Re-Placing the Desert in the Conservation Landscape: Charisma and Absence in the Gobi Desert | Land Portal

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Date of publication: 
March 2018
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© 2018 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article.

Across the Gobi Desert in China and Mongolia, millions of newly planted trees struggle to survive amid adverse ecological conditions. They were planted by a wide variety of actors in an attempt to protect, restore, or modify the local environment, despite evidence of their negative consequences upon local ecosystems. This paper investigates how these afforestation projects both challenge and affirm recent theoretical work on conservation, while also providing key insights into the decision-making framework of land management across the world’s third largest desert region. This analysis, supported by evidence from corporate practice, government policy, and participant observation, builds primarily on the work of Jamie Lorimer and other authors who identify the charisma of certain species as a primary driver of contemporary conservation. But the case of afforestation in the Gobi is inadequately explained by a desire to protect individual species; rather, I show how the charisma at the level of the landscape influences conservation practice. I extend this analysis to suggest that the management of deserts worldwide may be mediated by their perception as absent or empty spaces, thus explaining projects like afforestation which seem to re-place rather than conserve. Using the framework of absence and presence to better understand land use and environmental governance could have implications extending well beyond the Gobi Desert.

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Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

Lezak, Stephen


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