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Standardizing the evaluation of community‐based conservation success

Brichieri‐Colombi, Typhenn A., McPherson, Jana M., Sheppard, Donna J., Mason, John J., Moehrenschlager, Axel
Ecological applications 2018 v.28 no.8 pp. 1963-1981
Hippopotamus, adaptive management, collaborative management, conservation areas, infrastructure, poverty, protocols, stakeholders, Ghana
Community‐based conservation, which strives to simultaneously improve nature conservation and alleviate poverty, must provide biological and socioeconomic benefits that are linked through effective resilience mechanisms. To date, few community‐based conservation initiatives have published comprehensive assessments that track performance in these elements of success. With 45% of the world's protected areas in comanagement with local communities, standardized measures to effectively evaluate the dual goals of community‐based conservation are needed. We here introduce SPECCS, a user‐friendly Standardized Protocol for Evaluating Community Conservation Success that incorporates an appraisal of data quality to responsibly assess progress over time or to compare effectiveness among different initiatives. We illustrate SPECCS's use by evaluating the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary (WCHS) of northern Ghana 10 and 20 yr after its inception. The WCHS has the dual objective of protecting one of Ghana's few remaining hippopotamus populations while alleviating poverty in the surrounding communities through the creation of economic opportunity and infrastructure development. Results suggest stable project performance in the 10‐yr (76%) and 20‐yr (76%) evaluation, with an improvement in evaluation quality from 30% to 34%. The project is currently stronger in socioeconomic (performance 86%; quality 30%) than biological (60%; 32%) outcomes and in benefits (83%, 42%) than resilience (63%, 21%). Biological resilience is challenged by poor connectivity and limited project control over threats, whereas socioeconomic resilience is affected by a decision balance that continues to favor external stakeholders. SPECCS helps pinpoint strengths and weaknesses for timely adaptive management, strategic investments, and evidence‐based recognition of community‐based conservation successes.