Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Korea's DMZ Wilderness

Here in the USA, we come by our officially-designated wilderness areas by acts of Congress. In Korea, a 4 km-wide strip of wilderness that runs all the way across the peninsula, from the Yellow Sea in the west to the Sea of Japan in the east, came about by an act of war. This is a satellite view of Korea's demilitarized zone, northeast of Seoul:

View Larger Map

Korea's DMZ is a no-man's land - no roads, no towns, no campsites, no nuttin' - guarded by some two million soldiers/park rangers. There is now a diplomatically symbolic railroad that cuts across the DMZ at one point, and one equally symbolic "truce village," where residents can enjoy the scenic and wild surroundings under the crosshairs of two belligerent armies.

But mostly, the DMZ is pure wilderness. And because it traverses the entire Korean peninsula, it encompasses a broad array of ecosystems: "'The DMZ and its adjacent Civilian Control Zone are unique containing wetlands, forests, estuaries, mountains, coastal islands, riparian valleys and agricultural fields,' says Hall Healy of Facilitated Solutions International, an organization that aids conservation groups working in the border area," according to CNN.

The area is also a refuge for thousands of species of migratory waterfowl that have been exiled from other habitats in the rapidly-urbanizing Asian Pacific Rim. Evidently the birds are too lightweight to set off landmines.

You know the old saw that instructs hikers to "take only pictures"? Well, you're not even allowed to take those in Korea's wilderness. Nevertheless, the Smithsonian Institute did manage to get this shot (source) of a family of endangered white-naped cranes, which rely on the DMZ as one of their last refuges:

And here's a stunning barbed-wire and snow landscape from Green Korea, an NGO working to protect the DMZ as diplomacy weakens the strict wilderness regulations:

No comments: