reserve by the purchase of cut-over lands in the mountains, the adoption of a policy looking to this end is recommended" (Chittenden, 1905, p. 11).

        Early arguments to protect the forests of the Pemigewasset Wilderness that were made by recreational tourists and preservationists were later bolstered by pragmatic economic arguments made by local hotel owners and cotton mill operators dependent upon water resources downstream. The interests of the latter group enabled a diverse array of stakeholders to join forces and advance an agenda for forest conservation that would not otherwise have been possible with preservationist ideas alone.

The Weeks Act and subsequent legislation

        After several more years of struggle, the persistent efforts of conservationists finally culminated in a victory for the environmental movement. The Weeks Act, which was signed into law in 1911 by President William Howard Taft, created the National Forest Service and gave the federal government the right to purchase private lands in order to protect forested watersheds. It was the first law of its kind and marked a defining moment for the modern environmental movement in the United States. One senator who opposed the law at the time called The Weeks Act "the most radical piece of legislation that has ever been proposed in the Congress of the United States" (Johnson, 2006, p. 189).

        The Weeks Act granted funds to the United States Geological Survey to identify areas in the White Mountains and the southern Appalachians suitable for acquisition by the federal government. By 1915, the government had purchased approximately 107,000 hectares of land in the White Mountains and 405,000 hectares of land in the southern Appalachian region (Johnson, 2006). These acquisitions included all of the land lying within the drainage basin that comprises the northern extent of the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River, an area that demarcates the present boundaries of the Pemigewasset Wilderness (see image below). In 1918, the White Mountain National Forest was established under the auspices of the Weeks Act.

Source: USGS DEM and vector data. Map by Andrew L. Sanford.

        The Weeks Act set an important precedent for future environmental legislation designed to strengthen protections for natural areas. Over time, however, many environmentalists came to perceive that some of the legal loopholes associated with the Weeks Act were working against their long-term interests. One issue of contention was that the Weeks Act gave the United States Forest Service the sole power to make decisions about natural resource management in public forests (Johnson, 2006).

        This policy dated back to the management of Gifford Pinchot, who served as the agency's first Chief Forester. Known for his advocacy of "wise use" principles and a utilitarian approach towards natural resources that favored the "greatest good for the greatest number," Pinchot believed that activities such as ranching, mining, and logging were valid pursuits within national forests if they were conducted sustainably (Johnson, 2006, p.199).

        Many environmentalists opposed these activities and viewed them as human transgressions that disturbed the natural functioning of forest ecosystems. In contrast to Gifford Pinchot, who held a decidedly instrumentalist view of nature, these environmentalists valued nature intrinsically and wanted certain areas of national forests to be declared off limits to further human intervention.

        Wilderness advocacy gained increasing support and resulted in passage of the 1964 National Wilderness Preservation Act, generally known as the Wilderness Act. The law stipulated that land in newly created wilderness:

(1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in and unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value. (, 2008)

        The Wilderness Act gave the United States Congress to power to establish protected wilderness areas within national forests that had to be managed within strict parameters over which the United States Forest Service had no control. It also prohibited commercial activities, road construction, and the use of motorized transport within federally designated wilderness areas.

        The Pemigewasset Wilderness became a federally designated wilderness area in 1984 with the signing of the New Hampshire Wilderness Act. The timing of this legislation could not have been more fitting; exactly one century had passed since J.E. Henry began to consolidate his land holdings in the Pemigewasset region.

        The rapid ecological changes that took place in the Pemigewasset Wilderness at the turn of the 20th century played a major role in the passage of the Weeks Act, which protected forested watersheds for the first time and established the United States Forest Service. The subsequent rise of wilderness advocacy enabled passage of the Wilderness Act and the New Hampshire Wilderness Act, creating a strong legal framework for the establishment and protection of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.


        This study has fulfilled two principal objectives: it has described how human agency has transformed the landscape of the Pemigewasset Wilderness and discussed the area's historical and current importance to environmental conservation in the United States. By examining the literature relating to these objectives and drawing upon a diverse set of academic sources, it has situated the reader within a solid historical, theoretical, and scientific context for further discussion. Finally, the study has provided a clear methodology and adopted a logical thematic approach to discussing each objective.

        Paleolimnological records and historical data on forest cover and forest fires were used to set a pre-Columbian ecological baseline for the changes that have taken place to the landscape as a result of human activities. The study found that relatively stable ecological conditions characterized the forests of the Pemigewasset Wilderness in the 1,600 years prior to European settlement in North America. During this period, the two indigenous Abenaki tribes that inhabited the region are believed to have played a minimal role in influencing the landscape and ecology of the study area, largely due to physiographic constraints. European settlement in the White Mountain Region was accompanied by the extirpation of large predators and the introduction of exotic species, but no permanent human settlements were ever established in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

        A period of rapid landscape change began in 1893 with the construction of logging railroads owned by J.E. Henry & Sons. During the logging era, the red spruce forests growing on mountain slopes in the Pemigewasset Wilderness were cut down to feed demand from the pulp and paper industries. Major forest fires burned out of control in 1903 and 1907, destroying one-third of the forested land in the study area. By 1948, the entire study area had been logged.

        A discussion of the area's historical and current importance to environmental conservation in the United States examined the roots of the preservationist movement, the differences between intrinsic and instrumental valuations of nature, and the alliances formed between the forest conservation in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Clearcutting and forest fires galvanized public opinion and provided an important catalyst for the passage of the Weeks Act in 1911, which established the U.S. Forest Service and led to federal protection of forested watersheds for the first time. After years of ecological recovery, the Pemigewasset Wilderness was designated as a federally protected wilderness area in 1984.

        This study shows that landscapes significantly altered by human agency have the ability to recover over long time periods, even to the point where they may be subjectively defined as wilderness. Deforestation and fires in the Pemigewasset Wilderness played a key role in the passage of the Weeks Act, widely regarded as a landmark piece of legislation in United States environmental history. The Pemigewasset Wilderness provides a poignant example of how the divide between nature and culture can be bridged by showing that they can ultimately act as complementary forces.


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Electronic and Electrical Waste in China: A Policy Analysis with Future Recommendations


NOV. 11, 2008


        The international trade in electrical and electronic waste is an important public policy issue that has serious ramifications for the environment and human health. Rapid advances in scientific innovation, spurred by high consumer demand for new and improved technologies, have created an unprecedented problem of disposal for obsolete electrical and electronic devices. Referred to as e-waste, these outdated products contain a diverse range of components that include everything from valuable precious metals to highly toxic chemical compounds. Structural inequalities in the global economic system, coupled with strong demand for raw materials in developing countries with export-based manufacturing sectors, have led to a situation in which a disproportionate burden of the human health and environmental costs of e-waste recycling are borne by poor workers employed in the informal sector, particularly in China. This issue merits further inquiry because of its relevance to contemporary public policy and the broader debate over economic inequality and social and environmental justice.

        This briefing paper aims to accomplish several objectives. First, it will provide a solid background on the global issue of e-waste, explaining what it is, why it is a problem, and where it originates and ends up. Second, it will examine the drawbacks associated with e-waste in China, focusing on the city of Guiyu, the largest e-waste site in the world. Third, it will discuss Chinese policy, investigating barriers to the successful implementation of existing national and international laws. Lastly, it will offer key conclusions about what can be learned from the Chinese experience and offer recommendations that can be used to formulate and effectively put into practice new e-waste policies that better safeguard human health and the environment.


        A standard definition of e-waste does not yet exist. Widmer et al. (2005) note that the European Union has ten categories of e-waste, which include household appliances, various forms of telecommunications, consumer, and lighting equipment, electrical and electronic tools, medical devices, monitoring and control instruments, and toys, leisure, and sports equipment. These old and discarded goods are highly diverse in nature, which makes it difficult to arrive at a standard categorical definition. For the purposes of this briefing paper, e-waste will be used as a generic term that encompasses the totality of all the aforementioned goods.

