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Reflections on Conservation Education and Practice in Bhutan Siebert, Stephen F. (Stephen Frederic), 1955-; Belsky, Jill M. between 2007-06 and 2007-08

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 Reflections on Conservation Education and Practice in
Stephen F. Siebert and Jill M. Belsky"
In July, 2006 we had the pleasure of working in Bhutan with
the emerging Ugyen Wangchuck Environment and Forestry
Institute (UWEFI). Along with others (i.e., several American
academics, a Danish forester, and Bhutanese representatives
from the Natural Resource Training Institute, government
agencies and the private sector), we examined conservation
education goals and institutional, faculty and curriculum
development at UWEFI. The assessment included stakeholder
workshops to identify priorities from the public and private
sectors. We are inspired and optimistic about UWEFI
possibilities because of Bhutan's commitment to "The Middle
Path" in natural resource management, an approach built on
Buddhist culture, traditions of sustainable forest and land
management, and inclusion of people and human use in
'The Middle Path" to conservation seeks a balance among
cultural integrity, economic development and environmental
protection. While sounding similar to the "three legged"
concerns of "sustainable development" touted around the
western world since the mid 1980s, "The Middle Path" carries
demonstrably deeper political wiU towards social and
ecological concerns on par with economic development, and
We greatly appreciate the comments and suggestions provided by
Dechen Dorji, Tshewang Wangchuk and lb Christensen. Support for
our work in Bhutan has been generously provided by UWEFI, the
RGoB Department of Forestry Services, the USDA Forest Service
through the Consortium for International Protected Area
Management (CIPAM), and the College of Forestry and Conservation
at The University of Montana.
** Professors of Forestry and Natural Resources, College of Forestry
and Conservation, University of Montana.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
respect for historic culture, beliefs, knowledge and practices.
In our opinion, these conditions give Bhutan in general and
UWEFI in particular the potential to become a regional if not
global leader in professional forestry and environmental
conservation education that integrates traditional culture,
livelihood and resource management with scientific
knowledge — conservation education that will produce
resilient, practical and sociaUy just foresters, forestry and
natural resource management.
While we see tremendous opportunities for UWEFI, we are
concerned about global trends and ideologies that could lead
UWEFI to the more conventional and, in our view, less
innovative and productive direction in pursuit of sustainable
livelihoods and biodiversity conservation. By conventional we
are referring to Western European and American perspectives
that have dominated conservation and forestry practices for
centuries (Brown, 2003; Ghimire and Pimbert, 1997). Since
the European Renaissance, Western societies and religions
have treated humans as separate from nature and privileged
empirical, objective science over other forms of knowledge
(Gomez-Pompa and Kaus, 1992). These orientations justified
the expropriation of land and forests from native peoples for
the creation of British colonial hunting reserves in India and
the establishment of the world's first national park
(YeUowstone) in the U.S. in the late 19th century. In these
and most subsequent protected area management efforts,
traditional land use practices and native peoples were treated
as incompatible with conservation and excluded from parks,
and sometimes involuntarily resettled (Brechin et al., 2002;
Grove, 1990).
The assumption that human use is inherently destructive and
incompatible with biological diversity persists in the
international conservation community. Moreover, the "big"
global conservation organizations view biodiversity
conservation as largely a biological enterprise and have been
critical of the attention given to social processes and attempts
to integrate conservation with human uses and development
 Reflections on Conservation Education and Practice
(Alcorn, 2005). Contemporary conservation and development
efforts are primarily "science-driven", that is they are based
on objective, empirical, hypothesis-based forms of inquiry,
typically favoring technological solutions, and practiced by
disciplinary-trained experts (Brown, 2003; Easterly, 2006;
Marten, 2006). Traditional, experiential ecological knowledge
and community-based management systems, while often
present in rhetoric and small, pilot projects, are not awarded
equal consideration and standing as scientific knowledge and
management, and are rarely integral subjects in professional
forestry curricula or national land management policies and
While there has been much talk within the global
conservation community about "people-friendly" and
"participatory" approaches to protected area management, as
well as "community-based conservation," these perspectives
remain marginal to global conservation agendas and funding
allocations (Alcorn 2005; Chapin 2004). Many in the global
conservation community advocate a "new protection
paradigm" that whUe acknowledging a role for local
community involvement, remains directed by scientists and
professionals and can involve coercion (Kramer et al., 1997;
Terborgh, 1999). In this perspective, conservation (and
protected area management) is not seriously viewed as social
and political practice influenced by local as well as extra-local
actors and contextual forces (which may need to be managed
along with particular species). This approach often involves
models developed in Europe and the United States rather
than slowly and interactively built from the particulars of
people, place, history, religion, culture and local visions of the
future (Brechin et al., 2002).
