Indian, American Scientists Chosen for Environmental Prize

LOS ANGELES (TIP): This year’s Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement is being awarded to two scientists who have worked for conservation on the land and in the ocean.

Madhav Gadgil of India and Jane Lubchenco of the United States are being honored for working with communities to preserve the environment while protecting people’s livelihoods.

Bamboo crops in the Western Ghats, a mountain range in western India, have been depleted by the paper industry. Gadgil said that has hurt local villagers who rely on the plants to make baskets and other products.

Earlier, the crops “were exploited through the state machinery and largely they were auctioned off to traders, to industries,” said Gadgil, a visiting professor at India’s Goa University who works with villagers to keep the ecosystem balanced and let the bamboo groves flourish. “Now the communities have rights to manage these.”

He said that for generations, villagers have preserved parts of the forest as sacred, something that also happens in other parts of Asia.

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Gadgil said he serves as a bridge between local people and government, which wants to promote modern management techniques. He has focused on documenting the sacred forests and the kind of biodiversity resources that have been conserved, and finding out “what is now in the current context possible.”

Gadgil traveled to Los Angeles to receive the Tyler Prize and to meet this year’s other winner, Lubchenco. A marine ecologist, she teaches at Oregon State University and served four years as the head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Last year, President Barack Obama named her U.S. science envoy for the ocean.

Lubchenco has worked with American fishermen to restore depleted fisheries through “catch shares,” strategies that grant fishing rights to fishermen but put limits on their catch in affected areas.

“Our basic idea of oceans is that they are so immense, so bountiful that we can take anything out and put anything in and it would not make much of a difference. And we have discovered that is simply not the case,” she said.

The system of catch shares gives fishermen a share of the ocean harvest, and those rights can be bought, sold and traded. The system has its critics, but Lubchenco and other supporters point to its success in restoring depleted stocks.

She said that limiting fishing on the high seas is difficult. “There are a lot of efforts under way to rein in overfishing, but it remains a huge challenge and it has global ramifications,” she said.

Lubchenco said governments must lead, and local communities must be part of the solution.

Gadgil said the same is true of the Indian villagers with whom he works.

“Of course they have a substantial amount of understanding, local understanding, of that resource base and what is impacting it, what might be good sustainable-use practices,” he said.

The prize winners said the balance of life in the ocean and on land is essential for a healthy planet and healthy communities.

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