        E-waste is a growing problem that epitomizes many of the most troubling aspects of modern consumer culture. In 2005, e-waste accounted for eight percent of all municipal waste in the world (Babu et al. 2007). The amount of e-waste being produced is accelerating due to the shorter life cycles of consumer electronic goods and the rapid expansion of markets for these products in the developing world, particularly India and China (Babu et al. 2007; Streicher-Portea et al. 2005). In 2004 alone, over 180 million new personal computers were sold around the world, and 100 million obsolete PCs entered the waste stream (Hilty 2005).

        The process of disposal for these discarded products is a complex process. Due to the human health hazards posed by many chemical compounds used in the manufacture of electronic goods, many types of e-waste are also considered to be toxic wastes. The tightening of environmental laws in developed countries has led to an economic situation in which it is less expensive to export hazardous wastes overseas than dispose of them within national borders. In the United States, for example, the cost of hazardous waste disposal jumped from $15 per ton in 1980 to $250 per ton in 1988, compared to a disposal cost of $2.50 per ton in Africa (Clapp 1994). The prevailing trend has thus encouraged a transfer of hazardous wastes, along with their associated human health and environmental costs, from core economies to peripheral or semi-peripheral economies in the global system of trade.

        Compounding this problem is the demand for raw materials in the developing world, particularly countries whose national economies are heavily reliant on export-based manufacturing. China and India are the two prime examples (Tong and Wang 2004). Although there is an economic and environmental logic to reusing and recycling electrical parts and components in the countries producing these goods, the reality on the ground is far more insidious. Given that China receives 90% of all recycled materials entering the Asian market (Widmer et al. 2005), it is worth examining in further detail what happens when e-waste arrives in China and what the drawbacks of e-waste recycling look like on the ground.

E-waste in China: The Case of Guiyu

        E-waste usually arrives in China under false auspices. Although Chinese law technically forbids the importation of seventh category waste, these regulations are easily circumvented through a variety of methods, particularly smuggling, corruption, poor funding, and lack of adequate enforcement mechanisms (Tong and Wang 2004; Puckett et al. 2002). It is generally imported into China through port cities, particularly Nanghai in the Pearl River delta and Taizhou in the Yangtze River delta (Tong and Wang 2004). Active industrial clusters associated with the e-waste trade have also emerged in the coastal provinces of Zhejang, Shanghai, Tianjin, Hunan, Fujian, and Shandong (Liu et al. 2006). After being imported, e-waste is transported to regional hubs for manual disassembly, often by migrant workers.

        One of these hubs is the city of Guiyu in Guangdong Province, where 100,000 migrant workers from the Chinese countryside are employed in the e-waste sector, earning approximately $1.50 per day (Puckett et al. 2002; Wong et al. 2007a). A former rice-growing village, Guiyu is today the center of China's booming e-waste disassembly industry and the largest city in the world of its kind, with 80% of local families engaged in the e-waste sector (Bi et al. 2007). The city is plagued by chronic pollution problems, and water has to be piped in from a neighboring town because the local drinking water is contaminated.

        The most dangerous aspect of e-waste recycling in Guiyu is what is known as primitive dismantling. Methods used to perform this task include the stripping of metals in open-air acid baths to recover gold and other precious metals, chipping and melting of plastics, burning coated wires to recover copper, melting of electronic circuit boards to recover metal components, and open-air combustion of electronic scraps and unsalvageable waste (Deng et al. 2006; Bi et al. 2007; Wong et al. 2007a). These practices take place without any protection for workers, so that chronic health problems are rampant in Guiyu (Bi et al 2007).

        Large-scale primitive e-waste disassembly has resulted in a situation where levels of mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium, copper, zinc, and a host of other toxic metals are present in extremely high concentrations (Deng et al. 2006; Wong et al. 2007b; Wong et al. 2007c). Additionally, the world's highest known concentrations of polybrominated diphenyls and dioxins are found in Guiyu (Bi et al 2007; Li et al 2007). These mutagenic and carcinogenic substances, which are some of the most toxic chemicals known to modern science, are extremely persistent organic pollutants that remain in the environment for decades.

        Guiyu is today a textbook example of the major human health and environmental problems associated with the e-waste processing industry. It is also emblematic of the broader problems wrought by a global neoliberal economic regime that values profit over life.

E-waste Policy in China

        What is occurring in China's e-waste sector is at odds with official government regulations. National laws exist designed to regulate the e-waste industry and prevent certain kinds of hazardous materials from entering the country. These laws and their inability to control the rampant problems associated with the e-waste sector merit further inquiry if effective measures are to be implemented that truly mitigate the devastating social and environmental impacts created by the e-waste industry.

        Two early measures adopted by the Chinese government were the Law on the prevention of pollution from solid waste and Notification on the import of seventh category wastes, which came into effect in 1996 and 2000, respectively (Hicks et al. 2005). The first piece of legislation was an early attempt on the part of the government to regulate the recycling industry by certifying importers of seventh category waste. The second law instituted a ban on the import of scrap of computers, panel displays, television cathode ray tubes, and similar e-waste products (Tong and Wang 2004). These were both top-down measures that lacked adequate enforcement mechanisms and failed to account for the growing role of private enterprise in China. As a result, certified state-owned businesses were unable to compete with individual entrepreneurs for e-waste and scrap metal supplies (Tong and Wang 2004).

        The Notice on strengthening the environmental management of e-waste, issued in 2003, prohibited environmentally damaging processing of e-waste (Hicks et al. 2005). However, it failed to create a management system for e-waste; it was therefore impossible to shut the informal sector down (Liu et al. 2006). The Ordinance on the management of waste household electrical and electronic products recycling and disposal, submitted to the State Council in 2005 and currently waiting approval, is a more comprehensive piece of legislation designed to create a system of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) that forces manufacturers to take back products at the end of their useful lifecycle (Hicks et al 2005). It also aims to reduce the use of toxic and hazardous substances in the manufacturing process and establish a standardized certification system for the labeling of secondhand appliances (Hicks et al 2005; Liu et al 2006). Another recent piece of legislation, The draft management measure for the prevention of pollution from electronic products, puts further restrictions on the use of six hazardous substances in manufacturing, sets requirements for 'green product' design, and mandates manufacturer labeling that informs consumers of the presence of hazardous components in electronics and instructions on their safe use and recycling (Hicks et al. 2005).

        These regulatory policy measures are clearly a step in the right direction. What remains to be seen is whether they can be effectively implemented with the cooperation of private enterprise. The two most recent pieces of legislation, still awaiting approval before they become law, appear to be a more wholehearted attempt on the part of the Chinese government to adapt to the realities of profit-driven market economics. Whether these laws will be effective at mitigating the e-waste problem remains to be seen.

Executive Summary: Key Conclusions and Recommendations

        Electrical and electronic waste is a global problem that has had detrimental effects on the environment and human health. Developing countries with lax environmental laws, an abundance of cheap labor, and high demand for raw materials have shouldered a disproportionate share of the burden for the problems created by e-waste, particularly China. Shorter product lifecycles and increasing demand for electronic goods by consumers in the developing world have created an urgent need for regulatory measures that effectively address the e-waste problem. With these factors in mind, the following policy recommendations are offered with the goal of mitigating the health and environmental impacts of e-waste:

-Labeling of hazardous materials in electronics should be mandatory.

-Strict controls on the use of hazardous substances by manufacturers of electronic products should be implemented.

-The principle of Extended Producer Responsibility should be expanded so that manufacturers are held accountable for the full lifecycles of the products they produce. Binding timelines for phased implementation of EPR should be created.

-Grants and subsidies should be created to encourage the development of technologies that enable ecologically sound disassembly of electronic waste products.