Our position is that conservation educators and practitioners
in Bhutan need to remain steadfast in their commitment to
The Middle Path,' especially in tight of the growing influence
of foreign conservation advisors, funders and global economic
priorities. With few notable exceptions, global conservation
policies remain biologically driven and often seek to eliminate
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
human uses in protected areas irrespective of their historical
ecological     role     or     social     implications. Sustainable
development rhetoric aside, western modernist development
continues to prioritize productivity, yield and the "efficient"
use of forest, water, land and other resources in areas outside
of parks to the detriment of 'inefficient' traditional resource
management practices that are essential to ecoregional and
landscape-level conservation over the long-term.
Conventional conservation education also favors disciplinary
specialization, institutional departmentalization and
theoretical-model building which privileges expert-driven,
biophysical science education over the social sciences and
traditional ecological knowledge and practice systems,
including religiously-held, sacred ecologies (Berkes 1999;
Brown, 2003; Marten, 2006).
As ecological and social scientist ourselves, we clearly see a
role for (western) science in conservation education and
practice in Bhutan. In this paper, we argue that UWEFI
should focus its education on integrating interdisciplinary
western science with traditional knowledge, teaching multiple
knowledge systems through real world problems and case
studies, and most fundamentaUy, recognizing and teaching
the skills to understand and manage social and biological
systems as co-evolved, complex and ultimately uncertain.
The latter provides an excellent window into current global
debates over the compatibility of human uses and biodiversity
conservation, the contested role of protected areas, and
chaUenges involved in butiding restiiency and adaptive
management into conservation. Simtiar caUs for integrated
approaches to forest and environmental education, research
and management are emerging around the world (Brown,
2003; Drew and Henne, 2006; Kates, et al., 2001; Marten,
2006). We see this approach as critical for the next cadre of
environmental and forest scientists and practitioners in
Bhutan to be able to implement their country's visionary
'Middle Path' to sustainable development. We think it also
provides UWEFI with the opportunity to bridge the gap that
has   developed   between   Buddhist   and   modern   ways   of
 Reflections on Conservation Education and Practice
learning in Bhutan (Phuntsho, 2000), and to develop an
internationally unique and valuable approach to conservation
and development.
Traditional Land Uses and Conservation
Debate over the relationship of humans in nature has raged
for decades. On one hand are those who assert that
biological diversity is incompatible with utilitarian human
uses (Kramer, et al, 1997; Struhsaker, 1998; Terborgh, 1999).
This perspective views humans as separate from nature,
assumes that biodiversity must be protected from people, and
advocates protectionist conservation approaches that
eliminate human uses in protected areas. On the other hand,
are those who argue that some human uses are compatible
with biodiversity conservation and even integral to the
development and maintenance of forest ecosystems
(Anderson, 1990; Brechin, et al., 2002; Freese, 1997). That
is, biodiversity conservation may require human (or
anthropogenic) use and disturbance to be ecologically
sustainable as well as sociaUy acceptable.
Whether humans are integral to nature or not is more than
an academic debate. It influences government policies and
real peoples' lives and livelihoods. In recent decades,
evidence of significant anthropogenic influence on the
development and maintenance of previously perceived
'pristine' forest ecosystems has grown (Grove and Rackham,
2001; Willis, et al., 2004). In the tropics this includes the
Amazon Basin (Denevan, 2001 & 2004), Central Africa
(Weber, et al., 2001), Thailand (KeaUiofer, 2003), New Guinea
(Denham, et al., 2003; Haberle, 2007), and the Solomon
Islands (Bayliss-Smith, et al., 2003). Empirical evidence
suggests that virtually all contemporary Amazonian forests
may actuaUy be cultural artifacts reflecting human use and
adaptation in the 500 years since the death of 95% of the
original human inhabitants following western contact; and
that at least 15% of the region's sotis were created through
Amerindian incorporation of charcoal (i.e., indahpreta; Mann,
2005; Woods and Glaser, 2004).   This evidence argues for a
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more holistic "humanist environmentalism" in which humans
are recognized as rntrrnsicaUy involved in shaping nature
(Berkes et al., 2003; Cronon, 1992; Grove and Rackham,
Debates over the role, magnitude and significance of humans
in the creation and maintenance of global biological diversity
wiU undoubtedly continue and influence conservation in
Bhutan. However, there is tittle doubt that humans have
been powerful ecological actors in most Bhutanese
ecosystems for thousands of years. Three anthropogenic
activities are both current and historicaUy significant sources
of ecological disturbance in Bhutan: non-timber forest
product collecting, shifting agriculture and extensive livestock
grazing. Around the world, these land uses are typically
prohibited when strict protectionist measures are adopted.
While there is relative tolerance for forest product collecting
and grazing in protected areas of Bhutan, efforts are currently
underway to eliminate shifting cultivation throughout all of
Bhutan (Wangchuk, 2005).
