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Into the Fabric of Local Communities

For various reasons, conservation programs in developing regions are likely to fail when they are imposed from the top down by outsiders/foreigners (Chapin, 2004). That realization has spurred interest in (i) involving local communities in conservation planning and (ii) fostering their desire and capacity to help achieve conservation goals. In some ways, these can be seen as short- and long-term components of the same strategy. Earning local support for a conservation initiative is needed to get the ball rolling; building local capacity ensures that the ball keeps rolling once the outsiders leave.

Community involvement in conservation planning and protected-area establishment/maintenance can take a variety of forms (Western and Wright, 1994; Borgerhoff Mulder and Coppolillo, 2005) and is the subject of a gargantuan literature. At its most straightforward, it involves dialogue and follow-up with local stakeholders to establish what kinds of compensation (broadly construed) would sweeten the prospect of restrictions on habitat use, but more nuanced and sophisticated schemes have also been used (Kremen et al., 1999; Berkes, 2007).

Local capacity building can also operate at multiple scales. Education is clearly central to this goal, from providing on-the-ground biodiversity training in parataxonomy (Janzen, 2004b; Sheil and Lawrence, 2004) to training professional national park staffs to facilitating advanced degrees for local students via scholarships and other mechanisms (Rodriguez et al., 2007). But even more basic contributions (local-language publications and extension efforts, computer and telecommunications access, etc.) can be extremely beneficial.

As conservationists increasingly realize, programs along these lines should attend every tropical conservation effort. Such programs are crucial—not only for the long-term success of the given conservation effort, but also for the augmentation and transmission of biodiversity knowledge. Efforts to “engage” local communities in conservation and land management can and have gone awry, and there are often important tradeoffs between conservation and development (Chan et al., 2007). None of this alters the fact that, without local acceptance of biodiversity and the rationale for its conservation, any gains will be ephemeral.

Onto the Cultural Radar Screen

For decades, conservationists have appealed to aesthetics as a principal reason to conserve wild areas and species. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the 13-billion-plus beholding eyes of the world are drawn to many things that are hostile to biodiversity: large families,



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