Governments and conservationists in 30 nations announced a joint "World Conservation Strategy" yesterday aimed at reconciling development with nature.
Gathered in Washington under the splendid chandeliers of the Organization of American States building, diplomats and environmentalists applauded the three-year project as at least a good beginning on a difficult subject.
"The very existence of this strategy might be viewed as something of a miracle," said Russell Train, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and now president of the World Wildlife Fund.
Introducing the product of 450 government agencies and conservation organizations, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Program, Train said it provided "guidelines for action" that were the consensus of more than 700 scientists and development experts.
Conspicuously absent from the gathering, however, were representatives of the large multinational corporations that developing nations have blamed in the past for many of their environmental problems. Missing from the document, several diplomats noted, were any signs of agreement of the issue of population control.
Simultaneous press conferences were held in 30 nations to announce the document.
The strategy calls for "rational planning and allocation of uses and high-quality management" in three areas: maintenance of basic lifegiving natural systems such as coastal zones, forests and agricultural land; preservation of a variety of genetic types in crops, wildlife and forests; and usage of renewable resources in such a way as to enhance long-term production.
The participating nations are urged to consider their development goals in relation to those three areas. "The separation of conservation from development . . . [is] at the root of current living resource problems," the report said.
The study recognized that lack of information on the complex problems of conservation was a major obstacle in many countries, along with a shortage of trained personnel to implement policy and the fact that half the world population lives in underdeveloped rural areas.
"The daily survival decisions of the poor and hungry disrupt their own life support systems" by stripping land of its trees, overgrazing pastures and exhausting the soil, the report said.
The main author of the study, Robert Allen of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said that in fact development is a requirement for conservation goals to be achieved. "Too often we assume that people are destroying the enviornment because they are ignorant, when in fact they have no other choice."
Peruvian OAS Ambassador Luis Marchand-Strauss put it more bluntly: "Can the countries in development take time to contemplate the roses when there are no potatoes?" The study recommended that rural development be a priority goal.
It also outlined concrete kinds of legislation that can give governments the tools necessary for conserving their resources. It called for strong international agreements on questions of the "global commons" -- atmosphere, oceans, Antarctica, fishing rights -- and for regional agreements on river basin and small-sea issues.
Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) told the gathering he had introduced legislation yesterday that would set up an "international conservation corps" of U.S.-trained experts in wildlife conservation and management.