Are forest product collecting, extensive livestock grazing and
shifting cultivation compatible with biodiversity conservation
in Bhutan? Could these anthropogenic disturbances support
or even explain contemporary biological diversity? What
livelihood practices are likely to replace these traditional land
uses if they are banned, and what are their potential
ecological and social effects? These and related questions are
very relevant to program and curricula development at
UWEFI, including potential topics for faculty and student
To begin to answer these questions it is useful is to consider
ecological disturbances in terms of their specific attributes,
that is their type, size, intensity, duration, frequency and
pattern created. The ecological role and significance of
shifting cultivation on forest ecosystems and its compatibility
with biodiversity conservation is the most contentious of the
three practices. It has been a controversial debate throughout
 Reflections on Conservation Education and Practice
the tropics over the last century as it is Bhutan today. Two
forms of shifting cultivation occur in Bhutan. Integral, long-
fallow shifting cultivation, known locally as tseri, was until
recently common in low to mid-elevation forests, particularly
in southern and eastern Bhutan (Kerkhoff and Sharma, 2006;
Roder, et al., 1992). This form of shifting cultivation was the
second largest agricultural system in terms of land area in
the late 1990s (Wangchuk, 2005). Another form of rotational
agriculture, known as pangzhing, occurs in some high
elevation environments (i.e., near the tree line) and
incorporates grass and shrub fallows (Kerkhoff and Sharma,
2006; Roder, et al., 1992).
Research in lowland tropical forests suggests that the
ecological disturbance resulting from integral, long-faUow
shifting cultivation resembles that caused by natural tree
falls. Both vary from about 0.25 to 0.5 ha in size, maintain
the full suite of secondary plant successional pathways (i.e.,
advanced regeneration, stored seed, seed rain and stump
sprout), are of comparable intensity, and preclude
establishment of exotic species (Uhl, 1990). Furthermore,
landslides and mass wasting are common, indeed normal,
disturbances in the dynamic, steep, high rainfaU Himalayan
mountain environment (Bruiijnzeel, 1990). Thus, disturbed,
early successional environments are natural in Bhutan; tree
falls, landslides and shifting cultivation have occurred in low
and middle elevation forests for thousands of years. In fact,
some recently established national parks (e.g., Jigme Singye
Wangchuck and Royal Manas) with high biodiversity and
conservation significance have been utilized for shifting
cultivation for centuries. This suggests that shifting
cultivation as regulated through traditional management
regimes may be compatible with biodiversity conservation.
Given the above, one might hypothesize that anthropogenic
disturbances created through tseri and other land use
practices create more complex landscape mosaics and greater
plant species and habitat diversity than occur in 'natural'
forests.   If this  is  the  case,   traditional practices  could be
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
responsible for maintaining or enhancing biological diversity.
Conversely, cessation of all forest farming and faUow
management might adversely affect biodiversity by reducing
plant and habitat diversity and altering landscape vegetation
patterns. At the least, this suggests that relationships
between biological diversity and anthropogenic uses warrant
empirical investigation, rather than simply assuming a
relationship apriori.
In similar fashion, modifying extensive livestock grazing
practices could significantly alter historical disturbance
regimes. Plant communities throughout much of Bhutan
have been grazed by livestock, at least seasonaUy, for
centuries. The Government of Bhutan is now regulating
livestock throughout the country. Reducing extensive grazing
practices from historical norms wiU favor the establishment
and growth of shade and grazing intolerant species and
increase total plant biomass. This in turn could alter fire
regimes, specificaUy fire frequencies and intensities, with
potential wide-ranging effects on flora, fauna and ecosystem
processes. Increasing fire potential and severity may be
particularly problematic because in recent years Bhutan has
attempted to suppress aU forest fires and as a consequence
fuel loads are increasing (Tshering, 2006). Furthermore,
there is anecdotal evidence from farmers and government
officials that the length and severity of the dry monsoon may
be intensifying due to climate change.
Harvesting non-timber forest or wood products (NTFPs) such
as fruits, canes, thatch and medicinal plants has been a
fundamental component of rural household livelihood
strategies throughout Bhutan since time immemorial, and
continues to be of major significance through direct
consumption and commercial (i.e., market) sales (Wangchuk,
2006). Indeed, one ancient name for Bhutan, "Lho jhong
Meen Jhong" (Southern land of medicinal herbs), attests to its
importance as a source of medicinal plants for Tibet and
neighboring regions. NTFP harvesting is currently permitted
in Bhutan's protected areas.
