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Conservation at what cost? : a case study of the social implications of protected areas and the role of local people in Vietnam Timko, Joleen

Abstract

Interest in the role that local people's knowledge and experiences can play in natural resource conservation is increasing throughout the world. This is due in part because protected areas and national parks have repeatedly proven to be unsuccessful in achieving conservation objectives, and in part because they threaten the existence of nearby rural communities. When severe restrictions are placed on access to the forest resources local people depend upon for survival, poverty is often exacerbated. The result is that local people feel contempt and distrust for the protected area. In order to mitigate the impacts that protected areas have had on rural populations, local people have become the locus for development activities which either strive to understand the value of local ecological knowledge and experiences, or which encourage local people to participate in often externally-designed initiatives. Only a community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) approach, which is grounded in an understanding of local people's realities and livelihood needs, can unite the strengths of local knowledge and participation. To gain insight into the opportunities and constraints facing planners seeking to take a participatory approach to park management, a case study was conducted of Cat Ba National Park, Vietnam. Semi-structured interviews were carried out in two communities within the park, Khe Sau Hamlet and Viet Hai Village. The results show that local people in Cat Ba are willing and able to participate in the park's conservation activities, but that they are inhibited from doing so by political and socio-economic factors. As well, it was found that local people possess detailed ecological knowledge about the park's forest resources. This knowledge has been developed by keen observations of the surrounding environment for generations. Improving local livelihoods was identified by local people as essential to reducing their dependence on forest biodiversity. Drawing on ideas offered by Cat Ba interviewees and analysis of other findings from the case study, suggestions are offered for capturing opportunities and overcoming barriers to effective participatory park management.

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