August 17, 2007

Yellowstone, Yosemite... the DMV?

Okay, I'll quote just one more bit from Alan Weisman's The World Without Us, and then I'm done. Apparently, the 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that stretches between North and South Korea has become, inadvertently, a major wildlife refuge:
Much of the DMZ runs through mountains. Where it follows the courses of rivers and streams, the actual demarcation line is in bottomland where, for 5,000 years before the hostilities began, people grew rice. Their abandoned paddies are now sown thickly with land mines. Since the armistice in 1953, other than brief military patrols or desperate, fleeing North Koreans, humans have barely set foot there.

In their absence, the netherworld between these enemy doppelgangers has filled with creatures that had practically nowhere else to go. One of the world's most dangerous places became one of its most important—though inadvertent—refuges for wildlife that might otherwise have disappeared. Asiatic black bears, Eurasian lynx, musk deer, Chinese water deer, yellow-throated marten, an endangered mountain goat known as the goral, and the nearly vanished Amur leopard cling here to what may only be temporary life support—a slender fraction of the necessary range for a genetically healthy population of their kind. ...

As the Korean naturalists watch, cameras and spotting scopes poised, over the bulrushes glides a dazzling white squadron, 11 fliers in perfect formation. And in perfect silence. These are living Korean national icons: red-crowned cranes—the largest, and, next to whooping cranes, rarest on earth. They're accompanied by four smaller white-naped cranes, also endangered. Just in from China and Siberia, the DMZ is where most of them winter. If it didn't exist, they probably wouldn't either.
Who would've guessed? But this also raises a question. Say the North Korean state collapsed tomorrow, and the two countries reunited. (Maybe it wouldn't be so simple: I gather it's debatable as to how warmly many South Koreans would welcome such a move.) What would happen to the area? One possibility is that it would get swallowed up by rice farmers, and all those endangered species would eventually die. Alternatively, some Korean naturalists have proposed turning the area into a "peace park," a protected wildlife area. At least once the landmines are cleared away.

As a side note, Weisman reports that the South Korean positions have loudspeakers that blast "regular insults, military anthems, and even strident themes like the William Tell Overture across the divide." The William Tell Overture? Why?
-- Brad Plumer 7:09 PM || ||