-Employers in the e-waste sector must include safety education as part of training and provide workers with equipment that reduces the risk of occupational health hazards.

-Strict legal and monetary penalties should be enforced for companies and employers who break the law.

-Efforts to remediate present and former e-waste sites should be undertaken.


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From Rain Forests to Industrial Monoculture: The Early Stages of Palm Oil Production


NOV. 11, 2008

        The production of palm oil is one of the most ecologically destructive practices on the planet. Before it is processed and distributed to countries around the world, palm oil originates in tropical regions, where land is converted from rain forests to monoculture plantations. These industrial plantations, which harbor little of the biodiversity of the ecosystems that they replace, are the result of rural development policies instituted at a variety of scales, from the local to the international level. Supported by strong financial interests within both core and peripheral regions of the global economic system, these plantations having been exploding in number and extent since the mid-1960's, with devastating ecological consequences. The rapid rise of oil palm, its increasing importance in meeting the cooking needs of the developing world, and the variety of other commercial and industrial uses to which the tree is put merits further investigation. It is therefore worth examining how the process of ecological transition plays out from start to finish, with the goal of shedding light on a common, if often overlooked, component of the human diet for billions of people around the world.

        Several facts are worth stating at the outset in order to provide context to the importance of palm oil as an agricultural commodity. First, palm oil accounted for 49% of world trade in vegetable oils as of 2003 (FAO, 2006). It is second only to soybean oil as a foodstuff and just passed soybean oil to become the most commonly produced vegetable oil in the world (FAO, 2006). It is also relatively inexpensive to grow, producing yields three to twenty times greater than other oil crops (FWI/GFW, 2002; FAO, 2006).

        The expansion of the palm oil industry has been phenomenal; since the mid-1960's, production has grown 3600% in Indonesia alone (FWI/GFW, 2002). In Malaysia, the amount of cultivated land used for palm oil production rose from 54,638 hectares in 1960 to 3,376,664 hectares in 2000, a 61-fold increase (WWF, 2002). Malaysia and Indonesia today account for 81% of world palm oil production (Basiron, 2002).

        From an economic perspective, these statistics and growth rates are astounding. When one considers the ecological consequences, however, the analysis is more sobering. Behind the rosy numbers lies a destructive pattern of large-scale land conversion. Tropical rain forests in Malaysia and Indonesia have undergone unprecedented and permanent changes as a result of degradation and deforestation. Rates of deforestation in Indonesia have been so severe that it is believed that only remnant patches of tropical lowland rain forest still exist in Sumatra today (FWI/GFW, 2002). In Kalimantan, the region of Borneo that falls under Indonesian jurisdiction, most tropical lowland rain forest will cease to exist by 2010 if current rates of deforestation continue unabated (FWI/GFW, 2002).

        Implicit in these changes is the loss of critical habitat for flora and fauna in a region that is home to some of the planet's most impressive biodiversity and the outright extinction of several species of large animals (CSPI, 2005). Several large species at high risk are the Sumatran tiger, both the Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, and the Asian elephant. Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson referred bleakly to the Sumatran rhinoceros as belonging to the "Hundred Heartbeats Club," a species whose living population currently numbers less than 100 individuals (Wilson, 2002). These charismatic megafauna are very often the focus of international conservation groups, but countless other unique lifeforms of intrinsic value are endangered or already extinct as the result of rain forest conversion to palm oil plantations.

        Physical changes in the non-human environment often accompany the severe effects of palm oil plantations on biodiversity. Closed canopy forests regulate heat, moisture, and wind regimes, creating local microclimates. When forests are degraded or deforested, increased sunlight, dryness, and wind create conditions that lead to a gradual recession of the remaining forest edge (Gascon, Williamson, and da Fonseco, 2000.)

        On a regional level, large-scale deforestation can result in decreased evapotranspiration, reducing cloud formation and rainfall. In Southeast Asia, Epstein (2002), notes that global warming may be a contributor to the increased frequency, duration, and intensity of El Ni–os since 1976. Since rain forest conversion to palm oil plantations is normally followed by the use of fire to release nutrients into the soil, carbon dioxide emissions from recurring fires on Sumatra and Borneo are themselves a major contributor to global climate change (Aiken, 2005).

        Oil palm agriculture has important implications for water quality as well. Sedimentation from soil erosion can degrade drinking water and destroy aquatic ecosystems. Inputs of petrochemical herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers often pollute local waterways in areas that have already been converted to industrial plantation agriculture. Additionally, effluent from industrial wastewater creates massive amounts of untreated sewage. In 1999 alone, palm oil mill effluent in Indonesia produced the equivalent of the amount of domestic sewage generated by 20 million people (CSPI, 2005).

        Land conversion from rain forest to industrial monoculture plantations typically begins when logging concessions are granted to timber companies, often as a result of pervasive corruption or nepotism at the national level. The Suharto regime in Indonesia was particularly infamous for awarding such concessions to its political favorites (FWI/GFW, 2002). Logging companies then take advantage of the immensely profitable practice of harvesting tropical timber, extracting high-value trees and sending them to sawmills and eventually overseas to export markets. In some cases, particularly in Indonesia, where decentralization following the Suharto era led to less government intervention in hinterland areas, illegal logging networks have been formed at the local level with the tacit approval of provincial governors (McCarthy, 2002).

        Once the forest has been cleared, the remaining brush and detritus are normally burned to release nutrients into the soil. The land is then surveyed, and leguminous cover crops are planted to encourage nitrogen fixation in the soil and prevent erosion (WWF, 2002). The final step in the establishment of monoculture plantations involves transplanting year-old oil palm clones or seedlings from nurseries in neat rows that often stretch as far as the eye can see (WWF, 2002).

        A two to three year process of field maintenance then takes place before the newly planted oil palm trees become productive and begin to yield fruit. This maintenance involves weeding, pruning, and the application of fertilizers and various forms of pest control (WWF, 2002). The oil palm industry uses over 20 different kinds of herbicides and pesticides, including the herbicide paraquat dichloride, which has been found to be responsible for nosebleeds, nail loss, and abdominal ulcerations amongst female plantation workers in Malaysia (CSPI, 2005).

        Harvesting of fresh fruit bunches is accomplished with the aid of hand chisels when the trees are young, and later occurs with the help of mounted sickles when the trees are older and the fruit is out of reach (WWF, 2002). Tractors with mounted arms then go around collecting the fruit bunches, transporting them in wagons to processing plants on the plantations, where they are turned into palm oil and a variety of other commercially significant products (WWF, 2002). These include fatty acids used in the making of soaps, fragrances, cosmetics, and candles, fatty alcohols used to make washing and cleaning products, fatty nitrogen compounds used to prevent rust, and glycerols used in lubricants, stabilizers, solvents, and other industrial applications (WWF, 2002).

        Palm oil today is used in a number of food products, including shortenings, margarines, ice cream, cookies, crackers, biscuits, cake mixes, icing, dough fat, and instant noodles (WWF, 2002). Almost all large transnational food conglomerates use palm oil as an additive for their products; examples of well-known foods containing palm oil include Cadbury chocolate, Oreo cookies, Kraft Vegetable Thins, and Pilsbury dough. When occidental consumers buy these products, they unknowingly participate in the destruction of tropical rain forests.

        One of the reasons that palm oil is so widely used is that it is inexpensive relative to other vegetable oils. Since 1986, palm oil has been consistently cheaper than peanut, soybean, canola, sunflower, and rapeseed oils (FAO, 2006). Its cheap price makes it affordable to consumers in the developing world, particularly in India, Pakistan, and China (USDA, 2002). This is an important fact to consider when thinking about the process of ecological destruction that accompanies palm oil production.

