With wildlife corridor, Turkey tackles an ecological crisis
In Turkey, where conservation tends to get short shrift, environmentalists are excited about a plan to create a 58,000-acre wildlife corridor in hopes of bolstering dwindling populations of wolves, bears, and lynxes.
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Many Turkish scientists disagree. "Turkey's environmental law and conservation efforts are eroding...," some warned in the December issue of Science. "This has precipitated a conservation crisis that has accelerated over the past decade."Skip to next paragraph
About half of 61 endemic fish species are critically endangered, and 83 of 319 native breeding birds are threatened. In February, Turkey was ranked 121 out of 132 countries for biodiversity and habitat preservation in an annual environmental performance index by Yale University.
Delicate negotiation process
But ecologists must tread carefully. "To pursue projects at protected sites, all NGOs need the permission of the ministry," says Engin Yilmaz, director general of Doga Dernegi, one of Turkey's largest wildlife research charities. "If permission isn't given, you have no legal grounds to carry on activities in nature conservation."
Doga Dernegi learned this the hard way. Last year, Ankara revoked many of its permits to operate in national parks and reserves after it mounted a public campaign against the draft nature law and dam-building policy.
Sekercioglu, who has co-written articles criticizing the government, fears KuzeyDoga could suffer for his outspokenness. "How do I do more good for the Turkish environment?" he asks. "Do I keep quiet and do what I can in northeastern Turkey, or do I look at the big picture and say it's unacceptable? I'm trying to do both."
Some groups have mobilized protests, but with little impact. In one 2010 survey, only 1.3 percent of respondents viewed environment-related issues as a serious concern. "Turks are discovering the consumption society, and they are more than happy with all these things," says Cengiz Aktar, a political scientist at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University. "The government has a major ally in the Turkish public."
In Kars, near the Sarikamis forest, however, one group is optimistic. According to Sekercioglu, a blend of research, patience, and tea-drinking with officials brought successes.
The government has already planned the corridor's course: a 50-mile-long snake of land between 500 and 2,000 yards wide, connecting Sarikamis to much larger forests in neighboring Georgia.
Sekercioglu says about 25 wolves may survive in and around the forest. At least seven have been shot or hit by cars in the past year alone. A radio collar fitted to one young male wolf showed that, since December, the animal had ranged over an area of some 1,189 square miles, more than 13 times the size of Sarikamis National Park.
Sekercioglu hopes the corridor will inspire similar projects, eventually creating a network spanning the country. But, he acknowledges, "it is like turning around a very big ship. It will happen slowly, but we have to keep pushing."
SEE ALSO: Five hotbeds of biodiversity
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