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Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples Hardcover – March 27, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. With a beautiful balance of critique and sympathy, Dowie (Losing Ground) challenges the halos of the major multinational conservation nonprofits, including the Nature Conservancy and the Worldwide Fund for Nature, in this exposé of their disastrous treatment and expulsions of indigenous peoples living in nature reserves and parks. Dowie traces the myth of wilderness as an idealized version of nature to John Muir, the Godfather of Conservation, who denied that Indians ever lived in Yosemite despite their longtime cultivation of the area; he was revolted by their eating habits and uncleanliness and said they had no place in the landscape. This American concoction of a pristine wilderness park, and the idea that humans are not a part of nature, was exported throughout the world, wreaking havoc among both dislocated indigenous people and the environments that they had nurtured with traditional knowledge, for hundreds, even thousands of years. Dowie comes to a surprisingly optimistic conclusion, noting recent collaborations between indigenous peoples and conservation organizations—who are beginning to realize that only by preserving cultural diversity can biological diversity be protected, and vice versa. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


As a journalist, Mark Dowie has always been a few steps ahead of the pack, and with Conservation Refugees he's once again staked out a difficult and fascinating terrain: the indigenous peoples that, all the way back to the founding of Yosemite, have been invisible or worse to the conservation movement. A vision of wilderness that makes no place for people has long held sway in environmental circles, but there are signs it is coming to an end -- and not a moment too soon. Dowie's book advances the critical work of developing a new, more encompassing vision of nature, which makes it one of the most important contributions to conservation in many years.

(Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food)

Mark Dowie is, pound for pound, one of the best investigative journalists around.

(Studs Terkel, author of Working)

Unlike a fine wine, Mark Dowie has not mellowed with age. This book proves it.

(John Passacantando, former Executive Director, Greenpeace USA)

A beautiful balance of critique and sympathy.

(Publishers Weekly)

Far from being a hysterical diatribe...this exceptionally researched and documented study provides authoritative guidance toward a diverse and sustainable future.

(Richard W. Grefrath Magill Book Reviews)

In Conservation Refugees, Mark Dowie quotes delegates to the Fifth World Parks Conference: 'We were dispossessed in the name of kings and emperors, later in the name of state development, and now in the name of conservation.' Miwok, Basarwa, Ogiek, Mursi -- indigenous tribal peoples, like endangered species, are being driven to extinction. Their languages are swiftly dying and we're losing a huge resource in their invaluable knowledge derived from millennia in their respective homelands. Environmentalists, determined to preserve biological systems and entities, should now be equally driven to preserve aboriginal cultures. This is a most useful and important book.

(William Kittredge, author of The Nature of Generosity)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; 1 edition (March 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262012618
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262012614
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #911,756 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mark D. Jordahl on December 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I work in conservation in Uganda. This book should be read by everyone who works in (or donates to) conservation anywhere in the world, as it is always important to examine the work we do and think about how we can do it better. This book exposes some of the worst aspects of conservation, particularly some questionable practices that the Big 5 (TNC, CI, WWF, WCS and AWF) engage in to maintain their massive budgets.

There are some holes in the book, however, and I was disappointed to find that he gives no viable alternative approaches to conservation. The success stories he cites are primarily forest-based, indigenous cultures that are still practicing their traditional methods of survival through care of their primary resource, the forest. He does not talk about the very different reality of communities that are heterogenous due to immigration, resettlement, etc, and who have no common historical practices to rely on to preserve their environment. The forest communities he talks about are also not dealing with the massive population pressures of the savanna areas in East Africa, and they are not agricultural to the extent that some other areas are, which causes encroachment on forests and other landscapes.

This book could be the basis for an incredible graduate seminar about global conservation, both for what it does bring to the table and for what it doesn't bring. Definitely read this book, but read it with a critical eye. Thanks to Mark Dowie for fearless reporting.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ana Kritis on September 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Book Review from my blog: Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples by Mark Dowie

The push to save the wilderness, wildlife and rivers, whether on the North American Continent or in the Amazon, or in Burma, seems such a worthy goal. It underlies much of the work of conservation groups and activist such as Green Peace Rainforest Networks. Sierra Club has a great leadership role in this regard and many conservations and environmentalist have contributed to or supported such efforts. It is a rude awakening to discover in reading Dowie's book that what was thought to be a `good deed' was not the whole story. His book, The Conservation Refugees, reports on how these efforts were consistently and intentionally, in many cases, undermining and even destroying native cultures and whole populations in the name of saving nature. Dowie reports how the National Park system was created on the backs of such tribal destruction.

Dowie tells a startling story, with extensive references, of the creation of Yosemite National Park. It was widely held that the wilderness was uninhabited, wild so to speak. The few natives that were thought to be living there were seen as in the way of the conservation of nature and the wild. The National Park Service was ordered to forcibly remove them from the new designated boundaries. They were driven out several times based on a belief that they were uninvolved in the health of the wilderness. The tribes crept back in repeatedly to tend to what hey considered a sacred duty to manage their role in the forest health. It was decades before it was clear the significant management practices they had for creating healthy forest eco-systems.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By G. Harper on April 19, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I haven't read the book (but was required to enter a star rating to post this comment), but searching my name on google saw that it references me:

"Grady Harper, a brilliant satellite cartographer for CI based in Venezuela, told me when I asked him about the potentially explosive situation in an area of southern Guyana that he had mapped, "I have idea what's happening on the ground." Although his head was figuratively in the clouds, he was intrigued and concerned by what I told him I had learned from his associates who did work on the ground in Guyana. "It's a whole 'nother picture," he said."

'A brilliant satellite cartographer'! LOL. I wouldn't describe myself that way, but it's kind.

Honestly, I don't really remember the conversation, though it sounds like something I could have said. But to set the record straight, as of the time I was living in Venezuela I had never mapped Guyana, except for areas along the Venezuelan border where the landsat images overlap both countries. I did map a couple of small areas in central and southern Guyana later on, and found virtually no deforestation.

As far as knowing what's happening on the ground, sometimes I know, sometimes I don't. We all have specialized tasks, and mine is to provide empirical data (though I'd much rather be on the ground!), which I believe is worthwhile--we ought to know what we are doing to our forests.

I believe it's best for conservationists to spend considerable time in the areas that they are working on, or live there, rather than sitting at a desk in some far off city. Of course, if one is mapping large regions, one can't be everywhere. But I have certainly found living in a tropical country to be highly educational about the kinds of issues surrounding conservation.

I agree with what I understand to be Dowie's message, that conservation efforts should work with the people living in the areas affected.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By grrrrr on February 13, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
He has such impressive investigative journalism! The examples, direct quotes, and knowledge he presents is astounding and so interesting. He starts every chapter with a great quote, usually from a tribal elder. The language is very easy to follow, and he is passionate. The only thing I would say is I could grasp whatever concept it is he wants to get across, much quicker than a whole book. He could have written an essay and I would have grasped the same ideas. I do appreciate his extensive examples though. This really is comprehensive and tells the specific stories of multiple groups of people, so if you did need to convince others of the concept there is plenty of ammo and evidence. He also takes the time to give some history on each of the groups he discusses.

You will be amazed to read the truth this guy has about Yosemite.
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