Preservation by the People

Preservation by the People

For a long time we have employed a means of protecting sensitive and valuable ecosystems by sending in teams of scientists who evaluate it, delineate boundaries and put monitoring and protection plans into place, making policing these properties necessary. Another idea that is gaining popularity is the establishment of the land’s carbon capacity and offering it to would-be carbon off-setters. These options presumably keep users out or force them to adhere to restrictions. While these methods may be effective some of the time, there may be other options producing similar, if not better results and allowing native use and enjoyment of lands.

The World Resources Group and the Rights and Resources Initiative recently completed a study which indicates that local control, backed by legal title, maintains more land, stores more carbon, protects more wildlife and keeps outsiders treed, as it were. The report, entitled “Securing Rights, Combating Climate Change” (http://www.wri.org/securingrights) reviewed over 130 studies occurring from Papua New Guinea to Brazil. In the Amazon, 7% of forest area not under community control was lost to farming and logging, while within the community controlled area that figure was just 0.6%.  The community forests also contain 36% more carbon. Mexican and Guatemalan community forests have similar statistics. These data demonstrate the assertion that won Elinor Ostrom a nobel prize in economics 5 years prior; local communities, given the chance and proper legal support, better manage their natural resources. Their first hand understanding of the ecosystem allows them to manage efficiently and effectively for long-term value.

Conservation methods employed by communities differ from those implemented by governments; locals manage for use, hunting, gathering, recreation, even some types of farming, rather than putting up a fence and keeping everyone out. The problem lay with wrenching control government agencies reluctant to part with it. It is difficult to get them on track with a different, possibly better, way of doing things in spite of the data; Brazilian communities hold title to 28% of its forest and deforestation rates are dropping rapidly, while Indonesian forests are only 2% under community control and has the highest deforestation rates in the world. Perhaps government, community and environmental goals are not aligned.

A great deal of the planet’s biodiversity is located withing lands inhabited by indigenous people who have managed those lands according to tradition, continual use and traditional knowledge and beliefs for years. Many of these peoples are voluntarily participating in the Forest Peoples Programme (http://www.forestpeoples.org/) which was founded in 1990 in response to the forest crisis specifically to support indigenous forest peoples’ struggles to defend their lands and livelihoods. They map resources within their communities, monitor environmental conditions and regulate the use of their land. The struggle for control of these sensitive and valuable lands is understandable, but local inhabitants seem to be a vast and underused resource, their involvement may provide fiscally efficient and environmentally effective service. Perhaps a joint ownership with a collaboratively developed management plan would satisfy all parties and put environmental goals within reach.