 Reflections on Conservation Education and Practice
NTFP harvesting causes tittle ecological disturbance
compared to other extractive forest activities (Putz, et al.,
2001). Nevertheless, questions remain regarding the long-
term effects of harvesting on plants and animals, as weU as
on broader ecosystem processes. Many ecologists contend
that because it is impossible to ascertain aU potential
ecological effects associated with extraction at any acceptable
level of probability, NTFP harvesting is neither ecologicaUy
sustainable nor economicaUy viable (Struhsaker, 1998).
Nonetheless, NTFPs have been extensively harvested
throughout Bhutan for centuries, including in areas now set
aside for the conservation of biological diversity.
Furthermore, some NTFP harvesting in Bhutan has been
regulated through community-based management regimes
(Wangchuk, 2005). For example, the Monpas who have lived
for centuries in what is now Jigme Singye Wangchuck N.P.
have managed the amount, size and location of wild rattan
harvesting on a species-specific basis for generations (Giri,
2004). This suggests the value of community-based resource
management systems, and that regulated NTFP harvesting
can be compatible with conservation.
We suggest that understanding ecological and biodiversity
effects associated with shifting cultivation, extensive livestock
grazing and NTFP harvesting, and potential means by which
these activities might be managed by and with local resource
users and communities are important subjects for UWEFI
education and research. Investigations of these topics
requires multidisciplinary approaches that are best pursued
through integrating traditional ecology knowledge and
management regimes with modern science, and will have
direct bearing on Bhutan conservation policy and practice.
As curricular and research enterprises, the starting point
should be understanding historical disturbance regimes and
the socio-cultural institutions by which land and forests in
Bhutan have been managed over the centuries.
Toward Resilient Conservation
Another approach that we see as relevant to education and
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
research at UWEFI can be loosely referred to as resiliency
studies. Resilience has been defined as maintaining the
capacity to adapt, ecologically and socially, to unpredictable
change (Berkes, et al., 2003). In short, it means managing to
retain future options. Resilience is pursued by maintaining
diversity, redundancy and memory (i.e., retaining knowledge
over time) in both social and ecological realms (Berkes, et al.,
2003). This implies retaining and nurturing cultural and
biological diversity, fostering redundancies in everything from
plant species composition to NTFP livelihood strategies, and
valuing traditional ecological knowledge and practice (TEKP)
as weU as western science (Berkes, 1999). Traditional
ecological knowledge and practice systems have developed
over time to interpret and respond to feedbacks from the
environment, and to address and manage uncertainty and
unpredictability. Many societies and management regimes
have emphasized adaptation over the long-term in contrast to
the modern focus on maximizing production and profits in
the short-term. In contemporary terms, this is 'adaptive
ecosystem management' (Berkes, et al., 2000). The rationale
for managing for resilience is rooted in surviving unknown
and     unpredictable     change. Such     perspectives     are
increasingly advocated in western science education, for
example, "Sustainability Science" (Kates, et al., 2001), the
integration of conservation biology with traditional ecological
knowledge (Drew and Henne, 2006), and ecological and social
resilience approaches (Berkes, et al., 2003).
Resilience and adaptive management are at a premium in
dynamic and unpredictable mountarn-monsoonal
environments such as Bhutan. Furthermore, the importance
of resilience is likely to increase in Bhutan as its economy
and society open to the outside world, and the rate and extent
of climate change accelerates. At the same time, Bhutan is
experiencing rapid social, cultural, economic and political
change. Traditional resource management regimes are
increasingly challenged by national, regional and global
economic market forces that exert growing pressure on
resources.  Understanding,  investigating,  coUaborating with,
 Reflections on Conservation Education and Practice
and butiding upon traditional ecological knowledge and
resource management regimes, characterized by restiience
and adaptive management, could provide tools to address
future change and uncertainty. They also demonstrate the
value of integrating Bhutanese customs and ways of learning
with modern, western science education. For these reasons,
incorporating traditional ecological knowledge, resource
management regimes and resource practitioners themselves,
along with western scientific methods of inquiry, should be
basic components of UWEFI curricula.
Western conservation education and practice are also now
being challenged to butid restiience and integrated land
management into professional schools and agencies. In our
own country, the United States, Aldo Leopold (1935) exhorted
society to embrace a nation-wide ethic of "land husbandry" in
contrast to focusing conservation in protected areas alone
when he observed that:
"Parks are overcrowded hospitals trying to cope with an
epidemic of esthetic rickets; the remedy lies not in
hospitals, but in daily rations. The vast bulk of land
beauty and landlife, dispersed as it is over a thousand
hills, continues to waste away under the same forces as
are undermining land utility."
More recently, WendeU Berry (2005) has urged western
society to rediscover land Tiusbandry', which he describes as
"all of the practices that sustain life by connecting us
conservingly to our places and our world." Berry observes
that 20th Century America saw the replacement of husbandry
with science (e.g., soil science, animal science, forest science,
etc.) which
"served     too     well     the     purpose     of    the     industrial
economy... transformed the United States from a country of
many owners to a country of many employees...(and
a)...focus   upon   productivity,   genetic   and   technological
uniformity and global trade."
