Crushing Biodiversity with the Weight of the Human Race


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Crushing Biodiversity with the Weight of the Human Race

“…the world’s gonna sink with the weight of the human race.”
– English rock band The Who, “Had Enough,” 1978

Some years ago, as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras I was invited to help lead a fact-finding mission into the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve. The Río Plátano (Plantain River) flows through the green, humid heart of an isolated region called La Mosquitia – the largest remaining rainforest wilderness of this ecologically-stressed Central American nation.

La Mosquitia had by far the lowest human population density in all of Honduras. Primitive subsistence settlements were separated by large, unbroken expanses of virtually uninhabited virgin tropical rainforest and pine savanna. This biological Eden still teemed with nearly pristine biodiversity – with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, scarlet macaws, toucans, harpy eagles, quetzals, tapirs, peccaries, anteaters, iguanas, howler monkeys, and manatees. These native jungle residents were all imperiled or extirpated elsewhere in overpopulated, over-exploited Central America.

Unfortunately, the chainsaws, axes, machetes, explosives, bulldozers, logging trucks, guns, bullets, and hammers – as well as the humans who brandish these destructive tools – were rapidly encroaching on this sanctuary. The population bomb had detonated in Honduras and all of Central America. The number of Hondurans was growing by 3.5% annually: a doubling time of 20 years and a quadrupling time of 40. The demographic pressures resulting from this population explosion would soon subjugate or lay waste to every last wild landscape in Honduras.

Our mission was to investigate rumors that illegal loggers and squatters were invading the supposedly-protected core zone of the 975,000-acre Biosphere Reserve, which had been established in 1980 under UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Program in cooperation with the Honduran government. The 13 of us who set out into the wilderness – and the 12 of us who returned (tragically, one of our compañeros lost his life) – witnessed firsthand, in a microcosm, the unfolding tragedy of humanity’s unrelenting and accelerating assault on the Earth’s remaining wilderness, wildlife, natural habitat, and biodiversity…

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Leon Kolankiewicz

Leon Kolankiewicz is an “all-around ecologist” whose professional career spans three decades, three countries, and more than 30 states. He received a B.S. in forestry & wildlife management from Virginia Tech and an M.S. in environmental planning from the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada). His career includes stints with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, National Marine Fisheries Service, University of Washington, University of New Mexico, Orange County Environmental Management Agency, Carrying Capacity Network, and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras. As an environmental consultant, Leon has written, edited and managed many environmental impact statements on a variety of projects for multiple federal agencies and prepared more than 40 comprehensive conservation plans for national wildlife refuges from Alaska to the Caribbean. He has also authored reports examining the role of population growth in aggravating pressures on natural resources and the environment.
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