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When global conservation meets local livelihoods: People and parks in Central America

Formally Refereed
Authors: John Schelhas, Max J. Pfeffer
Year: 2010
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Southern Research Station
Source: Revista Geografica de America Central 45:77-101


National park and related forest conservation efforts tend to emanate from core areas of the world and are often imposed on rural people living on forest fringes in the least developed regions of lesser developed countries. We address the social and cultural processes that ensue when center-originating conservation meets local people with their resource-dependent livelihoods, and how these vary under different circumstances. We examine and compare local people's environmental and forest-related values and behaviors, using cultural models, after the establishment of national parks in two countries with very different social and environmental histories-Costa Rica and Honduras. We find that external cultural models were widely adopted by local people-hegemonic to the extent of structuring even discourse opposing conservation. Local people often expressed environmental values, but used formulaic language that suggested that these values were not well integrated with other aspects of their life and often not motivating. We pay particular attention to relationships between environmental values and livelihood values, and the varying ways that new, local environmental discourses and values emerge that mediate between these often conflicting value spheres. The recent international increase in national parks is a phenomenon of globalization, and often imposes new conservation practices and environmental values onto local people. While these new national parks have some broad public benefits that can be thought of as global, e.g. their role in preventing biodiversity loss and climate change, it is also true that few concrete benefits accrue to local people and that parks often impose great costs on local people in the form of lost land, diminished access to resources, and diminished autonomy as national governments and international: organizations extend into local life in new ways. These changes have serious repercussions for local people, often threatening their livelihoods and well-being in significant ways. Yet our results suggest that local people may be willing to work with park managers to co-inhabit landscapes when park managers are able to accommodate local livelihood needs.


National parks, Central America, Costa Rica, Honduras, forest conservation


Schelhas, John; Pfeffer, Max J. 2010. When global conservation meets local livelihoods: People and parks in Central America. Revista Geografica de America Central 45:77-101.