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Will new resort imperil Grenada’s endangered dove?

Next month, developers will start building a controversial resort in Mt. Hartman National Park, one of the Grenada dove’s last sanctuaries.

By Colin WoodardCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / May 14, 2008

When doves cry: Grenada will allow a resort to be built on Mt. Hartman National Park, raising concerns about the Grenada dove.

Colin Woodard

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St. George Parish, Grenada

It’s one of the last undeveloped tracts of land on Grenada’s southwestern coast, a hump-shaped mountain surrounded by the azure waters of the Caribbean.

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Mt. Hartman is also one of the last refuges of the Grenada dove, this tiny nation’s critically endangered national bird. Of the 120 individuals left in the world, half are believed to live on this 429-acre area, a portion of which was set aside in 1994 as a national park.

But sometime next month, developers will break ground on a multimillion-dollar Four Seasons resort here, one year after Grenada’s Parliament made legal changes allowing the government to sell national park land to developers. Critics fear the changes to the National Parks Act will result in the national patrimony being sold to the highest bidder.

“This is about wooing investors into destroying our park lands,” says attorney Anselm Clouden, a former opposition party senator and frequent critic of Prime Minister Keith Mitchell. “The government is not serious about conserving natural habitat and preserves and their actions are very ill thought of.”

The proposed resort – which includes a golf course, marina, 175 private residences, and a small hotel – has prompted protests here and abroad, including rebukes from The Nature Conservancy and BirdLife International.

The pressure may be paying off. After months of negotiation the government, developers, and conservationists, have worked out a plan that may actually improve the Grenada dove’s chances for survival.

“We’ve come up with a win-win situation, with a park configuration that is better for the birds,” says conservation biologist Bonnie Rusk, an authority on the dove who recommended changes to the developer’s original plans. “It’s important to get it right because if we lose the Mt. Hartman population, the Grenada dove would go extinct.”

Under the current plan, the resort will develop areas that are currently part of the Mt. Hartman National Park. But in exchange, the resort’s developer will help underwrite the designation and management of a newer, better, and similarly sized sanctuary nearby. Pets and pesticides will be prohibited at the resort, which will be built in phases timed to minimize disruption of the birds’ seasonal activities.

“The last thing we’d want to do is disrupt the doves,” says Darren Arekion of Cinnamon 88, the resort’s British Virgin Islands-based developer, which is funding scientific research on the doves. “We’ve brought the bird back on the agenda and none of this would be happening if the development hadn’t come along.”

David Wege of Birdlife International in Cambridge, England agrees that Cinnamon 88 has been responsible, but he’s concerned about other developers. “The changes to the parks law are a worrying precedent,” he says.

In 2004, Grenada was devastated by Hurricane Ivan, which destroyed an estimated 90 percent of the nation’s infrastructure, including the nutmeg farms that once provided a third of the world’s supply of that spice. The government has embraced high-end tourism as a key source of jobs and income.

“There’s pressure to open protected areas for resort tourism development because it brings in a lot of money,” says Ruth Blyther of the Nature Conservancy. “Grenada’s legislation doesn’t have enough checks and balances, making it too simple to de-list a protected area.”

But Jennifer Ellard, sustainable development adviser to Mr. Mitchell, insists the government changed the law with conservation – not profit – as their foremost intention. The unprotected portions of Mt. Hartman have long been slated for development, she points out, a Ritz-Carlton resort having been planned there several years ago. “If we hadn’t changed the boundaries of the park, the development would have taken place in a way that would have been catastrophic for the dove,” she says.

“The amendment isn’t a free ticket for the government to sell parks to anyone for any reason,” she adds. “The intention is to strengthen conservation, not undermine it.”

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