ICTE Newsletter December 1994
International Center for Tropical Ecology at the University of Missouri - St. Louis
by Andrew Hurley, History Department, University of Missouri - St. Louis
When five hundred African Americans from Warren County, North Carolina protested the location of a toxic waste disposal facility in their neighborhood in 1982, they had no idea that they were igniting a national and international environmental justice movement. Yet by charging that racist motivations lay behind the siting decision, they awakened minority populations throughout the United States to a pervasive neglect of minority concerns in environmental protection efforts and a systematic skew in the social distribution of hazardous wastes. Over the next decade, dozens of communities witnessed the rise of similar protests among people of color, most notably, African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos. Identifying themselves as the victims of "environmental racism," these citizen groups mobilized local resources to fight the construction of landfills, incinerators, and other facilities handling hazardous materials.
These citizen protests also spawned a plethora of studies that sought to document the dimensions of environmental inequality in the United States, most of which focused on the location of toxic waste dumps. Among early investigations, the most exhaustive and widely publicized was one conducted by the United Church of Christ's Commission for Racial Justice in 1987. Plotting the location of over 15,000 uncontrolled hazardous waste sites and over 200 commercial landfills, the commission demonstrated that environmental racism was rampant across the nation. A follow-up report five years later suggested that in the intervening years, the problem had grown even worse.
These findings gave a new bite to the old accusation that those in the forefront of environmental protection were insensitive to the needs and interests of minorities and the poor. Civil rights leaders had long maintained that mainstream conservation groups, dominated by well-to-do suburban whites, had steered the nation's environmental agenda toward issues that had little relevance to those Americans who resided in inner-cities. Accordingly, the federal government channeled resources to programs to protect wilderness areas and purify streams while ignoring problems of the urban poor: inadequate sanitation services, rat infestation, and lead poisoning. The presence of toxic waste sites in so many communities inhabited by minorities and the poor appeared as the most dramatic legacy of an environmental movement that was elitist at its core.
Stung by the intensity of these charges, environmental groups and the federal government were quick to respond. Mainstream environmental groups such as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Environmental Defense Fund pledged to incorporate equity issues into their agendas and to place more people of color on their staffs. For its part, the federal government promised to give greater consideration to the social impact of environmental policies; in February 1994, the Clinton administration issued an executive order that required federal agencies to demonstrate that their programs do not inflict unfair environmental burdens on the poor and minorities.
Although these concessions were welcomed by environmental justice advocates, the controversy has not subsided. Indeed, the government's pledge to tackle the problem has inspired vigorous and sometimes acrimonious debate regarding the most appropriate solution. Should laws prohibit the siting of environmental hazards in certain neighborhoods? Should afflicted residents be financially compensated? Or would the solution lie in the complete elimination of all toxic hazards? Further complicating the matter, the policy debate has unleashed a new burst of research, some of which has challenged the assumptions and findings of earlier investigations. Several recent studies, for example, have found the correlations between toxic waste dump locations and race to be spurious. Still others have exploded the dimensions of the discourse by bringing to popular attention the fact that environmental discrimination against people of color has not been confined to the United States but can be better understood as a global phenomenon associated with warfare, underground nuclear testing, and the international waste trade. Moreover, it remains to be seen precisely how environmental justice advocates and mainstream ecology activities can fuse their movements as important differences continue to separate their respective approaches. For example, while environmental justice advocates have sought recourse through civil rights laws, environmentalists have generally relied on regulatory mechanisms for protecting air, water, wilderness areas, and endangered species. Residual mistrust and suspicion leaves open the question as to whether the two movements can work together effectively at all. Optimists, however, counter that the justice theme retains the potential for energizing the environmenal movement and creating a new breed of activists who will pay closer attention to the structural relationships that link class, race, political power, and environmental degradation. If the 1980s was marked by America's awakening to the issue of environmental justice, clearly the challenge of the 1990s lies in the more difficult task of finding common ground, building bridges, and devising politically effective solutions.
By David L. Shores Chair, Development Board, International Center for Tropical Ecology
Graduate Student, Biology Department, University of Missouri - St. Louis
"Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people."The Ecotourism Society
The definition of ecotourism that appears above seems quite simple when first read; however, in my opinion, there are many aspects to consider when one is examining an ecotourism project or ecotourism in general.
First, what are the ecological aspects? Are we looking at something that minimizes the possible negative impacts to the environment in general and ecosystems in particular? Environmental damage can occur in many ways and at many different levels. It can be as obvious as litter, trail erosion or widening, water pollution, or even noise pollution. It can be as subtle and pervasive as a change in the behavior of an indigenous species or in the interactions among several species within a community. I feel that it is extremely important to understand the environmental impact of an ecotourism project as thoroughly as possible. How many visitors can an area absorb? What is its "carrying capacity" for tourists? How can tourists be in the vicinity of wildlife without altering the behavior of the animals? I believe that ecotourism is an excellent idea as long as we plan our projects in conjunction with current scientific knowledge of the system and are always alert for any changes that might be occurring.
