Sudi Bamulesewa, a Ugandan working for USAID, is surprised by the United States government’s focus on and attention to managing protected areas.
Whether that’s because there’s more support in the U.S. for protecting and managing natural resources or whether there are simply more resources to put toward those goals, Bamulesewa cannot be sure. Regardless, it’s a much different story in his African nation, where destructive industries threaten the existence of protected areas.
Bamulesewa is one of 24 participants representing 21 different counties taking part in a three-week International Seminar on Protected Area Management hosted by the University of Montana College of Forestry and Conservation.
Developing counties around the world face similar environmental issues. There are the pressures of urbanization, agricultural expansion and overdevelopment. Where are there opportunities for economic benefits in resource protection? How does one influence government officials when there are pressures to extract natural resources in protected areas?
These are just a few of the topics and questions covered during the seminar, which is designed for high-level professionals, such as park superintendents, forest directors and wildlife reserve managers, said Jim Burchfield, dean of the College of Forestry and Conservation.
The UM program is in its 13th year and more than 300 professionals from developing countries, primarily in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, have attended the seminar during that time. This year, about half of the participants are from Africa.
They come to Montana to learn about conservation easements, wildlife management programs, community interaction and collaborative management practices. They visit Yellowstone National Park, three national forests, the Flathead Indian Reservation, the Big Hole National Battlefield and will end with a trip to Washington, D.C.
During the seminar, they will focus on a particular concern or problem back home and draw up a management plan that can be executed in the next year. During the trip to Washington, D.C., these professionals will meet with government officials and nongovernmental organizations with a mission of natural resource protection to help fund their management plans.
In Uganda, almost 90 percent of the identified oil and gas reserves that companies are interested in developing are located in protected areas, Bamulesewa said. Uganda is not committing the resources to protect these areas, he said. There’s a lack of political will and resources.
Poaching also continues to be a problem, which makes wildlife management challenging – and the government continues to struggle with how to manage human-wildlife interactions.
Creating protected areas is not enough without management plans and enforcement measures, said Luba Balyan, who works for BirdLife International in Armenia. In her Eastern European country, law enforcement fails to enforce the management rules that currently exist.
Also, the Armenian government is trying to figure out how to handle pressures from mining companies. They have made these companies’ requests a priority regardless of existing norms and laws, she said. Yet, public opposition to resource extraction is gaining ground.
“The economic gains are the first and foremost priority for Armenia,” she said.
The participants learn as much from each other as they do from the presenters during these three weeks, sharing stories and drawing inspiration and new ideas for handling similar scenarios.
The U.S. Forest Service approached the College of Forestry about hosting an international seminar more than a decade ago for several reasons, Burchfield said.
First, all ecosystems in the world are connected, he said. Resource protection in other countries affects everyone.
It’s also an opportunity for the instructors and faculty members teaching the course to learn from other professionals in the industry. Plus, people have an affinity for the world’s special places and it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure those places remain special.
“This is a big deal for us,” Burchfield said. “It’s been very successful. I learn a lot from them. They’re facing enormous pressures. Many come from countries with limited resources. I see heroic efforts by these men and women.”
The seminar began on Monday and will run for three weeks.
Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.