Grassroots Environmental Leaders From Around the World Win $125,000 Goldman Environmental Prize
April 20, 2007
Farmer jailed for fighting Shell Oil’s illegally-approved gas pipeline and entrepreneur working on innovative fishing rights buyouts in the North Atlantic among six winners of world’s largest prize for grassroots environmentalists
SAN FRANCISCO, April 22, 2007— An Irish farmer jailed for his work in opposing Shell Oil’s natural gas pipeline through his land and an Icelandic entrepreneur saving North Atlantic wild salmon by brokering innovative fishing rights buyouts with North Atlantic governments and commercial interests are among the winners of this year’s prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.
“This year’s Prize recipients have succeeded in combating some of the most important environmental challenges we face today,” said Goldman Prize founder Richard N. Goldman. “Their commitment in the face of great personal risk inspires us all to think more critically about what ordinary people can do to make a difference.”The $125,000 Goldman Environmental Prize, now in its 18th year, is awarded annually to six grassroots environmental heroes and is the largest award of its kind in the world. The winners will be awarded the Prize at an invitation-only ceremony Monday, April 23, 2007 at 5 p.m. at the San Francisco Opera House and will also be honored at a smaller ceremony on Wednesday, April 25 at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, DC.
This year’s winners are:
North America: Sophia Rabliauskas, 47, Canada: Working on behalf of the Poplar River First Nation, Rabliauskas succeeded in securing interim protection for a portion of the boreal forest of Manitoba, effectively preventing destructive logging and hydro-power development while calling on government and international agencies to permanently protect the region.
Africa: Hammerskjoeld Simwinga, 45, Zambia: In Zambia’s North Luangwa Valley, where rampant illegal wildlife poaching decimated the wild elephant population and left villagers living in extreme poverty, Simwinga created an innovative sustainable community development program that successfully restored wildlife and transformed this poverty-stricken area.
Asia: Ts. Munkhbayar, 40, Mongolia: Munkhbayar successfully worked with government and grassroots organizations to shut down destructive mining operations along Mongolia’s scarce waterways. Through public education and political lobbying, Munkhbayar has effectively protected Mongolia’s precious water resources from additional unregulated mining.
South & Central America: Julio Cusurichi Palacios, 36, Peru: In the remote Peruvian Amazon, Cusurichi secured a national reserve to protect both sensitive rain forest ecosystems and the rights of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation from the devastating effects of logging and mining.
Europe: Willie Corduff, 53, Ireland: In the small farming community of Rossport, Corduff and a group of fellow local residents and landowners successfully forced Shell Oil to halt construction on an illegally-approved pipeline through their land.
Islands & Island Nations: Orri Vigfússon, 64, Iceland: With business savvy and an unwavering commitment to reverse the near-extinction of wild North Atlantic salmon, Vigfússon brokered huge international fishing rights buyouts with governments and commercial interests, helping bring to an end destructive commercial salmon fishing in the region.
About the Goldman Environmental Prize
The Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1990 by San Francisco civic leader and philanthropist Richard N. Goldman and his late wife, Rhoda H. Goldman. It has been awarded to 119 people from 70 countries.
Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals.
Previous Prize winners have been at the center of some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges, including seeking justice for victims of environmental disasters at Love Canal and Bhopal, India; leading the fight for dolphin-safe tuna; fighting oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and exposing Monsanto’s role in introducing the rBGH hormone into the US dairy industry.
Since receiving a Goldman Prize, eight winners have been appointed or elected to national office in their countries, including several who became ministers of the environment. The 1991 Goldman Prize winner for Africa, Wangari Maathai, won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.
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Rightful Stewards of the Land
The traditional territory of the Poplar River First Nation—1,200 members of the Ojibway indigenous people—is located on the eastern side of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, and forms a significant part of Canada’s boreal forest. For thousands of years, the Poplar River First Nation has carried out its traditional mandate to protect the region and its resources. However, massive industrial clear-cut logging to the south and hydro-power development on boreal rivers to the north of Poplar River land continue. First Nations territory is legally public land. As such, it is common for provincial and federal agencies to grant long-term leases to industry without consulting the First Nations who live on the land.
A leader of her Poplar River First Nation in the boreal region of Manitoba, Sophia Rabliauskas has for the past eight years worked with her people to secure interim protection of their two million acres of undisturbed forest land (three times the size of Rhode Island). In 2004, Rabliauskas along with several other community members led Poplar River in the development of a comprehensive land protection and management plan for their territory—a precedent-setting accomplishment among First Nations in the boreal. Rabliauskas’s and Poplar River’s current efforts are focused on securing permanent protection of their land from the Manitoba government. With that victory, they will seek a UNESCO World Heritage listing for a larger region of First Nations boreal forest.
Developing the land management plan was an intensive endeavor by Poplar River, led by Rabliauskas and a few others within the First Nation under the direction of their elders. Their efforts resulted in a full-scale blueprint of how they intend to document, protect and sustainably manage Poplar River’s forests, wildlife and other natural resources. The land use plan outlined the following core components: respecting traditional knowledge; benefiting from environmental analysis; developing economic opportunities, including protection of traditional hunting, trapping and fishing activities; and creating sustainable tourism opportunities.
One year before the plan’s completion, in 2004, Rabliauskas helped secure five more years of “interim protected status” for Poplar River territory, which continued to prohibit any logging, hydro, gas or mining development within the two million acres. The Manitoba government announced its intention to grant permanent protection to Poplar River’s land, yet to date has not granted that protection. As 2007 is an election year in Manitoba, Rabliauskas and Poplar River will increase their efforts to keep the issue in the public eye.
While physically isolated from the resources and conveniences of urban life (the main reliable route in and out of the territory is via air), Poplar River is considered highly successful and thriving among First Nations, especially in terms of its social cohesion and economic health. There is little turnover in its tribal leadership and women play an active role in decision-making and cultural leadership.
The Boreal—Canada’s Essential Forests
Canada’s vast boreal forest, which includes the lands of Poplar River First Nation, plays a vital role in mitigating the impacts of climate change, as its intact forests and wetlands store massive amounts of carbon. Threats to the health of Canada’s boreal forest are numerous: less than 10 percent of the boreal is strictly protected from development, and, despite awareness of the area’s global importance, about one-half of Canada’s annual wood harvest comes from the boreal.
Canada’s boreal forest comprises 25 percent of the world’s and more than 90 percent of the country’s remaining large intact forests, and is home to more than four million people, including many First Nations peoples. Covering nearly 1.4 billion acres and 58 percent of Canada’s land mass, the boreal forms a green belt across the center of the country, stretching from Newfoundland to the Yukon. Thirty percent of this coniferous old-growth forest is covered by wetlands, an estimated 1.5 million lakes and some of the country’s largest river systems. This area is also home to some of the world’s largest remaining populations of woodland caribou, wolves and bears, and more than 75 percent of North America’s waterfowl.
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