        The role that various national and transnational corporations play in fueling the oil palm boom cannot be overstated. In both Malaysia and Indonesia, the very same conglomerates that are granted logging concessions often own the saw mills that process the tropical timber, the trading companies that export the value-added sawn wood, and the subsidiaries in charge of establishing plantations, processing oil palm, and exporting its derivative products (FWI/GFW, 2002). These conglomerates thus profit in numerous ways from the conversion of rain forests to monoculture plantations. A financial incentive exists at each step of the process, from the initial clearing of the rain forest to the eventual export of palm oil and other oil palm products.

        The role that Dutch banks have played in financing these operations has drawn increased scrutiny in recent years as groups concerned with the ongoing cycle of destruction have investigated the complicity of Western business interests in supporting tropical land conversion in Southeast Asia. ING Bank, ABN AMRO Bank, Rabobank, MeesPierson, and Nederlandse FMO are five major lenders who have provided equity and insurance to Malaysian and Indonesian companies with oil palm holdings (Greenpeace, 2000). It is therefore worthwhile to keep in mind that foreign banks are at least in part responsible for the deforestation that has resulted from the establishment of oil palm plantations, in addition to the conglomerates themselves and consumers in both the developing and industrialized world.

        Global palm oil production, concentrated largely in Malaysia and Indonesia, has increased at an explosive pace since the 1960's due to the large-scale conversion of tropical rain forests into industrial plantations practicing intensive monoculture. Devastating ecological consequences have accompanied this transition. The loss of critical habitat for many forms of life in a region known for the splendor of its biodiversity, the release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as a result of forest clearance, and severe water pollution from pesticides and effluent originating from palm oil plantations have resulted from an insatiable thirst for profits, the high demand for cooking oil in the developing world, and the use of cheap additives in goods manufactured by transnational food conglomerates. Billions of people on the planet consume foods made with palm oil today, most of them unaware of the destructive practices of timber concessionaires who, aided by Western financiers, profit at every stage of the land conversion process. Ultimately, almost everyone bears some responsibility for the continuing destruction of rain forests to create palm oil. It will be important to heighten awareness of this complex issue moving into the future if further destruction of these irreplaceable ecosystems is to be averted.


Aiken, S.R. 2005. Runaway fires, smoke-haze pollution, and unnatural disasters in Indonesia. The Geographical Review 94 (1), 55-79.

Basiron, Y. 2002. Palm oil and its global supply and demand prospects. Oil Palm Industry Economic Journal 2 (1), 1-10.

CSPI [Center for Science in the Public Interest]. 2005. Cruel oil: How palm oil harms health, rainforest & wildlife. Washington, D.C.: Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Epstein, P.R. 2000. Is global warming harmful to health? Scientific American 283 (2), 50-57.

FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations]. 2006. Biofuels and commodity markets- palm oil focus. Paper presented 24-25 October 2006 at AgraInforma Conference, Brussels. Retrieved 15 April 2007 at

FWI/GFW [Forest Watch International/Global Forest Watch]. 2002. The state of the forest: Indonesia. Bogor, Indonesia: Forest Watch Indonesia. Washington, D.C.: Global Forest Watch.

Gascon, C., Williamson, G.B. & da Fonseca, G.A.B. (2000). Receding forest edges and vanishing reserves. Science 288 (5470), 1356-1358.

Greenpeace Netherlands. 2000. Funding forest destruction: The involvement of Dutch banks in the financing of oil palm plantations in Indonesia. Amsterdam: Greenpeace Netherlands.

McCarthy, J. F. (2002). Turning in circles: District governance, illegal logging, and environmental decline in Sumatra, Indonesia. Society and Natural Resources 15, 867-886.

USDA [United States Department of Agriculture]. 2002. Oilseeds: World markets and trade. Circular series FOP 10-02, October 2002. Accessed 15 April 2007 at

Wilson, E.O. 2002. The future of life. New York: Vintage Books.

WWF. 2002. The palm oil industry in Malaysia: From seed to frying pan. Selangor, Malaysia; WWF Malaysia. Accessed 15 April 2007 at where_we_work/asia_pacific/publications/index.cfm?uNewsID=16630

Causes of Deforestation in Sumatra


SEPT. 10, 2008

        Sumatra, one of the largest islands in the archipelago of Indonesia, is home to some of the richest biodiversity on the planet, but its rain forests have suffered immensely over the past century. Forests that once covered almost the entire island have now been reduced to a mere quarter of their former extent. Such a situation merits both an inquiry and an explanation- an investigation into what once existed and what remains, and a search for the answer to a simple question- why did the forests disappear so quickly?

        Sumatra is home to a number of different tropical rain forest formations. They are characterized by their great species richness, high levels of endemism, and low densities of individual species. These formations are categorized on the basis of physiographic and structural characteristics that create unique habitats preferred by certain types of species.

        Tropical lowland evergreen rain forest dominated by dipterocarp trees was once the most common formation found on Sumatra. These forests are what Whitmore (1984) calls "the most luxuriant of all plant communities" (p. 156). They have the largest trees and the greatest numbers of species of any Sumatran rain forests. Although once widely distributed on the island’s interior and on the western side of the island between the coast and the mountains, these forests have been decimated and likely exist today only in isolated remnant patches.

        Tropical lower montane forest is found over 800m; it is characterized by a lower canopy and fewer emergent species (Whitmore, 1984, p. 245). This formation is most common on the island’s western spine, where tectonic uplift has created numerous mountains and volcanoes. On mountains above 1500m., upper montane forest dominates and is characterized by short, dense trees and "elfin woodland" (Whitmore, 1984, p. 243).

        Three formations of swamp forests are found in Sumatra: peat swamp forest, fresh water swamp forest, and seasonal swamp forest. Under natural conditions, these are located on the eastern side of the island, sandwiched between lowland evergreen rain forests and the mangrove forests that grow along the coast in salt water. Peat swamp forests are by far the most common of these formations in Sumatra and also the youngest, with origins dating back 11,000 years to the end of the last glaciation (Whitmore, 1984, p. 183). As their name implies, they are rich in organic matter, which makes them susceptible to fire if dried out by anthropogenic activities. Many dipterocarps found in tropical lowland evergreen forests are also found in peat swamp forests (Whitmore, 1984, p. 183). Fresh water and seasonal swamp forests are usually found on river floodplains and are characterized in Sumatra by corky-barked Melaleuca cajuputi trees (Whitmore, 1984, p. 194).

        Three other rain forest formations occur in Sumatra. Mangrove forest is found sporadically on the east coast and creates excellent riparian habitat. Forest over limestone occurs in small scattered patches along the length of the island but is most common in the province of Aceh. These forests contain high levels of endemism resulting from the mineral composition of limestone and the microclimates of karst towers (Whitmore, 1984, p. 175). Finally, towering pine forests of Pinus merkusii,unique to Sumatra in the Indonesian archipelago, occur naturally in Aceh and Kerinci Seblat National Park.

        The extent to which these forests have been deforested or degraded depends on the sources one uses. The Indonesian government is infamous for grossly underestimating its forest cover figures. The bureaucratic apparatus suffers from institutional corruption and politicians often own or collude with logging interests. Using Geographic Information Systems technology and 1998 satellite imagery from the National Forest Inventory, Forest Watch Indonesia overlaid maps of current forest cover with known timber concessions to classify degraded forests. They concluded that Sumatra’s remaining forest cover included 10.4 million ha. of natural forest and 5.8 million ha. of degraded forest (FWI/GFW, 2002, p. 18). Citing Holmes (2000), FWI says 40 million ha. of forests were estimated to have existed in 1900 (FWI/GFW, 2002, p. 14). Only a quarter of Sumatra’s forest cover from 1900 thus remains. Sumatra’s lowland forests have undergone an even more precipitous decline, decreasing in area from 16 million ha. in 1900 to 5.6 million ha. in 1985. Only 2.1 million ha. remained by 1997 (FWI/GFW, 2002, p.14). Given the rapid rate of deforestation in the latter period, it is reasonably safe to assume that these lowland forests are now gone forever.

