Forests Thrive Under Indigenous Control
When forest communities are given legal control over their own lands they are at least as effective in conserving wildlife as national governments. An important new report from Forest Trends documents what should be self-evident – that endangered forests are conserved more effectively when under the control of their local peoples including indigenous groups. The report found that national parks created by governments are not faring as well as community-policed areas.
Efforts to pursue sustainable conservation management and protection of ancient and other important endangered forests would be well advised to give indigenous people a larger role in policy-making as well as strengthened rights to produce and sell forest products. The future of the World's endangered large forest wildernesses in particular depends critically upon limiting their commercial development to community based small and medium scaled ecologically sustainable development activities.
Different social situations call for different forest conservation strategies. In terms of maintaining ecosystems, species and genetic resources found in ancient and other endangered forests – nothing can compare to strict protected status for large and contiguous forest areas. But in many cases local needs and aspirations make this difficult or even infeasible.
Ideally, in terms of conservation and community advancement, community forestry by forest dependent peoples in a portion of a landscape should be coupled with preservation of adjacent ecological core areas. Indeed, the protected area is a critical component of the ecological sustainability of the entire ecosystem, including managed forests. Such a strategy holds
the best promise for advancing indigenous community well-being and long term sustainability of expansive and natural forest landscapes.
Clearly potential for indigenous people to help curb the destruction of forests is being overlooked by the international community. In my own experience, this observation has at times been pushed to unwarranted extremes. Certainly indigenous peoples are as susceptible as the rest of us to greedy appeals to liquidate resources for one time financial advantage.
This is why indigenous land ethics must be defended, and those in the overdeveloped world can help with information and technical assistance in this regard. Human rights are integral to environmental sustainability.