Conservation Refugees

Conservation Refugees

The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples

By Mark Dowie

How native people—from the Miwoks of Yosemite to the Maasai of eastern Africa—have been displaced from their lands in the name of conservation.





How native people—from the Miwoks of Yosemite to the Maasai of eastern Africa—have been displaced from their lands in the name of conservation.

Since 1900, more than 108,000 officially protected conservation areas have been established worldwide, largely at the urging of five international conservation organizations. About half of these areas were occupied or regularly used by indigenous peoples. Millions who had been living sustainably on their land for generations were displaced in the interests of conservation. In Conservation Refugees, Mark Dowie tells this story. This is a “good guy vs. good guy” story, Dowie writes; the indigenous peoples' movement and conservation organizations have a vital common goal—to protect biological diversity—and could work effectively and powerfully together to protect the planet and preserve biological diversity. Yet for more than a hundred years, these two forces have been at odds. The result: thousands of unmanageable protected areas and native peoples reduced to poaching and trespassing on their ancestral lands or “assimilated” but permanently indentured on the lowest rungs of the money economy. Dowie begins with the story of Yosemite National Park, which by the turn of the twentieth century established a template for bitter encounters between native peoples and conservation. He then describes the experiences of other groups, ranging from the Ogiek and Maasai of eastern Africa and the Pygmies of Central Africa to the Karen of Thailand and the Adevasis of India. He also discusses such issues as differing definitions of “nature” and “wilderness,” the influence of the “BINGOs” (Big International NGOs, including the Worldwide Fund for Nature, Conservation International, and The Nature Conservancy), the need for Western scientists to respect and honor traditional lifeways, and the need for native peoples to blend their traditional knowledge with the knowledge of modern ecology. When conservationists and native peoples acknowledge the interdependence of biodiversity conservation and cultural survival, Dowie writes, they can together create a new and much more effective paradigm for conservation.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262012614 376 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


$29.95 T ISBN: 9780262516006 376 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • A beautiful balance of critique and sympathy.

    Publishers Weekly

  • Far from being a hysterical diatribe...this exceptionally researched and documented study provides authoritative guidance toward a diverse and sustainable future.

    Richard W. Grefrath

    Magill Book Reviews


  • As a journalist, Mark Dowie has always been a few steps ahead of the pack, and with Conservation Refugees he's once again staked out a difficult and fascinating terrain: the indigenous peoples that, all the way back to the founding of Yosemite, have been invisible or worse to the conservation movement. A vision of wilderness that makes no place for people has long held sway in environmental circles, but there are signs it is coming to an end—and not a moment too soon. Dowie's book advances the critical work of developing a new, more encompassing vision of nature, which makes it one of the most important contributions to conservation in many years.

    Michael Pollan

    author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food

  • Mark Dowie is, pound for pound, one of the best investigative journalists around.

    Studs Terkel

    author of Working

  • Unlike a fine wine, Mark Dowie has not mellowed with age. This book proves it.

    John Passacantando

    former Executive Director, Greenpeace USA

  • In Conservation Refugees, Mark Dowie quotes delegates to the Fifth World Parks Conference: 'We were dispossessed in the name of kings and emperors, later in the name of state development, and now in the name of conservation.' Miwok, Basarwa, Ogiek, Mursi—indigenous tribal peoples, like endangered species, are being driven to extinction. Their languages are swiftly dying and we're losing a huge resource in their invaluable knowledge derived from millennia in their respective homelands. Environmentalists, determined to preserve biological systems and entities, should now be equally driven to preserve aboriginal cultures. This is a most useful and important book.

    William Kittredge

    author of The Nature of Generosity