The second area we must always consider, in my opinion, is sociological Ecotourism projects must always be done is a way that minimizes any negative impact on indigenous people. It is important that economic and other benefits be directed to local people in such a way as to maximise their participation. This should include the decision process that determines the kind and amount of tourism that occurs. Traditional practices should be supplemented or complimented without overwhelming them or attempting to replace them. There are many cases where dances or crafts that were about to be lost are being rediscovered because of tourist interests. A major risk of ecotourism comes from the exposure of indigenous people to our western technology and society. Will the native peoples of Peru or the tribesmen of Sumatra be happy with their way of life after seeing ours? What can be done to minimize the impact of visitors on indigenous people? Undoubtably there will always be an impact; however, I feel that is is our responsibility to keep it to a minimum because conservation and tourism that ignore the rights and concerns of local communities are self-defeating, doomed to failure, and unethical.
The final aspect to consider is economic. In this area we always have to remember that countries, politicians, and local people generally have choices. What is the highest and best use of a forest? To some the answer is to cut the timber as quickly as possible in order to realize a big return immediately. There are many areas where long-term economic considerations have been brushed aside in order to make a quick profit. For example, this seems to be the current philosophy of the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia, as shown in their timber cutting practices. Ecotourism came about partially as part of an attempt to keep a greater proportion of environmentally-based revenue within the country. Ecotourism is a sustainable development concept that can go on and on throughout time without consuming or destroying the asset. In my opinion it is far better to bring tourists to visit a forest than to cut it down (of course, this assumes that these are the only two choices). Economics teaches us that capital will move to the highest and best use of an asset. I believe that ecotourism can often be the highest and best use of parts of many endangered ecosystems.
Two of the world's most knowledgeable and dedicated field biologists, Ted Parker and Al Gentry, died in a tragic plane accident in Ecuador on August 3, 1993. At the time of the accident, Ted and Al were surveying possible boundaries for a new forest reserve in Ecuador as members of Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program (RAP). The death of these two outstanding biologists has created a tremendous hole in tropical research and biodiversity conservation during a time when research and policy action are so imperative. To recognize and honor their committment to training and providing opportunities to Latin American scientists, the International Center for Tropical Ecology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis is offering The Parker-Gentry Tropical Research Fellowship to support the field research of a Latin American graduate student. Funds for this special fellowship were made available through the generous contribution of an anonymous donor.
Ted Parker, senior scientist at Conservation International, was widely recognized as the most knowledgeable ornithologist of the Neotropics. His contribution to our understanding of the region's avifauna went far beyond his tremendous skills at identifying birds by sight and sound. In addition, Ted was a great natural historian and an impassioned spokesperson for conservation of the flora and fauna of the region. Ted's concerns for conservation were instrumental in his vision and development of the Rapid Assessment Program of Conservation International.
Al Gentry, senior curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden, was unmatched in his ability to identify Neotropical plants and his contributions to herbaria and the botanical and ecological literature were immense. His recently published volume, A Field Guide to Woody Plants of Northwest South America, is an invaluable source of information for students of the region's flora and will likely remain the single most important volume of the region's flora for many decades to come.
Both Ted and Al were magnets for students of tropical biology. Each of them recognized the importance of training the next generation and each gave so freely of their time and knowledge. Almost without exception, they were accompanied on their field trips to South and Central America by local scientists. The intent of The Parker-Gentry Tropical Research Fellowship is to provide opportunities for students of tropical biology and conservation to conduct research leading to an advanced degree. Conditions for eligibility are current enrollment in the graduate program in Biology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and a project in one of the following countries - Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, or Nicaragua. Latin American students have been targeted in recognition of Ted and Al's research in and fondness for neotropical countries. Research monies from The Parker-Gentry Tropical Research Fellowship are to be used for expenses associated with field research in these countries. Application materials are available from the International Center for Tropical Ecology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
The Neotropics harbor much of the world's biodiversity, yet our understanding of the biota and complexity of tropical ecosystems is still very incomplete. Ted and Al's research form much of the core of what we know about the Neotropics today. Given the knowledge that still needs to be gathered and the urgency with which we must work in order to conserve the region's diverse ecosystems before they disappear forever, we hope that The Parker- Gentry Tropical Research Fellowship will be instrumental in fostering the next generation of tropical biologists.