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
In contrast, two paramount components of husbandry, Berry
argues, are local adaptation and local coherence of form, what
he describes as the "never-ending effort of fitting together
diverse things...ecological, agricultural, economic, familial
and neighborly.
We in the United States have so dramaticaUy transformed our
connections to the land and landscape that developing land
husbandry ethics and practice represent formidable
chaUenges, especially given our industrialized agriculture and
largely urbanized culture. In contrast, most people in Bhutan
remain closely connected to the land and in many cases to
historic forms of agriculture. Of course these practices are
not perfect and continually need to adapt to changing
conditions, including the breakdown of customary
management systems and seductions of the market. But
such practices underlie rural livelihood strategies, community
structure and community-based management regimes. They
provide the time-tested, finely managed and resilient
adaptations to the unpredictable and dynamic mountain-
monsoonal environment of Bhutan and building blocks for
future management systems that enable them to adapt to
rapidly changing conditions. Again, the ability of UWEFI
graduates to manage for resilient and adaptive conservation
wiU require, we think, tools from both western science and
traditional ecological knowledge honed through on the
ground, problem-solving field exercises.
Social and Institutional Dynamics
Social processes influence resource use and management.
Environmental social scientists have sought to understand
and, where possible, butid upon resource access and "rules-
rn-use" practices that sustain livelihoods, economies and
ecosystems (Gibson, et al., 2000). The study of resource
management and especially governance institutions, and the
ways in which they are mediated by social processes such as
political systems, economic class, gender, religion, ethnicity
and race, are essential to professional forestry and
environmental science education.    However, these topics are
 Reflections on Conservation Education and Practice
rarely emphasized in forestry and natural resource
management curricula. A group of social scientists and
resource managers recently wrote in Conservation Biology
that "The real question for debate, of course, is not whether to
integrate the social sciences into conservation but how to do
so" (Mascia, et al., 2003:649).
We think there is a great opportunity for UWEFI to develop a
dynamic conservation social science curriculum. In our
opinion this would include topics related to socioeconomic
and demographic processes, but would move beyond these
topics to criticaUy address the multiple and interactive ways
culture, class, history and power influence how different
individuals, households and communities use, value and
manage natural resources. What are the opportunities and
constraints for different rural people and communities to
secure sustainable livelihoods? Under what social and
ecological conditions can shifting cultivation and other types
of farming, livestock rearing, and NTFP coUecting serve
conservation interests and produce sustainable livelihoods?
What are the costs and benefits of seeking "alternative
livelihood" strategies such as ecotourism which are usuaUy
introduced by outsiders and have not experienced the test of
time? How can rural communities themselves butid capacity
to identify and foster their own sustainable livelihoods and
participatory conservation, and in ways that also nurture
Bhutanese culture and religion? What role can Buddhist
monks and monasteries play in forest and environmental
education and conservation in Bhutan? These are some of
the critical issues we think confront resource managers in
Bhutan today (especiaUy in protected areas) and that should
be keystones in UWEFI's curriculum. Enabling UWEFI
students to develop the sktils to address these issues wiU
involve developing depth and breadth of understanding within
and across the conservation social sciences — including
sociology, anthropology, geography, economics, law and
history — and connecting this understanding to the biophysical sciences.
We  believe gaining  competency in the  conservation  social
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
sciences is best achieved through theoreticaUy-rnformed
practical experience. By this we mean that scientific
knowledge needs to be complemented by on the ground
experience. UWEFI has many opportunities for building
curricula and field exercises on the real-life experiences of
Bhutan's resource users, managers and communities. The
opportunities are especially rich with regard to community-
based resource management institutions and practices. This
is due, in part, to the long history and growing literature on
Bhutan's indigenous resource management practices and the
proximity of the institute to rural producers and ecosystems.
Customary traditions and community-based property rights
continue to govern peoples' access to and use of village forests
across much of Bhutan (Wangchuk 2005). This includes
practices that mark village boundaries, regulate sacred
forests, and govern collection of tree titter, firewood, fodder
and timber, and when and where cattle and yaks can be
grazed. Despite the global trend towards forests designated
as state or private property and managed for commercial
timber, some forests in Bhutan continue to be held as
common land and largely managed by local communities for
multiple uses (Wangchuk, 2000). In other instances, forest
management responsibility has shifted to the Forestry
Division. Both of these situations provide extraordinarily rich
contexts for UWEFI students and faculty to learn about
resource management values and institutions, augmented
through familiarity with international literature and debates.
Educating future resource managers who can put ideas into
technically proficient and socially acceptable practice requires
social and natural science competences within the context of
real world Bhutan.
