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Indigenous perspective to inform rights-based conservation in a protected area of Panama

Pelletier, Johanne, Gélinas, Nancy, Potvin, Catherine
Land use policy 2019 v.83 pp. 297-307
case studies, conservation areas, cultural landscape, deforestation, focus groups, food security, forest conservation, forest reserves, forests, household surveys, humans, interviews, issues and policy, livelihood, stakeholders, Panama
We investigate ways to improve social and conservation outcomes in a protected area inhabited by indigenous residents. We used a consultative approach to look at how the perceptions of residents of the protected area and other stakeholders can inform the implementation of rights-based approach to conservation. We focus on the case study of a protected area in Panama that has a diverse indigenous cultural landscape and high deforestation rates. Using field data we acquired with household survey, focus groups, in-depth interviews and forest cover assessment, we examine the distribution of rights and responsibilities, the state of forest conservation and the residents’ needs, views and aspirations for livelihoods and conservation. We found heterogeneous regulations and restrictive policy in recognized and claimed indigenous territories, with constraints put on subsistence use by residents. Despite this challenge, most residents surveyed are content with living in the protected area and contribute to conservation on an individual basis. Residents’ perceived food security directly links to forest conservation. Residents support stronger enforcement by the management authority and oppose recent hydro-dams development in the forest reserve. We argue that using residents’ priorities for rights recognition and collaboration can accelerate the transformation needed to balance human needs with the long-term sustainability of forest conservation.