WILD10 conference in Salamanca, Spain
Credit: Jeff Wells
I looked out the window of the plane and 34,000 feet below was the coast of Portugal. As it receded into the distance and the view out the window shifted from the browns, greens, and reds of land to the blue of the trackless ocean, I thought of the Portuguese fishermen who left that same coast in the 1500’s and set out for their secret fishing grounds in the New World. They were among the first regular European visitors to the boreal coastline of North America. They left a region that had already seen major land-use changes during the course of a thousand years and came to a land inhabited by people whose footprint on the land was vastly lighter. Amazingly, now 500 years after the first arrival of Portuguese fisherman in North American shores, a massive part of the Boreal Forest region of Canada still remains largely ecological intact and with its indigenous inhabitants still there.
I was on this plane because I was on my way back from the World Wilderness Congress—an event that has taken place now ten times since 1977. This year’s congress, called WILD10, was held in Salamanca, Spain, from October 4-10, and was an amazing coming-together of conservationists ranging from scientists, policy gurus, government officials, artists, musicians, young people, and more.
It was exciting to see the European movement—called Rewilding Europe—working toward protecting and restoring Europe’s largest blocks of intact forest as they try to bring back populations of gray wolves, European bison, Eurasian lynx, and many other species.
There were a number of presentations on the much-needed global ocean conservation movement that has been a major part of the Pew Charitable Trusts Global Ocean Legacy program and the continuing successes around the world at establishing marine protected areas including an initiative in California that integrated the rights of indigenous peoples into the conservation framework.
It was gratifying to see a major emphasis at the Congress on the need to keep large ecological systems free of industrial land-use change in order to maintain their inherent conservation values as the International Boreal Conservation Campaign has been advocating for in the Boreal Forest region of Canada and Alaska. Some speakers reported that 50% of the nation of Bhutan was under formal conservation protection and that Namibia has at least 34% of its land in some form of protection and is moving towards 50%.
Perhaps the most refreshing stories at the gathering were those of the empowerment of indigenous communities in the decision-making for the future of their own lands. Millions of hectares in a number of African countries are now in what are called “community conservancies” and wildlife populations are rebounding where they exist. In Australia where Pew’s Outback Australia program is active, there are now over 49 million hectares in Indigenous Protected Areas and a force of over 700 indigenous rangers are working to restore the land. The Kayapó peoples of Amazonian Brazil are protecting an area of 11 million hectares against an onslaught of development surrounding them. Russ Mittermeier, President of Conservation International, reported that over 70% of the Brazilian state of Amapá is now in Indigenous Reserves and Protected Areas. The Saami—indigenous people of northern Scandinavia—are exploring a new Greater Laponia initiative to have greater authority over the future land-use of their ancestral lands and more opportunity to maintain and restore the ecological values of that European boreal region.
Cree children picking wild blueberries in Northern Quebec
Credit: Natasha Moine
Indigenous communities of Canada’s Boreal Forest region are also among the world leaders in developing and implementing what speakers at the WILD10 conference termed “Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas.” The communities of the Pimachiowin Aki proposed World Heritage Site in Ontario and Manitoba, the Grand Council of the Crees and its member communities in Quebec, the Innu and Inuit in Labrador and Quebec, the Dehcho in the Northwest Territories, and the Mushkegowuk Council in Ontario—these are among the indigenous governments leading the way in developing comprehensive land-use plans for their traditional territories that balance conservation and development.
This is just a tiny glimpse into the kaleidoscope of impressions and understanding that I came away with from WILD10. One thing I left feeling sure of was that the knowledge, ideas, and inspiration of people working toward conservation of the earth’s last wild places is surely a sign of hope for our world and its people.