The Western Ghats, a mountain range running 1,000 miles down the western coast of India, is one of the world’s natural treasures. With rain forests, dry forests, swamps, and rivers, the range is home to 1,600 flowering plants found nowhere else on the planet, as well as to scores of endangered animals, including tigers and elephants. No less important, millions of people live in the Ghats, and many of their livelihoods are intertwined with the region’s natural bounty.

But in 1993, when...


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