        As with most major problems, the processes that have contributed to this deforestation are complex. Some of these processes are directly observable and easy to pinpoint, while others are indirect and often more difficult to comprehend.

        Unsustainable logging has been by far the most destructive process contributing to deforestation in Sumatra. Under the thirty-year military dictatorship of Suharto, the central government declared that most of the forests on Indonesia’s Outer Islands belonged to the state, breaking with the historical tradition of adak, or customary law, wherein leagues of villages allocated forest resources on a local level (McCarthy, 2002, p. 874). After reorganizing the State Forestry Corporation, Suharto embarked on an economic development strategy that relied heavily on natural resource extraction (Peluso, 1992, p.129). Log exports quickly became one of the country’s prime income earners.

        Suharto’s regime was characterized by nepotism and institutionalized corruption, with the result that his family, friends, and political allies wound up receiving many of the prime logging concessions and land conversion permits. Not only did they have a financial incentive to log the forests, but there was money to be made planting rubber and palm oil plantations. After several years of exporting logs, the concessionaires wizened up and realized that they could make even more money processing the logs in Indonesia and exporting processed timber as a value-added product. The logging concessionaires were thus involved in every step of the process; they owned the concessions, they owned the saw mills and pulp mills, and they owned the palm oil and rubber plantations that sprung up where the trees had been cut down (FWI/GFW, 2002).

        This vicious cycle of ecocide continues to this day. The fall of the Suharto regime, hastened by the 1997 economic crisis in Southeast Asia, brought with it a new era of decentralization. Regions that had previously received a significant portion of their budgets from the central government were now forced to look locally for revenue. This vacuum was filled by illegal logging networks (Sayer et al., 2004, p. 125). Although illegal logging had occurred for a long time under the Suharto regime, the lack of central authority and a monetary squeeze at the regional level emboldened these networks to pressure local and regional administrators to unofficially sanction their activities in return for a share of logging revenues (McCarthy, 2002). Illegal logging is now so pervasive that it is estimated to be responsible for 50-70 percent of Indonesia’s wood supply (FWI/GFW, 2002, p.30). This illegal logging is encouraged by both the overcapacity of the country’s wood processing industry and the fact that forestry laws are simply not enforced.

        The conversion of forested land to plantations is another direct cause of deforestation. Oil palm is the plantation crop favored by large-scale industrial estates, although to a lesser extent rubber, coffee, tea, cinnamon, and cocoa are also cultivated by small-scale landholders (Sunderlin, Resosudarmo, Rianto, and Angelson, 2000, p. 9). A boom in the oil palm sector has accelerated in recent years, fueled largely by demand from India, with a 36-fold increase in production since the mid-1960’s (FWI/GFW, 2002, p. 42). This trend is likely to continue, given the prediction by Oil World (2001) that demand for oil palm is expected to nearly double by the year 2020 (as cited in FWI/GFW, 2002, p. 46). When coupled with the fact that the owners of palm oil plantations are very often the same companies profiting from the exploitation of timber, the outlook for the remaining forests in Sumatra suitable for oil palm plantations looks bleak indeed.

        Logging and conversion of forests to palm oil plantations are two of the major direct causes of deforestation in Sumatra, but the impact of small landholders is important as well. Swidden agriculture is still practiced in parts of Sumatra, but shifting cultivators often prefer to clear secondary growth rather than primary forest because it requires less work and the nutrient content is high if the fallow period has been long enough (Whitmore, 1984, chap. 20). If the fallow period is reduced or higher population densities put more pressure on the land, the system will break down.

        Such is the case in Sumatra, but the problem lies less with the shifting cultivators native to Sumatra than the transmigrants or "shifted" cultivators who came to the island during the Suharto regime as the central government sought to relieve population pressures on the island of Java. These small landholders, many of whom have little or no ecological knowledge, view the forest as a resource to be exploited. They follow logging roads and highways, cutting the forest down for intensive agriculture and moving on to another plot when the nutrients have been exhausted and crop yields decline. In the absence of individual property rights, this cycle continues indefinitely until land shortages force farmers to plant perennial crops like rubber trees or coffee (Angelsen, 1995, p. 1724).

        Indirect forces are also encouraging deforestation. Macroeconomic trends, particularly international commodity prices, play an important role in determining decisions that individual stakeholders make. In a compelling analysis of the 1997 Southeast Asian financial crisis, Sunderlin (2000) shows how currency devaluation and commodity prices increased deforestation by small landholders and caused them to rethink which types of crops they grew. McCarthy (2002, pp. 877-878) documents how the price of plywood plunged 40% during the 1997 crisis at the same time demand for patchouli oil, distilled from the leaves of nilam (Pogostemon cablin) sent the price soaring 3000%. These forces caused the closure of several sawmills and encouraged villagers in his case study to trade in their chain saws to plant nilam plants; unfortunately, a reversal of the same market forces meant that this trend was short-lived.

        Transnational corporations, international lending agencies, and corruption on the part of the Indonesian government have also played important indirect roles in deforestation. Suharto looted millions of dollars in international aid during his time in office and actively encouraged deforestation by giving away logging concessions to his political favorites. The World Bank for many years funded road-building projects that carved paths through the rain forest, giving logging trucks easy access to timber and paving the way for transmigrants practicing slash and burn agriculture. Multinational corporations, with the help of their Indonesian counterparts, have long played an active role in the country’s forestry and mining sectors.

        Sumatra’s diverse rain forests, which in their natural state once covered almost the entire island, have within the mere space of a century lost 75% of their original cover. The lowland evergreen forests have been effectively destroyed, and rates of deforestation have increased following the collapse of the Suharto regime. The processes that have caused this deforestation are numerous. They range from direct processes, such as logging, large-scale conversion of forests to plantations, and slash and burn agricultural practices of transmigrants, to indirect processes such as corruption, commodity price swings, myopic lending policies on the part of international donors, and insatiable lust on the part of transnational corporations for tropical resources. The trend does not bode well. Urgent measures and intelligent minds will be required in the years to come if what remains of Sumatra’s rich biota is to be saved from the brink of extinction.


Angelsen, A. Shifting cultivation and "deforestation": A study from Indonesia. World Development 23 (10), 1713-1729.

FWI/GFW [Forest Watch Indonesia/Global Forest Watch]. (2002.) The state of the forest: Indonesia. Bogor, Indonesia: Forest Watch Indonesia; Washington, D.C.: Global Forest Watch.

McCarthy, J. F. Turning in circles: District governance, illegal logging, and environmental decline in Sumatra, Indonesia. Society and Natural Resources 15, 867-886.

Peluso, N. L. (1992). Rich forests, poor people. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sayer, J., Elliott, C., Barrow, E., Gretzinger, S., Maginnis, S., McShane, T., & Shepard, G. Implications for Biodiversity Conservation of Decentralized Forest Resources Management. (2004.) In Colfer, C. J. P. & Capistrano, D. (Eds.) The politics of decentralization (pp. 121-137). Sterling, VA: Earthscan.

Sunderlin, W. D., Resosudarmo, I. A. P., Rianto, E., & Angelsen, A. (2000). The effect of Indonesia’s economic crisis on small farmers and natural forest cover in the Outer Islands. CIFOR occasional paper No. 28E. Retrieved September 20, 2006 from

Whitmore, T. C. (1984). Tropical rain forests of the far east. New York: Oxford University Press.

Impacts of Deforestation in Sumatra


SEPT. 10, 2008

        Sumatra's rain forests have suffered immensely from both direct and indirect processes. Proximate causes of deforestation and degradation include road construction, logging, large-scale plantation agriculture, and the slash and burn agricultural practices of shifted transmigrants, while indirect processes such as government policies, political corruption, commodity price swings, lending policies of international agencies, and the exploitation of tropical resources by transnational corporations have also played a major role in contributing to a vicious cycle of destruction. The impacts of these processes are manifold; deforestation and degradation have had serious negative environmental, biological, socio-economic, and cultural consequences that necessitate further examination. A full understanding of these consequences is essential if the errors of the past are to be avoided and meaningful preventative policies are to be implemented in the future.

