Background

During Taylor's childhood in the Himalaya he became fascinated by what animal was making the real footprints in the snow. The animal was being called "yeti." But was the yeti a new animal or a known animal that made the unusual footprints? For thirty years he searched the Himalaya.

yetitrail.org

Then the King of Nepal told him to "look in the densest jungle in my kingdom, the Barun Valley." He went in 1983 with friends and family, and found mysterious footprints. He was then able to show that their maker is a bear, a bear that spends key years of its life in trees.

But while all this was interesting, what was extraordinary was the jungle. Tirtha Shresta, Nepal's leading botanist, who worked with this project for ten years said, "The Barun represents what was a 5,000 mile swath of pristine habitat from India to Siberia before people transformed the land. It is wild Asia from the subtropics to the Arctic."

MakaluBarun National Park

From 1985 to 1990 with Nepali partners of villagers, scientists, and government we worked to set this land into a national park that was sensitive to to the well-being of local people and used them as partners in nature protection. The largest national park in Nepal was created: Makalu-Barun National Park, adjacent to Everest, and including Makalu, the world's 5th highest summit, and Lhotse, the 4th.

This conservation effort then crossed the international border with China and created a national park in Tibet that tied together with it five parks in Nepal creating a total protected area the size of Switzerland. All these parks, in Nepal and China, used local people in conservation management in ways never done before.

MakaluBarun National Park

For the past quarter century the Barun Valley remained closed to local people and visitors; it was protected as a "core zone." But from the mid-1990s through 2006 a civil war crippled Nepal; the wardens who were to make sure no one entered the Barun were driven away by the Maoist insurgents. Without guards, the expectation of everyone was that the jungle would be penetrated. Villagers lived on marginal lands around this massive park.

In 2010, after Nepal became peaceful, Taylor re-visited and found that the jungle was in better shape than in the 1980s. Local people immediately adjacent to the Barun, understanding the treasure, had controlled all exploitation. It was extraordinary what they had done. But they were upset because people distant from the Barun, not them, were benefitting from the park. They said they wanted to build a trail through the Barun all the way to Makalu Base Camp.

HELPING THE PEOPLE HELP THEMSELVES

Building a trail and opening the wilderness is in its larger dimension not a physical challenge. It is a social challenge, and it brings responsibilities. If only the physical challenge of opening the trail was done, that would likely injure the wilderness, and it would certainly not advance the human condition that is a universal human right.

This project began as a conservation project - we want to discover the yeti. And while the scientific explanation of the yeti is that it is a bear, there is a larger personal discovery to be made by keeping the yeti's pristine habitat pristine - and letting people enter that world and discover that wild.

What must happen is to grow responsible stewardship of the wild among the local people. So, Future Generations has started a training program for key young people in the village. Three members have been sent for community-development training (two young men and one woman). A growing group of partners in this project, Nepali and around the world, have initiated an upgrade of the local school and health services.

Continued training is needed - including exposing the people and helping them start various initiatives in a sustainable way respectful to nature - and this training is now started in their village and by taking them out on educational exposure programs:

  • Looking to learn responsible ecotourism
  • Seeking to maximize profits into the local economy
  • Seeking to grow local control over decisions that affect them
  • Advancing their health and education (not limiting them say to just primary school)
  • All of the above the people deserve as a basic human right, but also we need to equip them so they can respond to very real and significant threats coming upon them:
    • Major hydroelectric dam and project of over 1,000 megawatts (a World Bank project was stopped twenty years ago but it has come back now with other funding)
    • Discussions by Nepal and China's governments to build a motor road down the Arun Valley (China has already built their road to the border. Nepal has theirs 40km away. Both countries plan to connect). This road will put huge pressure on the national park. The people are the first line of defense.

MakaluBarun National Park

PROTECTION OF YETI'S HOME - AND THE PEOPLE'S RESPONSE

It was an interesting problem: Should a trail be built into the most pristine Nature in all Asia? Should people be allowed to enter a "core zone." Unlike the prior time when Taylor led negotiations with officials and led in much of the field surveys, he suggested to the villagers that they take the lead - they had after all proven their capacity through a civil war.

The villagers went to the government and negotiated; they even registered themselves as a local non-profit organization. Then they came to him, "We will build the trail by ourselves if you give money for food while we work, money for shovels and tools, money for steel cables - and maybe we will need some dynamite. If you provide this, we will invest the hundreds of days of labor to build a trail 25 kilometers long."

Their argument that they made had two points:

  • We are poor, and we deserve to benefit from the national park we live beside and have protected. If we have a trail we will get jobs guiding people along its way.
  • With a trail, we can monitor the valley. We know poachers enter. We know a big conservation project is next door in China's Tibet. We want to monitor who goes in and we want to connect to next door.

Nepal's government has, over the years, realized the effectiveness of "people's participation" in community forestry, village health, local governance, road construction, and they realized that for the Makalu-Barun National Park the greatest resource was the peoples' support in both protection and their social/economic advancement. They had dual obligations: to help their people and to keep wilderness wild. So, the government said "yes."

So, Taylor invested some of his money - and he invited certain friends to contribute as well. And if you are interested, you are now invited to contribute also. This project indeed needs money. But it equally needs attention. The best way of ensuring that the local people do indeed take care of this global treasure is for them:

  • To get benefits from the national park being preserved as pristine
  • To see that people from around the world are monitoring them.

THE WAY FORWARD
Two possible ends can come to the Barun Valley, the center of what is now a vast successful conservation achievement the size of Switzerland. The strength of this conservation effort is in people's participation in its management - both in Nepal and on the Chinese side.

Continued examples must grow of conservation vitality combined with advancement of the quality of life for the people. This simple trail project, an action that the people are building with their labor and modest external funding, actions that are supported now by partnerships and permissions from government, with your support can result in:

  • Impact at the local level. Protected core areas that continue in their localized protection; this would include the Barun and other areas through the larger region.
  • Connection of action into the global dialogue. For our planet and ourselves, examples are needed to support, expose, and educate to help grow increasing responsibility and efficacy in our roles of environmental stewards and connect all people into what is an increasingly imperative world-encircling challenge.