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IUCN WCPA Urban Conservation Strategies

New IUCN & WCPA leaders / Interconnectedness of crises / Canada creates urban parks network / An urban colleague learns about rural mindsets


Results of IUCN voting: New leadership for the Union and for WCPA The 2020 IUCN World Conservation Congress, delayed for a year on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, ended on 11 September 2021. It was a hybrid affair held partly in-person in Marseille, France and partly online. Elected IUCN President for the 2020-2024 was Razan Al Mubarak of the United Arab Emirates. Elected Chair of the World Commission on Protected Areas was Madhu Rao (India/UK), who is based in Singapore. Full election results. Other WCC highlights. Our specialist group looks to the future

Some time ago, the WCPA executive committee approved David Goldstein of the United States National Park Service to succeed me as specialist group chair. This has been delayed by domestic political events and the Covid-19 pandemic. I expect to start handing over responsibility by the end of the year.

With this anticipated change and the election of a new WCPA Chair, our specialist group's steering committee decided this would be a good time to review our progress and consider next steps. Pending discussion of our plans within WCPA, let me mention one important item: Within its brief of "strengthening the ability of conservationists to serve urban people, urban places, and urban institutions," the IUCN WCPA Urban Conservation Strategies Specialist Group will orient its work as much as possible to tackling the interdependent crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and zoonotic disease.

"Climate change and the health of the natural environment are intrinsically linked"

The interconnectedness of these crises is finally getting attention from leading media and think tanks, and by some governments. A good example is from the communiqué of the G7 Climate and Environment Ministers’ Meeting, held virtually on 20–21 May 2021: "As we continue to address the ongoing pandemic, we acknowledge with grave concern that the unprecedented and interdependent crises of climate change and biodiversity loss pose an existential threat to nature, people, prosperity and security. We recognize that some of the key drivers of global biodiversity loss and climate change are the same as those that increase the risk of zoonoses, which can lead to pandemics. . . . We recognize that climate change and the health of the natural environment are intrinsically linked and will ensure that the actions we take maximize the opportunities to solve these crises in parallel."

In our next newsletter I will take a closer look at the interconnectedness of these and other global crises. This has practical consequences for managing protected and conserved areas, right down to the local level. Canada creates a National Urban Parks Program In August, the Government of Canada launched a new program to support the creation of a network of national urban parks: "Parks Canada will collaborate with municipalities, provinces, Indigenous partners, and conservation organizations, among others, to identify opportunities for creating or expanding national urban parks in urban and near-urban settings across Canada. The National Urban Park Program is the next step for Parks Canada whose history over 110 years has provided Canadians a system of national parks, including Rouge National Urban Park, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas. "The network will include areas managed under a range of flexible governance models, including federally administered places, third party administered places, and partnership models. Parks Canada will also work closely with Indigenous partners to ensure national urban parks provide space for Indigenous stewardship, promote Indigenous voices and stories, and offer opportunities for connections to lands and waters based on Indigenous knowledge and values. These parks will be readily accessible to people in Canada’s urban centres and provide opportunities to connect to, and learn about, local nature and culture." Program website.

A big-city colleague learns about rural mindsets while isolated against Covid on a Brazilian farm Ultimately it's what's in people's minds that makes the difference in conservation. Changing minds isn't enough; it has to lead to action. But changing minds is the important first step, and sometimes old mindsets persevere. We supported IUCN Resolution WCC 2020 064, “Promoting conservation through behavior-centered solutions.” We want to help implement 064 along with experimenting with other methods that draw from the telling of true stories as well as the social and behavioral sciences. Here is an example of a situation found all over the world in which such approaches should get more attention.


Glen Hyman (US/France), a conservationist and political scientist long active in our specialist group, has lived in sophisticated big cities most of his life: Miami, Chicago, Paris. For over a year now he has been in self-imposed isolation against the Covid-19 pandemic on a farm in southeastern Brazil owned by his wife's family. The farm (at the center of the satellite image at left) is in the state of São Paolo near Catanduva, about 400 km northwest of the Extended São Paolo Metropolitan Area, which has a population of 33 million. Here are slightly edited excerpts from his emails: In September 2020 Glen wrote: "We're located in the middle of an ocean of intensive agriculture... Most of the native forest in our vicinity was transformed early in the 20th century, for coffee plantations. Now it's mostly a mix of sugarcane, citrus orchards, and smallish towns that thrive on those industries. It's deep in [Brazilian President Jair] Bolsonaro country (he won about 80 percent of the vote here in 2018), and while there is a smattering of legally obliged native vegetation along riparian corridors, habitat for wildlife remains super-fragmented. "On our farm, because we have so much water, there's a healthy avian diversity, and signs of small mammals are relatively frequent, even if actual sightings are rare apart from the capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, the largest living rodent), which are conspicuously abundant. The nearest formally protected area is a recently (2018) designated state forest which Rodrigo Victor had a hand in establishing just outside São Jose do Rio Preto, a town about 75 km from here. "This time of year the major threat is fire, set by bored arsonists (with nothing to gain, nor lose) or originating from roadsides where lit cigarette butts are tossed and garbage (often including glass bottles) is illegally dumped. There's little-to-none in the way of fire-fighting support from the state, so we largely depend on the neighboring sugarcane factories to send their trucks to control blazes as they occur. However, this year we've invested in modifying a farm vehicle for fast-response, and on more than a handful of occasions we've managed to catch and extinguish burns while they were still small enough to manage." Glen wrote this a year later, in September 2021: "Taking advantage of the time at home offered me by this pandemic, I'm more and more focused on the restoration of the forests we lost in last year's fire. Countryside mindsets offer a wholly different set of problems to contend with, and working to change them (including those of my wife's family and the property owners adjacent to us) is a much taller order than I'd expected. Persuasion doesn't come from well laid argument, nor even, really, from demonstrated action. Neither mistakes nor successes are learned from. Old ways die hard. I still haven't found the recipe; carrying on, despite the skepticism, is all there is to do. Unfortunately, with fire seasons worsening, and rains less plentiful, the ecosystems won't easily restore themselves. "What gives me hope, here, however, is the extent to which I'm finding wildlife thriving, even in these super-degraded patches. The pair of trail-cameras I've installed are showing more than I'd ever imagined is out there, all the way to apex predators including puma (Puma concolor, also called cougar and mountain lion in North America). And just last week, about 11 months after the fire, I've started seeing a few green shoots on trees that had seemed burned beyond return. These small surprises buoy."

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