        The impact of deforestation on Sumatra's physical environment has been profound. Not only has deforestation altered the island's natural climatic, hydrological, and edaphic regimes within a remarkably short period of geological time, but it has also contributed to broader regional and global environmental problems.

        Local and regional differences in climate on the island of Sumatra, coupled with the complexity of factors that determine climate regimes, make it hard to draw broad generalizations about changes that have occurred as a result of deforestation. It is well known, however, that microclimates exist in rain forests because closed canopy forests regulate heat, moisture, and wind regimes. When forests are degraded or deforested, increased sunlight, dryness, and wind can create conditions that lead to a gradual recession of the remaining forest edge (Gascon, Williamson, and da Fonseco, 2000.) On a regional level, large-scale deforestation can result in decreased evapotranspiration, reducing cloud formation and rainfall. In the case of Sumatra, this trend does not bode well. Aiken (2005, pp. 56-57) cites Epstein (2002), in noting that "the frequency, duration, and intensity of El Ninos have increased since 1976, possibly as a result of global warming." Given that carbon dioxide emissions from Sumatra's recurring peat fires are themselves a major contributor to global warming, it is possible that a positive feedback loop tending towards generally drier conditions on the island as a whole has formed.

        Deforestation has also played an important role in altering Sumatra's hydrology. Rain forests regulate stream flow by facilitating infiltration and enhancing water storage capacity (FAO, 2005). Deforestation therefore results in increased runoff and stream flow. Contrary to popular misconceptions, however, deforestation does not increase the frequency or the severity of flooding (FAO, 2005). Flooding is a natural occurrence, and the most severe floods tend to occur when forest soils are already waterlogged (FAO, 2005.)

        Deforestation has important implications for water quality as well. Sedimentation from soil erosion can degrade drinking water and destroy aquatic ecosystems. Inputs of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, and fertilizers pollute local waterways in areas that have been converted to large-scale plantation agriculture. Where mining activities have led to deforestation, runoff contaminated by heavy metals can have severe repercussions for human health and riparian habitats.

        Rain forest deforestation and degradation are major contributors to soil erosion as well. The effects of soil erosion are especially acute where logging and road construction have taken place. Mechanized extraction of high value timber creates skid trails that severely disrupt topsoil, particularly on steeper slopes (Riswan and Hartanti, 1995). When buffers are absent around logging areas, this topsoil is washed away during periods of heavy rainfall, clogging streams with sediment and disrupting riparian ecosystems. It often takes several years before vegetation becomes reestablished and soil erosion is reduced (Riswan and Hartanti, 1995).

        Sumatra has more mammal species than any other island in Indonesia, including nine endemic species and twenty-two other mammals found nowhere else in the archipelago (USAID/Indonesia, 2004). It is home to the last viable populations of some of Indonesia's well-known large animals, including the Asian elephant, tiger, clouded leopard, Malaysian sun bear, Sumatran orangutan, and Sumatran rhinoceros. The latter two are headed for what Wilson (2002) grimly calls the "Hundred Heartbeat Club," species whose planetary populations number one hundred individuals or less.

        These charismatic megafauna attract the attention of conservationists and the general public because of their size and beauty. Underlying this reality is another unfortunate truth: these animals represent a mere fraction of the endangered species in Sumatra. Many more birds, trees, plants, insects, reptiles, and fish are teetering on the brink of extinction, the vast majority of whose names will never be known to science.

        Habitat loss due to deforestation is the primary cause of this ecocide. Many of these plants and animals once inhabited Sumatra's tropical lowland rain forests, which exist today only in degraded remnant patches. The remaining dipterocarp forests on Sumatra, now confined mostly to peat swamps on the eastern side of the island, will soon succumb to the chainsaw and be set aflame by the one species that learned to master fire, Homo sapiens.

        After the land is burned repeatedly, cultivated for several years, exhausted of its nutrients, and abandoned, Imperata cylindrica will spring up where a forest once grew. This grass, found in environments subjected to frequent cycles of fire, is difficult to eradicate, has few uses, and supports a mere fraction of the biodiversity found in tropical rain forests. Although it is possible to cultivate and rehabilitate land dominated by Imperata, intensive labor inputs are required, rendering these activities unfeasible to most people (Brookfield, Potter, and Byron, 1995). The process of ecological transition is thus complete, with dire consequences for the rich diversity of life that once existed in the tropical rain forest and little tangible benefit to its destroyers.

        Deforestation in Sumatra has a variety of negative socio-economic impacts, many of which are only felt after the process of destruction is complete. While forests still stand, employment opportunities are available with logging gangs and plantation owners and there is plentiful land for the cultivation of cash crops. It is only afterwards, when the land is completely altered by human actions, that the repercussions are often felt.

        McCarthy (2002, p. 876) describes an interview with a village schoolteacher in Menggamat who estimated that "one chainsaw led to the employment of two hundred people." This included the logging gang, the people involved with transporting the logs down the rivers and overland to the sawmills, and others providing ancillary services. Given that logging usually occurs on the frontiers of human settlement in places with poorly developed market economies, many of the people driven to these frontiers are driven by desperation and have opportunistic attitudes and little or no ecological knowledge. The result is that short-term profit from resource extraction trumps long-term social and environmental sustainability. It is only when the finite resources are exhausted that the full magnitude of the damage is clearly understood.

        The damage manifests itself in many ways, almost all of which are related to the greater problem of rural poverty. Sanitary conditions tend to be poor, leading to high rates of infant mortality and disease. Schools, health services, electricity, and other signs of public infrastructure are few and far between. Many workers are burdened by debt obligations to the very logging networks and plantation owners that used to employ them (McCarthy, 2002). In sum, the cycle of poverty continues to get worse for the vast majority of frontier settlers, and the members of entrenched elites are the only people who reap any tangible benefit from the destruction of the rain forest.

        Accompanying the socio-economic drawbacks are related cultural losses. These have been particularly severe for indigenous peoples operating within traditional usufructuary land use systems. On Sumatra, the hunter-gathering Kubu of Jambi Province have been affected by the encroachment of transmigrant populations. Numbering less than six thousand and living on lands highly prized for their timber, the Kubu are particularly vulnerable to displacement and cultural assimilation (Sanbukt, 2000). The future of their spiritual traditions, language, and way of life are closely tied to the fate of the rain forest itself.

        The Talang Mamak, practitioners of traditional swidden agriculture in Riau Province, are similarly threatened as a people, although they are more numerous and have been more successful at adjusting to a market-based economic system. With this adjustment have come changes in values and attitudes, however, and the traditional view of land as communally "owned" has been replaced by a new system where land rights are increasingly asserted by permanent cultivation (Angelsen,1995).

        Deforestation of tropical rain forests in Sumatra has had devastating environmental, biological, socio-economic, and cultural impacts. Major climatic, hydrological, and edaphic changes have been triggered by human alterations of the physical environment. Much of Sumatra's biota, once some of the richest in the world, has been extirpated or pushed to the edge of extinction by habitat loss and the decimation of the island's lowland dipterocarp forests. These biophysical impacts have been accompanied by equally negative repercussions for humans living on the land. Abject poverty and poor social infrastructure continue to plague people who have already been pushed to the margins of society. The few indigenous groups with extensive ecological knowledge of the rain forests are on the verge of cultural disappearance at a time when their voices need to be listened to and their values need to be embraced. A dramatic and unprecedented effort will need to be undertaken if Sumatra's rich natural heritage and irreplaceable cultural traditions are to survive for future generations.


