Reconciling Connectivity and Conservation
As a nation with enormous bio-diversity, India needs to protect its ecological resources. As a rapidly expanding economy, however, it cannot ignore the need for infrastructural development. Public awareness, policy interventions, and creative solutions are required for reconciling conservation of wildlife with the need for expanding landscape connectivity through roads and highways. To present research findings on these issues, and as part of its program on Environmental Sustainability, Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai organized the first film screening of “From Killer Roads to Humane Highways,” a video sponsored by Science for Nature and People Partnership. This was accompanied by presentations by Ruth DeFries, Professor of Ecology and Sustainable Development at Columbia University, and Dr. Krithi Karanth from the Centre of Wildlife Studies in Bengaluru.
According to the research carried out by Dr. Karanth and Dr. DeFries, the area currently under forest cover in India is very low. Emphasizing the need for more scientific research, Dr. Karanth provided historical insights into India’s wildlife population, which started dwindling rapidly by the 1920s. While government policies from the 1970s and efforts by the Indian Forest Service helped to some extent, the increased demand for infrastructural expansion today has heightened the threat to reserved forests. Apart from rail and road projects, the construction of energy infrastructure such as wind and solar power plants also impacts wildlife. Tiger reserves and other protected areas do provide cover but they are usually small and surrounded by habitats with dense human population whereas large-ranging species need to move between protected areas to maintain genetically healthy populations. Tourism is also expanding around protected areas.
“On the one hand, it is great that people can get out of the city and enjoy the rich ecological heritage. On the other hand, infrastructure is required to enable access to these areas, which endangers these areas,” commented Dr DeFries. She argued that there are options in infrastructural design that do not harm wildlife. Overpasses and roads that pass through the outskirts of protected areas are some of the solutions being practiced globally to effectively minimize endangering wildlife. The film and presentations both proposed that with careful planning and political will, the needs of wildlife and development may not necessarily in conflict with each other.