Power and Politics
There are compeUing political reasons for Bhutan generally
and UWEFI in particular to support 'The Middle Path" to
conservation education and practice. By all accounts, Bhutan
has been blessed by the steadfast and enlightened leadership
of a succession of kings who have emphasized connections
 Reflections on Conservation Education and Practice
between environmental protection, national economic
development and citizen happiness. Bhutan's kings have
provided the inteUectual roots and political commitment to
'The Middle Path," eschewing capital accumulation if it
compromised social and ecological values. Over the decades
this commitment led to significant improvements in public
health, life expectancy, literacy, and most other indices of
general weU-being, while simultaneously protecting the
country's diverse environment and rich cultural traditions.
However, the Bhutanese political landscape is poised for
dramatic change. The 4th King recently stepped down. In
2008 the country transitions from an absolute monarchy to a
two-party parliamentary democracy. Potential political
leaders, parties and interest groups are beginning to form. A
fundamental characteristic of participatory democracy is
responsiveness to popular public and powerful private
interests. This has potentially profound implications for
future Bhutanese conservation, development and educational
policies and initiatives.
Biodiversity conservation and economic development are
inherently political acts that reflect the interests of specific
groups and result in programs, policies and activities that
respond to those interests. Attention to how people of
different ethnicities, ages, gender and class are differentiaUy
positioned in terms of access to and control over resources, at
present and historicaUy, is critical to understanding land use
and management. It is also integral to the pursuit of socially
acceptable, just and politically viable conservation and
development efforts. Numerous case studies and grounded
frameworks exist to inform conservation practitioners in the
complex ways social and environmental change occurs, and
how community, culture, ownership, knowledge, resource
management, development and governance have been
examined, understood and used (Brosius, et al, 2005;
Stevens, 1997; Western and Wright, 1994).
We believe that the social justice and political implications of
different    conservation    and    protected    area   management
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
policies warrant careful consideration. If Bhutan moves
towards a more protectionist approach in which human uses,
specificaUy NTFP harvesting, extensive livestock grazing and
shifting cultivation, are viewed as incompatible with
conservation and prohibited, a large proportion of the rural
population will lose access to long-held resources, livelihoods,
and the material basis of their cultures. They will also lose
essential links to the land that underlie land husbandry
ethics. This could lead to a large sociaUy and economically
disenfranchised rural sector opposed to biodiversity
In the urban sector, Thimphu and Paro are currently
experiencing rapid economic growth, population increase and
construction. Rural to urban migration, particularly by
young people, is increasing, and the country is experiencing
growing income inequality, particularly between the urban
and rural sectors. Profound tensions exist in many countries
between biodiversity conservation and economic development,
and this can lead to conflict between long-term residents and
newcomers. In response to growing socioeconomic inequality
and tensions, emerging political parties in Bhutan may seek
political support by appealing to the interests and concerns of
particular groups, such as disenfranchised rural populations.
In short, the establishment of a two-party participatory
democracy, emerging socio-economic inequalities and rural
alienation resulting from protectionist conservation measures
could result in public opposition to conservation efforts. This
would be tragic given the Bhutanese tradition of unity and of
Svorking landscapes'.
A second political chaUenge to conservation in Bhutan is
related to the national policy of devolving forest and resource
management authority from the nation-state to local
communities (i.e., Social Forestry/Community Forest
programs, Penjore and Rapten, 2003). As Bhutan transitions
from a monarchy to a participatory democracy, the needs,
interests and concerns of local constituencies are likely to
find quick expression in the political arena.   In our opinion,
 Reflections on Conservation Education and Practice
retaining and training for the Bhutanese model of working
landscapes, demonstrated in current Social Forestry policies,
is politically preferable to protectionist measures that close
vast areas to utilitarian uses, prohibits or discourages
traditional practices (e.g., shifting cultivation and extensive
livestock grazing) and encourages more intensive, privatized
land use outside of parks. Indeed, the maintenance of
traditional, working landscapes and vibrant rural
communities is essential to biodiversity conservation and
public support for conservation.
A third challenge to conservation in Bhutan is rapid
infrastructure development, specifically road construction,
one of the most powerful underlying driving forces of forest
conversion and resource exploitation throughout the world
(Chomitz, 2007, Geist and Lambin, 2002). Pressure to extend
and improve (i.e., pave) the Bhutanese road system will likely
increase with democratization as political parties respond to
rural and urban caUs for more and better transportation.
Roads typicaUy accelerate urbanization and rural to urban
migration, while increasing rural marketing opportunities and
urban consumption of rural agricultural and forest products,
such as food, NTFPs, and timber (Chomitz, 2007). This
presents opportunities, as well as challenges. Potential
adverse social and ecological effects associated with road
development that warrant particular attention in Bhutan
include: habitat fragmentation, erosion, runoff,
sedimentation, and the loss of traditional ecological
knowledge and management regimes through out-migration
and acculturation.