Aiken, S.R. (2004). "Runaway fires, smoke-haze pollution, and unnatural disasters in Indonesia." The Geographical Review 94 (1), 55-79.

Angelsen, A. (1995). Shifting cultivation and ÒdeforestationÓ: A study from Indonesia. World Development 23 (10), 1713-1729.

Brookfield, H., Potter, L., & Byron, Y. (1995). In place of the forest: Environmental and socio-economic transformation in Borneo and the eastern Malay peninsula. Hong Kong: United Nations University Press.

FAO/CIFOR [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/Center for International Forestry Research]. (2005). Forests and floods: Drowning in fiction or thriving on facts? RAP publication 2005/03: Forest perspectives 2. Bogor Barat, Indonesia: FAO/CIFOR.

Gascon, C., Williamson, G.B. & da Fonseca, G.A.B. (2000). "Receding forest edges and vanishing reserves." Science 288 (5470), 1356-1358.

McCarthy, J. F. (2002). Turning in circles: District governance, illegal logging, and environmental decline in Sumatra, Indonesia. Society and Natural Resources 15, 867-886.

Riswan, S. & Hartanti, L. (1995). "Human impact on tropical forest dynamics." Vegetatio 121, 41-52.

Sanbukt, O. (2000). "Deforestation and the people of the forest: The Orang Rimba or Kubu of Sumatra." Indigenous Affairs 2, 39-47.

USAID Indonesia [United States Agency for International Development]. (2004). Report on biodiversity and tropical forests in Indonesia. Retrieved October 4, 2006, from

Wilson, E.O. (2002). The future of life. New York: Vantage Books.

Biodiversity Conservation in Sumatra: Current Practices and Future Alternatives


SEPT. 10, 2008

        The basic human needs of people living near protected areas must be satisfied if biodiversity is to be successfully conserved. Nowhere is this more evident than on the island of Sumatra, where people have steadily encroached upon lands set aside as national parks. The implications for Sumatra's biodiversity are profound, considering that these areas contain some of the last remaining suitable habitats for many of the island's endangered plant and animal populations. It is therefore necessary to address some of the problems associated with conservation strategies that insufficiently account for the needs of people living near park boundaries and to examine ways of mitigating pressures on the ecosystems that still remain intact within these protected areas.

        This research will attempt to fulfill several objectives. By drawing upon case studies of human-environment interactions within and around Sumatra's three largest protected areas, it will examine what is currently known about human activities in Leuser, Kerenci Seblat, and Bukit Barisan Selatan national parks in order to show how current management and land use policies are insufficient to protect Sumatra's biodiversity. Sustainable methods of agroforestry currently practiced on the island of Sumatra will then be investigated in order to show how human pressures on these parks can be alleviated. Finally, by highlighting the policies that need to be implemented if the dual goals of sustainable development and biodiversity conservation are to be achieved, a course for the future will be plotted.

        Sumatra's national park system is relatively new, and the drawing of park boundaries has created tensions between conservationists intent upon protecting biodiversity and villagers dependent upon forest resources for food and income. Of the six national parks containing tropical lowland rain forests in Sumatra, USAID (2004) considers Gunung Leuser, Kerinci Seblat, and Bukit Barisan Selatan to be of the highest conservation priority. These parks contain lower montane rain forest formations that provide suitable habitat for many lowland plant and animal species threatened by human activities (USAID, 2004). In recent years, they have become vulnerable to human encroachment because they contain high value timber and mineral-rich volcanic soils suitable for agriculture.

        Gunung Leuser National Park, located in the provinces of North Sumatra and Aceh, encompasses 890,000 hectares of land and is one of Southeast Asia's largest parks (McCarthy, 2002). Vast tracts of state-claimed land adjacent to the boundaries of the park enclose what is known as the "Leuser Ecosystem," an area of 2 million hectares of forest that constitutes one of the largest rainforest reserves in the world (McCarthy, 2002). Human encroachment has increased in recent years with the growth of illegal logging networks, shifted agriculture, and the establishment of sandalnut gardens within park boundaries (McCarthy, 2002). Griffiths and Van Shaik (1993) observe that most large mammals in Gunung Leuser have moved away from areas where human presence has increased. Elephants, tigers, and Sumatran rhinoceroses are most likely to be adversely affected, as habitat fragmentation by human encroachment results in suboptimal habitats for large mammals with large ranges.

        After studying the complex socio-economic and political processes at work in case studies from Menggamat on the park's western side and the Alas Valley on its eastern flank, McCarthy (2002, p. 104) concludes that "where state laws contradict local understandings, they lack legitimacy" and that "extraction by district logging networks proved to be compatible with forest pioneering by villagers; as these two groups of actors shared interests, they formed a tacit growth coalition" (2002, p. 105). This situation has not been helped by Indonesia's decentralization policies, which have encouraged local governments to raise revenues by extracting natural resources from state lands. Until these policies are changed, biodiversity in Gunung Leuser National Park will remain under threat and critical habitat for most types of lowland flora and fauna will become increasingly fragmented or eliminated altogether.

        Similar factors are at play in Kerinci Seblat National Park, Sumatra's largest protected area and the subject of much scholarly literature. Located in central Sumatra along the spine of mountains on the island's western edge, the park's boundaries lie directly adjacent to logging concessions in some places and are not clearly marked. The annual deforestation rate in the Tappan Valley along the park's western flank was measured at 3.1 percent between 1992 and 1999, with most deforestation occurring in lowland rain forests accessible by roads (Linkie, Smith, and Leader-Williams, 2004). The repercussions for Kerinci Seblat's fauna are particularly severe since the greatest concentrations of animal taxa are found at lower altitudes (Gillison, Liswanti, and Rachman, 1996). Logging and land conversion force these animals into sub-optimal habitats at higher elevations, leading to increased vulnerability of certain species and greater competition for finite food resources.

        The director of Kerinci Seblat National Park says in an interview with Stone and D'Andrea (2001, p.131) that his greatest concern is "the degradation of the park from large plots of cinnamon trees- the cinnamon is creeping in, diminishing biological diversity and wildlife habitat." Given that 116 people patrol a park 13,300 square kilometers in size, the task of halting this activity is daunting (Linkie et al., 2004). It is clear that current policies do not discourage people from appropriating park lands and that park management in its current form will be insufficient to conserve the rich biodiversity of this area.

        Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park is located in Sumatra's southwest corner and is the island's third largest park. Deforestation within this park's boundaries has been extensively documented by Kinnaird, Sanderson, O'Brien, Wibisono, and Woolmer (2003), who calculated that the rate of forest loss on park lands averaged two percent per year between 1985 and 1999, with a marked acceleration of deforestation towards the end of the study period. Forest cover within the park declined from 80 percent in 1985 to 52 percent in 1999, with only 30 percent expected to remain by 2010, most of it montane forest. Less than one percent of the lowland forests in the buffer zone around the national park still remain (Kinnaird et al., 2003). The major proximate cause for this deforestation has been clearance for agriculture resulting from population pressures. Illegal logging has also played a role, but the authors note that sawmills and the paper and pulp industry are notably absent from Lampung Province (Kinnaird et al., 2003). Bukit Barisan Selatan's forests are poorly managed and its biodiversity is severely threatened. Kinnaird et al. (2003) estimate that tigers, elephants, and rhinoceroses, already on the brink of extirpation in this park, will no longer contain viable breeding populations by 2010. Although these are large mammals requiring large ranges for survival, it is reasonable to assume that many other plants and animals in this park will be eliminated outright or face severe population declines resulting from widespread habitat destruction in the near future.

