A conservation movement for Turkey

A conservation movement for Turkey

In the stampede for rapid economic development, Turkey today is wastefully destroying its natural resources, expending the natural capital of the nation for dubious short-term gain. The bountiful rivers, lakes, forests, and grasslands of this wonderfully diverse country could sustain economic development and provide a healthy environment for generations if managed thoughtfully, informed by science, via democratic processes. Conservation – the prudent management of rivers, forests and other natural resources in order to contribute to the nation’s economy and to protect those resources and their many values for future generations – is urgently needed.

The United States faced a similar crisis just over hundred years ago. Unrestrained exploitation of the nation’s natural wealth had left less than 15 percent of the original forests standing; rivers were dammed and polluted; once numberless species such as buffalo and deer were nearly extinct; over-used farmland was eroded and exhausted. Though industry was expanding at a pace that would soon make America an economic giant, the natural resources that have since sustained its post-industrial, consumer society – the wealthiest, most broad-based, democratic middle class society in world history – were imperiled.

The reaction against the waste and destruction of natural resources and the ideals of conservation were first articulated by the 19th century American writers Henry David Thoreau and George Perkins Marsh. In the first decade of the 20th century, leaders of power and vision stepped forward to implement the concepts of conservation management into national policy. Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, men of wealth, privilege and power, men whose experience of nature came from recreational hunting and fishing as well as professional training, created the U.S. National Forest system, expanded the National Park Service and created many new parks and National Monuments. They carried the flag of conservation into battle against the destructive forces of unrestrained exploitation of the nation’s natural legacy. Theodore Roosevelt’s monumental bust is carved into Mount Rushmore along with those of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln in honor of his legacy of conservation leadership.

A turning point for the conservation movement was the struggle over the Hetch Hetchy Valley, a stupendously beautiful valley in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California. Though Hetch Hetchy was part of Yosemite National Park, the city of San Francisco was able to acquire rights to the land and water of the valley following the disastrous 1905 earthquake and fire. In 1923 a dam was built flooding the Hetch Hetchy Valley, a place equal in grandeur to its internationally renowned neighbor Yosemite Valley, drowning it forever. The angry reaction has become national policy. Never again have national parks in the U.S. been open to exploitation.

Today there is a similar battle raging for Köprülü Kanyon National Park near Alanya. Köprülü Kanyon Milli Parkı was one of Turkey’s early national parks (1973), a gem in the crown of the nation’s parks. Because of the extraordinary value of its natural and cultural resources, it was nominated as a United Nations World Biosphere Reserve at that time. Though key areas of the park enjoy SIT 1, 2, and 3 levels of protection (the highest levels of protection under Turkish law) it is plagued by over-exploitation and gross mismanagement. Now a hydroelectric dam has been proposed for the Köprü Çay River, in violation of its SIT 1 protected status.

Turkey desperately needs men and women from all walks of life to step forward at this time and create a conservation movement for the nation. In particular, those of wealth, privilege and power, those who are beneficiaries of the recent surge in development, have a leadership responsibility. Turkey must act now to conserve and protect the natural and cultural resources of the nation for future generations. If not, your grandchildren will look back from the wasteland they inherit and ask where you were when the nation’s birthright was stolen and destroyed.

Neil Korostoff is a professor of landscape architecture at Penn State University who is completing a year in Turkey as a Fulbright senior researcher.

NEIl KOROSTOFF - npk1@psu.edu