UWEFI can address potential opportunities and risks
associated with infrastructure development, devolution of
forest and resource management to local communities, and
national conservation and protected area management
through actively engaging rural constituencies and resource
users (i.e., farmers, forest product coUectors and livestock
grazers) in program and curriculum development. This would
not only contribute to more relevant education and research
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
initiatives, but could build political support for UWEFI. The
latter is likely to be extremely important to the long-term
viability of the institute as the country transitions to
participatory democracy.
A final political reason for orienting conservation education
around maintaining working landscapes in Bhutan is a legal
one. Bhutan is a signatory to the 'ShiUong Declaration on
Shifting Cultivation in the Eastern Himalayas'. This
document explicitly recognizes that shifting cultivation is an
adaptive forest management practice based on sound
scientific principles and recommends governments
coUaborate with shifting cultivators to enhance and adapt
traditional farming systems to changing economic, social and
environmental conditions (Kerkhoff and Sharma, 2006).
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain
Development (ICIMOD) recently completed a comprehensive
study of mountain agriculture in the Eastern Himalayas,
including Bhutan, and concluded that shifting cultivation
systems can be a productive means of using hiU and
mountain lands that conserve forest, soil and water
resources; and that they are ecological preferable to
alternative agricultural and forestry activities (Kerkhoff and
Sharma, 2006). These same conclusions have been voiced by
researchers elsewhere in Asia for decades (Conktin, 1957;
Kunstadter, et al. 1978; Spencer, 1966). However, the
ecological sustainability and economic productivity of
traditional shifting cultivation have been largely ignored by
governments and international institutions for political and
economic reasons (Dove, 1983).
The breakdown of indigenous forest management systems
and the cultures that developed and practiced them adversely
affects both biodiversity and human livelihoods (Sodhi, et al.,
2006). Bhutan retains well-functioning forest farming, NTFP
gathering, and extensive livestock grazing practices and
management regimes. Recognizing, coUaborating with and
butiding upon these land use systems in UWEFI educational
 Reflections on Conservation Education and Practice
efforts would contribute to Bhutan's quest to chart The
Middle Path" and offers great promise for conserving Bhutan's
rich cultural and biological diversity over the long term. It
also would provide a novel and potentially globaUy significant
learning opportunity for the rest of the conservation world.
Approaches to Conservation Education at UWEFI
The development of UWEFI involves explicitly choosing
programs, curricula and pedagogical approaches, developing
faculty expertise for delivering them and maintaining funding
support. Establishing, staffing and delivering forestry and
environmental science education and research are expensive.
Bhutan currently receives significant international support
for conservation, in general, and for the development of
UWEFI, in particular. However, this is occurring within the
context of declining overall international support for
conservation. International funding for conservation in
developing countries declined by half between the mid- 1990s
and 2000 while aid to the forestry sector fell from about $2.0
biUion in the early 1990s to $1.0 btition in 2000 (Cleary,
2006). Given growing international attention to climate
change and public health, particularly HIV/Aids, it seems
unlikely that funding for conservation and education will
increase in the near future. Thus, UWEFI would be weU
advised to pursue educational and research programs that
can be maintained through domestic funding sources.
Determining conservation education and research priorities is
challenging. In a recent study, Cleary (2006) found that the
large international conservation NGOs working in the Amazon
Basin aU portrayed themselves as "science-driven",
emphasized eco-regional planning, and invested heavily in
costly GIS technology and software, sateUite imagery, and
highly trained specialists. Cleary argues that while this has
contributed to an improved understanding of Amazonian
ecology, it has resulted in significantly less funding for actual
on the ground conservation efforts and is iU-suited to
addressing the most important biodiversity and forest
conservation    threats,    namely    infrastructure    and    agro-
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
industrial development.
In the case of Bhutan and the eastern Himalayas, more
generaUy, biologicaUy based eco-regional conservation efforts
have been undertaken by WWF (WWF, 2005). Bhutan has
explicitly embraced a holistic, integrated landscape-level
approach to the management of protected areas and
biological corridors through its B2C2 plan (Nature
Conservation Division, 2004). We maintain that landscape-
level conservation efforts need to be wary of overly abstract
and generalized models, and scale up from information of
particular places and peoples. Bhutan currently lacks
detailed understanding, education and research regarding
site and culturaUy specific conservation and development
opportunities, constraints and implications, and how to build
upon local, community-based dynamics to landscape and
national levels. For example, The Director General of the
Forestry Department recently noted that while NTFPs are of
critical social and economic importance to a majority of
Bhutanese, information regarding their amounts, densities,
yields, harvesting effects, and general management are
lacking (Wangchuk, 2006). UWEFI has the opportunity to
engage both faculty and students in field research projects on
contemporary topics such as this whose results could be
immediately utilized in resource management.