        The scale and rapidity of ecological transformation in the humid tropics has made the urgency of implementing alternative methods of land use a priority. This has led to a focus on sustainable forestry and agriculture that is both sustainable and more productive. Agroforestry is a form of land management that involves the growing of trees in association with agricultural production. When referred to as sustainable, it is a form of management that provides for the environmental, social, and economic needs of future generations. Sustainable agroforestry holds considerable promise in alleviating human pressures on Sumatra's national parks if it is adapted to serve the needs of local people.

        It is important to point out that the practice of agroforestry is insufficient to preserve the natural biodiversity that is found in undisturbed primary rain forests in its entirety. Thiollay (1995), in a study of bird biodiversity in three different types of Sumatran agroforest tracts, found that only half of the bird species present in primary forest were also found in agroforests. There were significant reductions in the numbers of insectivores and frugivores and an increase in the number of omnivores in agroforests, suggesting that agroforests are better suited to generalist bird species, whereas rain forests are the domain of specialists. These results are important, given that birds are major seed dispersers in tropical rainforests and that co-evolved insects often form mutualistic relationships with certain plants and fungi. Nonetheless, Thiollay (1995) observed up to twenty times more bird species present in agroforests than he found on monoculture tree plantations and other agricultural plots. Additionally, although animal species were not the subject of his research, he noted through personal observations (1995, p. 338) that in all three types of agroforests he studied, "the density, or at least conspicuousness of primates, squirrels, and fruit bats often seems higher in agroforests than in primary natural forests, except for the orangutan." He found that wild pigs, leaf monkeys, macaques, gibbons, and siamangs were particularly abundant and also encountered barking deer, civets, and small cats during the course of his research. For conservation purposes, agroforestry is therefore probably best adapted to buffer zones created around protected areas of primary rain forest.

        Several case studies illustrate the positive effects that agroforestry can have on communities living near protected areas. On the northeastern periphery of Kerinci Seblat National Park, Murniati, Garrity, and Gintings (2001) studied the relationship between dependence upon national park resources and ownership of land used for agroforestry. They found that families without mixed-garden forests were far more dependent upon resources within national park lands for food and income than families whose holdings included both paddy land and mixed-garden forests. Those families whose land was used for several uses had higher incomes than those who only owned paddy land. A study of agroforests at another site on the periphery of the park led Aumeeruddy and Sansonnens (1994, p. 133) to state that "such systems, as well as being economically sustainable, also contribute greatly to in situ conservation of biological diversity and to diminution of ecological and economical risks."

        Another illustrative example comes from agroforests of the Krui region adjacent to Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park where villagers have been growing damar (Shorea javanica) trees for generations. These dipterocarp "gardens," known as repong, are intercropped with coffee, pepper, fruit trees, medicinal plants, rattan, and natural vegetation, and their forests are closely tied to local social hierarchies and group identities (Wollenberg, Nawir, Uluk, and Pramono, 2001). Similar to Thiollay's findings on bird diversity, 100 meter transects of a primary rainforest and a repong were made and approximately half of all plant species were present in both forests (De Foresta and Michon, 1997).

        The success of agroforestry is highly dependent upon the implementation of rural land reform policies and a shift in priorities at the Ministry of Forestry in Jakarta. In a case study of fire reduction near a protected forest in southern Sumatra, Suyanto, Permana, Khususiyah, and Joshi (2005) found that political decentralization following the Suharto era led farmers to feel more secure about squatter rights to their smallholder plots and made them less likely to encroach upon surrounding forests. The result was a rehabilitation of Imperata grasslands and the establishment of coffee agroforests. Given that 4 million hectares of land in Sumatra are currently designated as agroforests and that other than the rain forests themselves "agroforests probably represent the widest reservoir of animal and plant species in the lowlands of Sumatra," (De Foresta and Michon, 1997, p.115), reforming land tenure laws would probably be the most effective way of ensuring sustainable development and conserving biodiversity.

        We humbly suggest that if Jakarta truly wants political stability within the archipelago it should start to close down sawmills, annul forest concessions, crack down on corruption, and institute policies that progressively give back to the Indonesian people the lands that it has taken. It should spend more time and money investing in the development of ecotourism and markets for non-timber forest products. It should make efforts to rehabilitate Imperata grasslands, to build what Myers (1994, chapter 12) refers to as "forest-industrial complexes," and to promote the development of emerging technologies like fast pyrolysis in order to synthesize sustainable biofuels. It should encourage the preservation of the vast ethnobotanical knowledge of the planet's richest and most culturally diverse human population in order to find and develop new medicines that will otherwise be lost forever. It should use the carbon credit trading system established after the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol to its financial benefit instead of contributing to the problems of air pollution, transboundary smoke-haze, and global warming by letting its forests go up in flames.

        This is a tall order, indeed, but the status quo is no longer morally, socially, economically, culturally, ecologically, or environmentally acceptable. An institutionally corrupt political system that has committed forty years of ecocide at the expense of its citizens and the planet as a whole is no longer fit to govern. The needs of current and future generations are simply too great, and the future of many forms of life hangs in the balance. Indonesia's biodiversity, to the extent that it still remains in poorly managed, poorly funded national parks that are increasingly encroached upon by people driven by greed and poverty, quite frankly deserves better.


Aumeeruddy, Y. & Sansonnens, B. (1994). Shifting from simple to complex agroforestry systems: an example for buffer zone management from Kerinci (Sumatra, Indonesia). Agroforestry Systems 28 (2), 113-141.

De Foresta, H. & Michon, G. (1997). The agroforest alternative to Imperata grasslands: When smallholder agriculture and forestry reach sustainability. Agroforestry Systems 36 (1-3), 105-120.

Gillison, A.N., Liswanti, N, & Rachman, I.A. (1996). Rapid ecological assessment: Kerinci Seblat National Park buffer zone. Working paper no. 14. Center for International Forestry Research: Bogor, Indonesia. Retrieved October 4, 2006 from

Griffiths, M. & Van Shaik, C.P. (1993). The impact of human traffic on the abundance and activity periods of Sumatran rain forest wildlife. Conservation Biology 7 (3), 623-626.

Kinnaird, M.F., Sanderson, E.W., O'Brien, T.G., Wibisono, H.T., & Woolmer, G. (2003). Deforestation trends in a tropical landscape and implications for endangered wild animals. Conservation Biology 17 (1), 245-257.

Linkie, M., Smith, R.J. & Leader-Williams, N. (2004) Mapping and predicting deforestation patterns in the lowlands of Sumatra. Biodiversity and Conservation 13 (10), 1809-1818.

McCarthy, J.F. (2002). Power and interest in Sumatra's rainforest frontier: Clientelist coalitions, illegal logging, and conservation in the Alas Valley. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 33 (1), 77-106.

McCarthy, J.F. (2002). Turning in circles: District governance, illegal logging, and environmental decline in Sumatra, Indonesia. Society and Natural Resources 15 (10), 867-886.

Murniati, Garrity, D.P, & Gintings, A.N. (2001). The contribution of agroforestry systems to reducing farmers' dependence on the resources of adjacent national parks: A case study from Sumatra, Indonesia. Agroforestry Systems 52 (3), 171-184.

Myers, N. (1992). The primary source. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Stone, R.D. & D'Andrea, C. (2001). Tropical forests and the human spirit. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Suyanto, S., Permana, R.P., Khususiyah, N., & Joshi, L. (2005) Land tenure, agroforestry adoption, and reduction of fire hazard in a forest zone: A case study from Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia. Agroforestry Systems 65 (1), 1-11.

Thiollay, J.-M. (1995). The role of traditional agroforest in the conservation of rain forest bird diversity in Sumatra. Conservation Biology 9 (2), 335-353.

USAID Indonesia [United States Agency for International Development]. (2004). Report on biodiversity and tropical forests in Indonesia. Retrieved October 4, 2006, from

Wollenberg, E., Nawir, A.A., Uluk, A., & Pramono, H. (2001). Income is not enough: The effect of economic incentives on forest product conservation. Bogor: Center for International Forestry Research.

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