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Tropical forest dreams and nightmares

  • Subject: Tropical forest dreams and nightmares
  • From: "Jay Vannini" <interbnk@terra.com.gt>
  • Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2001 19:23:15 -0500 (CDT)

Ron: I also enjoy opening your e-mails on aroid-L - like Irish malt, they're
kinda weird but very tasty.

Having spent the last twenty-seven years romping around New World and Papuan
tropical forests, I hope that I haven't lost any of my original wide-eyed
wonder and  enthusiasm for these wonderful ecosystems. Experience, however,
has brought perspective, and with it, a much more sober view of their

While, in deference to Neil, I know that there are still many incredible
places that are fairly easily accessed, as a long-time resident of a
tropical country, I would have to agree with Eduardo Goncalves that, today,
there is a very real difference between cherry-picking sites to visit to
observe and collect neat organisms, and the realities of everyday fieldwork
and the conservation situation for much of the forest in this (the northern
Neotropics) region. Today, sadly, many of the only places where one can view
many desirable tropical "goodies" be they fish, fowl or fern, are  a few
besieged protected areas and thus, are morally and legally off limits to the
average amateur collector.

Ron, with the exception of Costa Rica and a very few other Latin American
nations, I would not expect any open-armed welcome of foreign biologists to
take back samples of whatever happened to strike their fancy. Perhaps
Malesia or parts of west Africa is different. Mr. Goncalves' nightmare
scenario (presumably regarding Brazil) does represent the extreme case
regarding some governmental attitudes towards bio-prospecting in general,
and foreign devils in particular. It shud be common knowledge that there are
now many well-trained, competent, multilingual biological researchers living
in most of these countries. Granted, such may have not been the case ten or
twenty years' ago. My personal experience both as a naturalist and a
"player" in the Central American natural resources' conservation game is
that I have never met a field biologist in this region that I didn't like,
and never met a local bureaucrat/forestry/wildlife official that I did!

The truth is that most of these nations have their own agendas for
(mis)managing natural resources, and many of these agendas respond to
(surprise!) local economic and social pressures, rather than good science or
any sense of "global good". These pressures, unfortunately, often result in
what are widely regarded as misguided policies (transmigration, mammoth
hydroelectric projects, expanding the agricultural frontier onto marginal
lands, etc.) that result in short-term populist gains and long-term
environmental degradation. And with the most affluent nation in the world
today seemingly unable to resist the temptation to leave untouched the
miniscule area of pristine habitat remaining within its borders, it would be
the height of hypocrisy for anyone to wag fingers at developing nations'
environmental follies.

BTW - there are multidisciplinary teams that roam the world's tropical
forests to increase our awareness of biodiversity "hotspots" - Conservation
International used to have one of the best in their Rapid Assessment program
before an air accident took the lives to two of their most talented field

En fin, let us all hope, against all the dreary evidence to the contrary,
that some of our planet's most awe-inspiring places survive our own
lifetimes to allow our children have "rainforest dreams", too.

Jay P.

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