Ready for biotic researchers and conservation biologists
- by Terry L. Erwin, Research Entomologist, Smithsonian Institution
- Visiting Professor, Biology Department, University of Missouri - St. Louis
Although insects and their allies have been studied in rainforests of the Amazon Basin since the days of the great explorer naturalists, such as Henry Walter Bates and Alfred Russell Wallace, we still have only a rudimentary view of the diversity and complexity these "little creatures that run the world" exhibit in the area. Even less known are the entomofaunas at mid-elevations of the eastern and western Andes of South America. Along the eastern slopes in Ecuador, there are only four large tracts of undisturbed cloud forest remaining, one of them being 2000 hectares (4942 acres) that used to be called Hacienda Aragï¿½n (00o 44' 05" S, 77o 53' 50" W). This tract was purchased by William W. Phillips, President of Phillips S. A., a very large conglomerate of construction-oriented and alternative development companies in Ecuador. The aim of Bill Phillips is to preserve the Sierrazul tract and its surrounding Antisana Ecological Reserve from the kind of destruction taking place wherever human access (e.g. roads) is provided in the tropics. In order to do this, the old hacienda recently was turned toward scientific research and ecological reconstruction experiments with future ecotourism planned. Now is the time for biotic researchers and conservation biologists to begin studies there in order to better understand the roles eastern slope cloud forests play in the evolution and maintenance of vast amounts of tropical biodiversity. At the same time, researchers and their students would be participating in helping to preserve this beautiful natural area by providing the biological information on which ecotourism thrives.
In the Holdridge Life Zone system, the area is classified as humid lower montane forest, however, it is clear once one arrives that habitat diversity goes extensively beyond that simple classification. The lower parts have much less mist than the upper parts and are dominated by two converging rivers, the Colorado and Aragï¿½n. The upper parts are on slopes and escarpments and are often hidden in the mist which rolls up from the rain forests below and down from the towering volcano above. Soils are volcanic in origin overlying granite and contain toxic amounts of aluminum making agriculture very difficult. Rainfall + mist amounts to about 2-4 meters of precipitation per year; temperature ranges between 24oC and 3oC; the colder and wetter months are from April to September.
This climate, typical of high rain forests and cloud forests, supports dense stands of trees of 20 meter height with trunks averaging 30 centimeters in diameter and with nearly every surface covered in luxuriant epiphytic growth -- orchids, bromeliads, lichens, mosses, and ferns abound in both abundance and species richness. Along the rivers, pure stands of giant alder trees occur reminding one of western Canada. On the slopes, immense stands of mountain bamboo (2 species) replace forest, giving the impression that there is a multi-hued green patchwork quilt laying over the rolling Cordillera de Guacamayos which forms the southern perimeter of Sierrazul.
Among the larger animals, both the mountain tapir and the spectacled bear are common on the upper slopes to the west of the main station. As a result of several visits by miscellaneous ornithologists and bird watchers, a list of 116 species has been complied, however, these were observed in less than 10% of the reserved area and it has been predicted that likely 200-300 species will eventually be recorded. The most spectacular bird so far discovered is the Giant Antpitta, a species long thought to have gone extinct.
As a component of my Amazon Basin canopy insect studies, underway for some 17 years, I recently added Sierrazul to my list of study sites and have begun an inventory of the canopy beetles and other insects that live there, both in the pristine and impacted forests near the old hacienda. Other projects now in progress or recently completed at Sierrazul include three sponsored by the SUBIR Project funded by the MacArthur Foundation including responses of epiphytes to different forest management techniques with a companion study of forestry projects and their impact on the avifauna, and a study of the use of "barbasco" (used by the local peoples for harvesting fish) on the native aquatic insect fauna. Members of the Azul Group, part of Phillips' company, are studying and experimenting with new techniques of autoconsumption agronomy (which will eventually support the ecotourism programs) pisciculture, reforestation, and they maintain a few dairy animals (llamas and cows) on the grounds of the old hacienda which contribute cheese and yogurt (the best in the world) to visiting researchers.
Research facilities include buildings at three different altitudes ranging from 2200 to 2800 meters. These building include both living space and rooms that can be turned to labs of whatever type is needed; the Valle Hermosa station also has a large epiphyte garden resulting from recent studies. Access to all stations is by foot, however, heavier equipment can be carried by mule. Access to the lower station at the old hacienda is from the Cosanga Valley by horseback, a wondrous journey of 3 hours and 23 stream crossings. When the Rio Aragï¿½n is at flood stage, one crossing is by cable in a bosen's harness (the horse is left behind).
