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“Through training and assistance, Parks in Peril really helped me to achieve self sufficiency and better financial management of this project and those of other international organizations. I now feel more capable as an individual and, through my indigenous association, I feel more committed to my territory’s conservation.”
Marcos Serapio Martínez, Vice President, KUNASPAWA Indigenous Association, Kipla Sait Territory, Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, Nicaragua
We apply the term governance to the question of who makes decisions regarding the management of protected areas and how those decisions involve government, private sector and civil society. Principles such as legitimacy, leadership, performance, accountability, and fairness form the framework of good governance. Sufficient and transparent funding is also a critical component because it both drives and results from good governance. The fact that many protected areas have people living in and around them makes governance systems extremely relevant to protected area management.
The majority of PiP’s 45 protected areas are governed by the state. As the program evolved, it trended towards a broader view of governance and involvement of diverse stakeholders in protected area management—such as private landowners and communities living close to the protected area as well as those receiving benefits from the area (e.g., water use). This involvement increases the legitimacy of conservation at the same time that it empowers local stakeholders to participate more actively in society. As Felipe Carazo, TNC’s Parks in Peril Site Manager in Amistad observes, “The main task of the Parks in Peril project is to establish alliances between civil society or communities, and governments.”
The Parks in Peril program has supported good governance and strengthened constituencies for conservation—at the levels of both sites and the systems of protected areas—through both its site consolidation approach and its assistance for countries meeting the commitments of the Convention on Biological Diversity. PiP has supported the development of policies, processes, and mechanisms that enable stakeholders to participate in protected area management by facilitating dialogue among diverse stakeholders, recognizing a spectrum of governance structures, promoting compatible resource use by local communities, and providing environmental education and institutional strengthening.
Colombia © Diego Ochoa
As a result of Parks in Peril activities, 24,700 acres of communal and private lands
have been protected in the endangered oak forests of Colombia. Parks in Peril has similarly protected 170,000 acres in Ecuador’s Condor Biosphere Reserve and 18,500 acres in Central America using innovative mechanisms for conserving lands outside public systems of protected areas.
For example, although several thousand people live within Chagres National Park in Panama, no mechanism existed for local communities to participate in decision-making. A Conservation Area Plan completed at the start of the PiP project recommended that existing community organizations be strengthened and that a regional, community coordinating body be established. The National Society for Business and Rural Development (SONDEAR) conducted a study of appropriate mechanisms, resulting in the establishment of four local management committees, each with its own board, which together form a larger body called the Community Association for the Participatory Management of Chagres National Park (ACOCHA).
Through ACOCHA, communities gain a voice at the table with the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) and the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) in the management of the reserve. “This project has succeeded in getting authorities to take us into account and has enabled us to be known outside of Chagres National Park; however, this is just the beginning,” notes the President of ACOCHA’s Region 3, Cristina Ortega. “We need the communities to be aware of the need for conservation, the importance of hydrological sources, and the conservation of natural resources, and it is also important for them to be organized in groups for community development.”
PiP’s 750,000-acre Central Selva site is comprised of a group of nationally-designated protected areas about 200 miles northwest of the city of Lima. A unique dwarf forest ecosystem located 7,200 feet above sea level was under serious threat due to the construction of a road joining the cities of Oxapampa and Villa Rica. This road facilitated the illegal extraction of orchids, ferns, timber and fauna. The dwarf forest contains high biodiversity, an impressive scenic beauty, a high potential to be used for promoting environmental education, and is key to the regulation of the hydrological cycle. The municipality felt its sovereignty over this land threatened, providing an opportunity for PiP to help establish a municipal protected area. ProNaturaleza, Proterra, and the Municipality of the District of Villa Rica motivated the Provincial government to recognize Bosque de Sho’llet, the first municipal conservation area in Oxapampa Province. PiP has also supported the creation of municipal reserves in Ecuador, Bolivia and Guatemala. Considering that national governments are devolving many governance responsibilities to state and local levels, the time is ripe to replicate these experiences.
Working with Conservation International (CI) and the Cofán Survival Fund, PiP worked to strengthen management by Cofán indigenous people of 938,000 acres of their ancestral lands in Cayambe Coca and Cofán-Bermejo Ecological Reserves, which form part of the Condor Bioreserve. PiP worked with the Cofán Federation and the Cofán communities to develop a management plan for the reserve, which is now recognized by the national government as part of the national system of protected areas. Parks in Peril facilitated a process that, in addition to supporting strategic land acquisition to create a 40,000 hectare conservation corridor linking the two reserves, strengthened and maintained an indigenous park guards program, developed infrastructure, and expanded conservation protection to areas adjacent to the reserves in cooperation with neighboring communities, helping the Cofán to manage and protect their lands and their lifestyles from illegal encroachment.
In 2005, after more than a decade of TNC’s promotion, the government of Nicaragua granted five land titles to 41 indigenous communities living within the 1.8-million-acre Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, a PiP site at the heart of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Covering 625,000 acres, these indigenous land titles promise to slow encroachment by migratory farmers on the traditional indigenous lands of 21,000 Mayangna and Miskito people. TNC has supported the indigenous land titling process in the reserve since the early 1990s by providing resources for legal counsel, territorial border demarcation, training for voluntary forest guards, and capacity building of local indigenous organizations. PiP supported the last stage of this process, and also helped build the local capacity to manage this land. Nearly 100 voluntary forest guards were trained and equipped to enforce guidelines defining appropriate uses for different zones of the reserve—including rules for hunting, fishing and agriculture. The guards and other community members monitor game species, using the resulting data to make natural resource management decisions. Local livelihoods have improved in the reserve through farmer-to-farmer learning approaches designed to promote indigenous knowledge and best practices for sustainable agroforestry and livestock systems. The experience in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve serves as a model for titling indigenous lands in the Atlantic Coast region of Nicaragua and beyond.