IUCN - Protecting the planet - against all odds

Protecting the planet - against all odds

18 July 2010 | News story

Enjoying and appreciating nature is one thing but knowing how to protect it and manage what has been left of it for future generations is a completely different story. Allen Putney knows how to do both.

Allen has been working for the environment for over four decades but he has been devoted to it all his life. 

‘Like many professionals in the field of protected area management, my love for nature started at an early age. It was always a part of my life as a youth, and has remained so all of my adult life.

But apart from enjoying and appreciating nature, Allen has also been involved in protecting it for the benefit of future generations. Allen is Vice Chair for World Heritage of the World Commission on Protected Areas and, since taking on the position in 2006, he has been focusing on the effective management of World Heritage sites. He also has vast experience in planning, capacity building, and securing finances related to protected areas.

But although Allen has been involved in such a wide range of complex issues, the real challenge in his work seems to lie elsewhere:

‘It is tempting to say that the biggest challenge in my work is in fundraising for the projects I undertake, but in reality that is only part of a much larger challenge: to effectively communicate the importance of nature as a fundamental part of one's being, the desire to see nature passed on to future generations, and the vivid realities one encounters in the field - some of them sad, and some of them exhilarating - as field managers strive, often against great odds, to conserve the protected areas that have been entrusted to them. When communication about these values and realities is effective, it can inspire others to join in the efforts to support those dedicated front-line field managers in doing their best for conservation, and thanks to their efforts and leadership, achieving our common goals’.

One of the projects Allen has been involved in has been the development of an independent, single purpose, global fund that will make available US$ 25 million each year to support effective management of the most globally significant protected areas.

‘It seems that interest in protected areas has been declining in recent years, which saddens me and pushes me to work even harder. True, protected areas are the most important tool for the conservation of biodiversity, yet this is not what concerns me most. It is the omnipresent creep of materialism and its domination of thought, reason, and motivation that concerns me most. By the time the western civilization wakes up to the fact that materialism is not what brings meaning and satisfaction to one's life, it will be too late. For me, nature is of paramount importance for our existance. I would not want to live in a world where the remnants of the creation no longer exist, and man's heavy footprint is everywhere. So my passion is to seek to maintain what is left of the creation in our protected areas, and to pass that on to future generations. Can we not effectively conserve at least the most significant protected areas? I am hoping that the establishment of a fund dedicated to this purpose can help turn the tide by assuring that front-line managers of protected areas have the tools and financial support they need for success.’

Allen will be present at the World Heritage Committee’s annual meeting in Brasilia. And again, his task there will be far from simple:

‘Much of the energy at World Heritage meetings is devoted to the nomination of new sites for inscription on the World Heritage List. Yet over half of the existing natural World Heritage sites have problems severe enough to have triggered monitoring missions. Thus, my role at the meeting will be to press for greater attention to be paid to the effective management of these sites.’

Allen has been a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas since the 1980’s. In 2004, he was awarded the WCPA’s Packard International Parks Merit Award. For the last decade Allen has been self-employed as a consultant with assignments mainly in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa.