Government development policies, not communities, main threat to forest conservation projects

10/22/04

A current backlash against collaborative conservation and wildlife management schemes is unjustified, according to new ESRC-sponsored research into communal reserves in Peru.

Government policies encouraging immigration and timber exploitation, and a lack of presence by state authorities at ground level, have been the main underlying threats, rather than increasing pressure on resources from local communities, it found.

The study, led by Dr Helen Newing of the University of Kent, examined the Peruvian reserves a prominent example of collaborative management which was profiled at the 2003 World Parks Congress. It dismisses claims that such approaches to conservation 'haven't worked'.

Over the past 25 years, says the report, biodiversity conservation has moved from a 'fences and fines' approach based on a system of heavily guarded, protected areas, to a more inclusive way of doing things, in which local communities are invited to take part in management.

Communities are on the ground, and can therefore more easily control access to a nearby protected area. Often, too, they have legal and moral rights based on ancestral use of the area.

But, the study points out, there is now a backlash amongst conservationists against this approach on the basis that such schemes have failed and cannot work in the long term because local populations will always grow and pressure on natural resources will increase indefinitely.

Those taking this view argue that only strict protection and exclusion of local people can prevent further environmental damage.

Local groups, however, counter that community conservation has not been given a fair trial, because governments almost never devolve enough power or give sufficient legal backing to let indigenous groups take control.

Research included an in-depth study of the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo communal reserve in the Amazon region, and a broader review of other such schemes in Peru.

Dr. Newing said: "We found that in five of the six existing communal reserves, the main immediate barrier to effective conservation is the lack of sufficient government support to back up community actions and protect them."

In part, says her report, this situation arises because international funding, which is relied on to mount operations in new protected areas, is mostly in the form of lavishly funded short-term projects. What is missing are the resources for low-level, continuous management activities.

Meanwhile, since March, 2002, Peru has auctioned off almost 7.5 million hectares of forest in private logging concessions, in a system that excludes local communities and threatens their lands.

Currently, this is the main threat to forest conservation, and reflects a global trend towards privatisation of forests for commercial exploitation.

In Peru, in order to counter this, many more local communities are applying for communal reserve status. But bureaucratic requirements for documentation and a standardised management structure prevent local, native communities from running things in their customary way, using their traditional knowledge of forestry. And whilst these groups face government demands for outside management systems to be imposed, they are not getting the support needed to fulfil such requirements.

Dr. Newing said: "The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo reserve grew from strong community action to defend fish stocks and prevent access to extensive forest uplands by outsiders. It has worked in the sense that the variety of plant and animal life has not diminished, and management at local level has been highly flexible and able to adjust to changing needs and conditions. However, the complete lack of government enforcement and auctioning of logging concessions nearby threaten its future."

"Our review of other such reserves and protected areas in Peru suggests this is not an isolated case."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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