Static Heritage

An interesting land use irony was highlighted in the 2009 UN Report State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. That is, what happens when protecting a particular culturally significant spot actually leads to its decay? In this case, the place is the Ifugao Rice Terraces in the Philippines, a striking, 2000-year-old water-harvesting system. The site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. The heightened attention due to this designation has increased tourist traffic to the area, driving up demand for hotels and nicknacks produced from cash crops.

Whilst land management of the past placed most importance and protection on the
forested areas above the terraces in their roles as water sources and soil
stabilizers, the “heritage” view delineates the terraces from the rest of the
landscape as the places of greatest importance and protection, hence more recent
houses are built for the most part in the “muyong” 76 zone of the mountain,
above the terraces.

While it’s questionable whether the area wouldn’t face the same problems were it not classified a UNESCO site, this shows how conservation efforts are sometimes misplaced on one (flashy) aspect of the environment at the detriment to the entire system in which it exists.

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