My research at Sierrazul has been supported by the Neotropical Lowland Project and the Entomology Department of the Smithsonian Institution with the assistance of Bill Phillips' company and Ecuambiente, S.A., a Quito-based environmental consulting firm. Those interested in studies at Sierrazul should contact Ing. Otto Proaï¿½o at Calle Paris 534 y Tomï¿½s de Berlanga, Casilla 17-1106398, Quito, Ecuador - FAX (593) 2 449464.
JANE and WHITNEY HARRIS LECTURE Every spring the International Center is pleased to sponsor, through the generosity of Jane and Whitney Harris, a public lecture by a well known scientist working in the field of ecology or conservation. This year we are pleased to announce that the speaker will be Professor Lincoln Brower, from the University of Florida. The talk will be presented on 15 March 1995, 7:30 PM, in the Schoenberg Auditorium of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Dr. Peter Raven, Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, will provide the introduction for Dr. Brower.
Dr. Brower is widely known for his work in ecology, evolution, animal behavior, and conservation. He is particularly well known for his current research, which focuses on the monarch butterfly, the subject of a current book project. The migration of the monarch butterfly is well known to many but fewer are perhaps aware of the many conservation problems faced by this animal. Realizing that the migratory populations of monarchs were, as he termed it, an "endangered biological phenomenon," Brower has worked extensively in the U.S. and Mexico to help conserve this marvelous spectacle. He currently is involved in forming a new monarch butterfly conservation organization with Mexico's distinguished poet, Homero Aridjis. Their goal is to provide protection for several mountains in Mexico that provide critical wintering habitat for the butterflies. Professor Brower has lectured widely in the US, Australia, Borneo, Canada, England, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and Sweden. In May 1993, he was awarded the Linnean Medal in Zoology from the Linnean Society of London, the oldest biological society in the world.
For further information, please contact the ICTE at 314-553-5219.
A major goal of the International Center is to provide funds to graduate students to allow them to conduct research. To help raise money for this goal, the Friends of UM-St. Louis and the International Center for Tropical Ecology are sponsoring a Tropical Ecology Gala. The event will be held Thursday, January 12, 1995, 6:30PM, at the Ritz Carlton. The program will feature the presentation of the Chancellor's Medallion to Dr. Peter Raven, in recognition of his support for the Center and helping create our 20 year partnership with the Missouri Botanical Garden. The evening event will include cocktails, dinner, award presentation, and musical entertainment. For ticket information, contact Susan Robben at 553-5777.
The Chancellor's Medallion is an award honoring individuals who have demonstrated exemplary leadership and dedication to the principles of higher education and who have made distinguished contributions to the growth and development of the University and the St. Louis community. This is the highest award presented by the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
The International Center for Tropical Ecology is pleased to announce the following new courses that will contribute substantially to the interdisciplinary nature of our program.
Historical Perspectives on Ecology and Peasant Economy in Latin America (History 460/Biology 489; Cynthia Radding) This seminar will explore the changing ecological and cultural parameters that influence peasants' use of their natural environment. Placed within an historical perspective, it will emphasize changes in peasant survival strategies and integrate the cultural, economic, and political dimensions of ecological relations. The course will focus geographically on the Andes and contiguous regions of the Amazon and Plate river systems. Initial readings and discussion will establish the pre-Hispanic and colonial foundations of Andean ecological systems, while the entire semester's work will develop these themes through the national and modern periods of Latin American history.
Natural Resource Economics (Economics 360; Michael Allison) The relationship between human activity and the world's natural resources requires choices. This course uses an economic perspective to study these choices. This perspective uses the view of the environment as an asset for its starting point. Issues concerning optimal and sustainable use of natural resources are examined in this context. Special emphasis is given to potential policy responses to environmental problems. Economics is taking on an increasingly important role in the development of policies involving the world's natural resources and the environment. This course hopes to provide a point of reference to understand this role. In order to make this subject matter accessible to a wide audience, this course has been developed specifically with the non-economics major in mind. Economic tools used for the analysis will be fully-developed within the course itself. Thus, although previous exposure to principles of economic analysis would be helpful, it is not required.
Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (Business Administration 395, 420/Biology 492; James Campbell and Bette Loiselle).
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are sophisticated computer-based systems for analysis, capture, presentation, and maintenance of geographically referenced data. GIS are rapidly becoming an important tool in all disciplines that use spatial data. This course is designed to provide a foundation in using GIS for spatial analysis. It is a multi-disciplinary introductory course for graduate and advanced undergraduate students. The course is team-taught by faculty from Biology and Business Administration and includes examples from a wide range of disciplines (e.g., biology and tropical ecology, site selection, emergency planning, districting, etc.). The course emphasizes the use of GIS as a tool to support analysis and decision making. The course involves classroom lectures and extensive use of the ArcView and ARC/INFO software in the SUN workstation computer classroom.