| Jan 10, 2008

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Feature Article - January 10, 2008 What do Parks have to do WithPeace?by Jeff Green

When Stephan Fuller talks about the role of parks, it's from a world-wide perspective. The 53-year-old Sydenham-based consultant has helped set up parks and environment departments in places as diverse as the Canadian Yukon and tribal Pakistan over the past 25 years, and his enthusiasm for his work is undiminished.

Stephan Fuller has a lot of experience in Afghanistan, a country that he has visited 14 times since 1993. He has been involved in environmental planning work since the early 1980s, both as a volunteer with the World Conservation Union, and in his professional life. He worked for 10 years for the Yukon Territorial government in the Department of the Environment, and between 1993 and 1998 lived in the Peshawar region of Pakistan, where he worked on building a provincial environmental program.

In 1998 he moved to Sydenham with his family, returning to live where his family has been based for 8 generations, although he only lived briefly there as a child.

From his base in Sydenham, he has travelled extensively for the past ten years, and has done some work in Canada as well.

He has worked for the Ministry of the Environment, updating their strategic plan; on the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines policy in regards to Diamond mining in northern Ontario; on a protected area plan in the Northwest Territories; and the management planning for a brand new national wildlife area in the Mackenzie Valley.

Stephan Fuller is giving a speech this week at the Trudeau Centre in Toronto focusing on a project he has been involved with in Afghanistan. A recently released book, for which he wrote a chapter on Afghanistan, has won a major award in the United States.

The book, Peace Parks – Conservation and Conflict Resolution, is edited by Saleem Ali of the University of Vermont. Peace parks are similar to National Parks in many ways, except they cross international boundaries. The book points to a link between environmental factors and global conflicts, and argues that the international co-operation fostered by the development of peace parks can be a factor in alleviating some of these conflicts.

In the introduction, Ali writes:

“This book explores the multiple ways in which environmental conservation zones can facilitate the resolution of territorial conflicts. Such zones are often places of ecological significance or natural beauty that usually have restrictions on development activities. While environmental regulations often spark development conflicts, there may be pathways by which ecological factors in such areas can be conducive to conflict resolutions. The central question we address is how environmental concerns can be transformed into cooperation between various political jurisdictions.”

In his chapter on Afghanistan, Stephan Fuller wrote about some of the initiatives towards conservation areas that have been undertaken over the past 25 years in Afghanistan. Even though most of his work has fallen by the wayside due to the turmoil that has embroiled the country and to drought, his article points to some possible avenues that can still be explored.

In particular, there is a region in the north-eastern part of the country which borders Pakistan, Tajikistan and China, and is home to species such as Marco Polo Sheep and snow leopards - and not very many people.

Fuller has been working on bringing a conservation region or peace park into existence in this region.

The complicated political reality of the region; poverty, war, drought, and many other factors would seem to make any talk of international conservation parks impossible, but Fuller writes in some detail about things that can be done in the current context.

One of the benefits of these kinds of projects is the fact that they bring officials together from countries that are wary of each other to work on projects.

In his conclusion, under the heading, “Let’s be realistic” Fuller acknowledges the reality in Afghanistan. In one paragraph, he writes:

“The key objectives of development and stability in Afghanistan and the region are not going to be achieved through a small program related to biodiversity conservation and protected areas, no matter how closely linked this is to community development and poverty alleviation. The most essential objectives include a regional program of partnership for economic development and trade, requiring enlightened policies by the principal players in the security umbrella that has been erected over the country.”

But his interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan persists, and given the attention that is being placed on those countries right now, insights into the region are particularly interesting.

“There needs to be stabilization and that means talking to the Taliban politically,” he says, adding “it would be helpful for Canadians to know that the Taliban and El Quaida are different animals.”

As well, he says that military assistance to Afghanistan should be tied to five-year cycles, just as development assistance is, instead of the two-year cycle that NATO has been following. This, he said, would help make decisions about military commitments less likely to become the kind of partisan debates that have been taking place in Canada in recent months.

He said that he is disappointed with all of the Canadian political parties in the way they have handled the debate over what Canada’s military role should be in 2009, saying it has more to do with their position in the polls than with reasonable policy making. He is hopeful that the Manley Commission will change that.

“We should also see that it is not a zero sum game between our military expenditure and our development expenditure. It should not be a competition between the two.”

Although he keeps working in the far corners of the world, Stephan Fuller has become involved in local projects in the last couple of years. He is a member of the South Frontenac Natural Environment Committee, and has just become a member of the Board of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere reserve. His international experience could be invaluable in the exploration and fostering of a wildlife corridor between the Canadian Shield and the Adirondack Mountains in the United States.

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