Applied, active problem-solving approaches would be novel in
Bhutan and in forestry education in general (Brown, 2003;
Burch, 2006). For example, a course on NTFPs could be
organized around species and site-specific collection, use,
management and marketing issues, and the chaUenges
confronted by actual NTFP collectors and communities.
Subjects such as growth and yield, population dynamics,
gender roles, resource tenure and sampling methods (both
ecological and social) could be addressed within the context of
the species being harvested, existing resource management
rules and regimes, and the concerns faced by coUectors and
users in their actual contexts.
 Reflections on Conservation Education and Practice
Promoting teaching and research that integrates spiritual,
material and practical, problem-solving is a new direction in
professional forestry and conservation education. Phuntsho
(2000) provides detailed analysis of the conflict that has
emerged in Bhutan over the past several decades between
religious learning with its spiritual and moral focus and
pedagogical emphasis on memorization, exposition,
contemplation and debate, and modern education with its
secular, technical and largely materialist focus and
pedagogical emphasis on rational enquiry and critical
scrutiny. Religious and modern education need not conflict.
In the case of conservation and development, they
complement one another quite weU. Queen Ashi Dorji
Wangmo Wangchuck (2006) observed that conservation has
been a success in Bhutan precisely because of the strong
spiritual and religious values that shape the relationship
Bhutanese have with their environment. By integrating
traditional ecological knowledge and practice, including
Buddhism and other cultural traditions in curriculum and
research, UWEFI could help bridge the gap between
traditional and modern education in Bhutan, facilitate
integration of modern technology and science with local
culture and society, and insure that locaUy identified, real-
world opportunities and challenges are addressed by the
At the National Stakeholders Consultative Workshop and
subsequent Core Working Group Retreat in 2006, workshop
participants identified NTFP use, ecology and management,
sustainable rural livelihoods such as ecotourism, and soils
and watershed management, as subjects insufficiently taught
at NRTI, and important for UWEFI's future curricula and
research attention. Efforts are being planned to develop the
faculty expertise for teaching these subjects. Burch (2006)
makes the important case that "Programs and people, not
buildings and physical resources, are the critical dimension
for any adaptive and sustainable education program". UWEFI
faces crucial decisions as to which subject areas to train
faculty and courses to offer.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Most fundamentaUy, UWEFI faces the decision whether to
base its curriculum on the 'ologies' (i.e., biology, zoology,
ornithology, anthropology, sociology, etc.) or to incorporate
disciplinary-based sciences within the context of locaUy
relevant and applied conservation and management
problems. The choice is profoundly important. The question
is, in what context are the disciplines most effectively
engaged? We suggest that UWEFI's professional education
and conservation mission would be best pursued through an
applied, problem-based focus that butids bridges from an
array of social and ecological sciences to resource users and
managers themselves (e.g., local forest product collectors and
farmers as weU as those in the emerging urban, private
We believe UWEFI has a wonderful opportunity to pursue
conservation education and practice that respects Bhutan's
historic land uses and resource management institutions,
and that builds upon them as rich 'cultural working
landscapes' while meeting the chaUenges of resource
management in a ever changing and increasingly global
world. Bhutan's political commitment to "The Middle Path"
and its Buddhist religion make it uniquely positioned for
developing    such    an    educational    approach. Bhutan's
Buddhist respect for the interdependencies among all life
forms and commitment to 'gross national happiness' instead
of 'gross national product' values multiple knowledge systems
and cultural connections with the past. The Middle Path'
necessarily upholds traditional ecological knowledge and local
resource management regimes. It also implies retaining and
adaptively managing livelihood practices, such as NTFP
harvesting, shifting cultivation and extensive livestock
grazing, not just because they are an integral part of
Bhutanese cultural traditions, but because they work - that
is, they have proven productive, sustainable, and compatible
with biodiversity conservation for centuries. These practices
are also invaluable because they are resilient;  they retain
 Reflections on Conservation Education and Practice
future options in an age of rapid, unprecedented and
uncertain change.
UWEFI has the opportunity to chart an innovative path in
conservation education and practice. We think this path
would be best pursued by recognizing and building upon the
culturally and biologicaUy diverse, locaUy adapted working
landscapes; by understanding and butiding upon local land
use traditions and resource management regimes; and
through selective and judicious incorporation of science and
technology. At the 2006 National Level Stakeholder
Consultative Workshop, Dr. William Burch exhorted the
audience to pursue "Buddhist forestry with a Bhutanese
twist". These reflections are our interpretation of what this
might mean, and some of the promises and pitfaUs of their
realization at UWEFI. We are thankful for the opportunity to
share our views.
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