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Environmental Protection

Throughout their history the French, along with most of the other peoples of the world, have paid little attention to the quality of their natural environment. They have emphasized economic development and management rather than the protection and preservation of the lands they inhabited.

With the growth of industry and its demand for coal and other minerals together with urbanization, the increasing population, and the development of technology natural systems began to break down because they could not tolerate the stresses induced by human activities. Despite warnings, the French in general did not realize until after World War II that years of neglect had left their air and water severely polluted and the country's forests and wildlife endangered. Such events as oil spills from tanker wrecks off the coast of Brittany also drew attention to the nation's environmental problems.

France has undertaken a significant program of environmental protection and renovation. This project has featured the creation of a system of national parks and reserves, resulting from laws that promoted the preservation or extension of natural areas, and the reestablishment of numerous endangered species of plants and animals. The program also encourages the development of opportunities for people to appreciate nature without threatening it.

The government has also established a series of regional nature parks and reserves that are less wild and more accessible than the national parks. Many are in rural areas of abandoned farms and offer tourism and traditional artisan crafts while restoring the natural environment. Efforts are also being made to clean France's air and water.