Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nelson Mandela: A Caring Partnership with Nature

Nelson Mandela - EnvironmentalistSomeone I know gained some of his inspiration for helping to conserve the backwoods and wildlife in the Adirondack Park from an African who spoke admiringly of the Adirondack Park’s people and wilderness coexisting, and as one of the globe’s most important places. My friend has never forgotten this encounter with a man knowledgeable of the Adirondacks in East Africa. Perhaps it is necessary to travel purposefully in the world to more keenly appreciate how many from all walks of life pay attention to what goes on in our Park.

I don’t know if Nelson Mandela was another one of those on the African continent paying attention to the Adirondack Park, and it doesn’t matter. He paid attention to freedom and justice in South Africa and the world, and that attention encompasses the right to enjoy, appreciate and protect an unpolluted world from whence he and we come, and evolved. As he stated in the address copied below, “a sustainable future for humankind depends on a caring partnership with nature as much as anything else.” He clearly loved the land of his birth, and his body and spirit are returning to it this week.

Another friend of mine, Tom Cobb, has worked for the Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century and spent a career with the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Ten years ago, he took it upon himself to travel to Durban, South Africa to attend the World Parks Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Nelson Mandela addressed that 2003 Congress, and Tom has sent me Mandela’s words, which were spoken to many fellow Africans, but they are universal. They show how important it is to accelerate our efforts to recruit, train, nourish and compensate young people of all ages, colors and backgrounds to become their generation’s leaders of Adirondack conservation. Mandela’s address also reminds us we cannot solve our greatest forest conservation challenges in isolation from the rest of our region – the Tug Hill, Ontario, Quebec, Vermont and the other Northern Forest states. Finally, his address reminds us that the evolution and development of the Adirondack Park resembles other parks and protected areas around the world more than it resembles our system of national and state parks.

Nelson Mandela’s address in its entirety is taken from the IUCN journal Parks (Vol. 14, No. 2, 2003):

“Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I have been asked in my address today to reflect on challenges for the 21st century as it affects conservation and protected areas. You may very well be a little curious to hear what an old man without a job, office, power or influence, and with his roots far in the past, is going to say about challenges for the future! The future is after all, in the hands of the youth.

If this seems ironical, I know that I am not alone in this situation. It is well known that, among those who are preoccupied with the future of protected areas, there are a great many grey heads and far too few youthful ones. I am told that under-representation of the youth is a widespread phenomenon in many fields associated with protected area management. This is of course a matter of concern because without the involvement of youth, the future cannot be secured.

I am therefore particularly gratified and impressed to note the importance that this Congress has attached to engaging the youth. Let me take the opportunity to express my appreciation and support for al Junior Rangers and other programmes involving the youth the world over. It must surely be one of the greatest challenges for the future to build on such programmes, to develop them and to give them yet higher priority.

I am also encouraged to learn that the contribution protected areas can make to alleviating poverty is going to be given serious consideration over the next few days. Our Government is justifiably proud of projects such as Parks Empowering People, Working for Water and related programmes.

In these programmes, million of Rands are being spent to create jobs which increase the effectiveness and viability of our protected areas by removing alien plant species, and building infrastructure, visitor facilities, roads and fencing.

By these means people in need are provided with a living, at the same time involving them in protected area development, increasing their capacity and awareness. It will be a challenge for the future to develop these and other programmes and to analyze both their successes and their shortcomings in making protected areas relevant to the poor.

We know that the key to a sustainable future for protected areas lies in the development of partnerships. It is only through alliances and partnerships that protected areas can be made relevant to the needs of society.

In Southern Africa we are in the process of laying the groundwork for very exciting partnerships in the field of transboundary conservation. The countries of Southern Africa are working together to challenge the rigidity of their national boundaries, developing opportunities and potential for both biodiversity conservation and tourism that would be impossible to reach through individual and uncoordinated efforts.

Fully realizing this potential will take time. The plans for transboundary protected areas that have been laid now will need to be carefully developed and implemented before they will finally and fully bear fruit.

We have entered a phase where there are many promising opportunities; the key challenge for the future will be to realise the full potential of these great opportunities. The aims and objectives of the World Parks Congress have clearly been well chosen. I wish you success in your deliberations and more importantly, success in your efforts to implement the decisions you will arrive at. A sustainable future for humankind depends on a caring partnership with nature as much as anything else. I thank you.”

Photo: Nelson Mandela addressing the Durban, South Africa World Parks Congress in 2003; courtesy the journal Parks (Vol. 14, No. 2, 2003).

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David Gibson

Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve

During Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history.

Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.




2 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    When I was a kid I lived for several years in Africa (Kenya) where my father was studying the effects of the (then new) large game preserves on the animals that lived on them. It was a very exciting time. Today I am sorry to say that the people who live in these areas have not been able to benefit as much as they could have from the conservation efforts. In that respect I often have felt that perhaps we were part of the problem.

  2. Avon says:

    Mandela dived into the life of every community he visited.
    When he was in New York City, despite the exhaustion of traveling so far at that age, he packed his days with media meets, parading in ticker-tape, and donning a NY Yankees jacket and cap at the Stadium – eagerly pronouncing himself a Yankee. He sure felt to us like one that day.

    In the Adirondacks I’m sure he would have reacted equally appropriately, whether at a dinner at the Sagamore or a walk in a bog.

    The real challenge is to get people to pay attention as well as he did himself. Sometimes it takes a long time. I know a couple of rural schools in East Africa where the brand-new electricity is “green” and the water supply is properly conserved. Paul may in fact be part of the solution!