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11. "Paper parks" and the social life of conservation: lessons from Danau Sentarum.

The "Social Life" of Conservation

Biodiversity conservation is a human endeavor: initiated by humans, designed by humans, and intended to modify human behavior to achieve a socially desired objective (Mascia et al. 2003)

This article focuses on collaborative conservation and the experience of three teams that, beginning in 1991, worked with local Malay and Iban communities to manage the flooded and lowland tropical forest area in Danau Sentarum National Park in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Relations between conservation workers and communities are discussed, and social capital among conservation workers emerges as a critical feature in conservation success. Central points of the article are (1) the social embeddedness of conservation practices; and (2) the inadequacy of a "best practices" approach because personal characteristics, experiences, and networks have such long-lasting impacts on conservation success.

The contribution of social science to conservation has tended toward one of two general trajectories, which come together from time to time. The first involves the study of local resource management or ecological knowledge; it involves finding ways to enhance such practices and associated knowledge and make them compatible with conservation concerns (e.g., collaborative or co-management gila Brown 2003 or Brosius et al. 2005), or testing whether the people in question are really conservative of their resources. The latter has occasionally fed into the resurgence of preservationism, with local people seen as a problem to be removed--the "fortress conservation" of Brockington (2002).

The second of these two trajectories focuses on conflict over natural resources (political ecology; e.g., Nygren 2004). Here, work has tended to range between two camps as well--from advocacy for local people, to provide them with more voice in the competition among stakeholders (Li 2007), to the largely academic camp, unfortunately less accessible to most conservationists (e.g., Tsing 1993, 2005). This paper is neither about conflicts between people and nature, nor about the interactions between people and more powerful outsiders, (2) but about relationships between conservation workers and local people, and between the conservation workers themselves.

Conservation management entails the management of the social relations surrounding natural resources (Brechin et al. 2003; Wadley and Colfer 2004; Natcher and Hickey 2002; Wollenberg et al. 2005). The notion of social capital is useful in developing strategies to manage such social relations (Pretty and Smith 2004). However, inadvertently paternalistic, we have tried to "build social capital" among local stakeholders without fully acknowledging our own roles in that process. We have ignored the fact that conservationists automatically become part of the social world from which social capital is built, thereby leaving unexamined a key pillar of successful (or unsuccessful) conservation practice.

As Mascia et al. (2003:649) put it, "conservation policies and practices are inherently social phenomena, as are the intended and unintended changes in human behavior they induce." But all too often, "human dimensions" in conservation practice are relegated to those elements outlined above--local ecological knowledge/practices, negative human impacts, issues of resource conflict, or building local capacity. We have ignored another "plainly obvious" but vitally important dimension: human interaction within conservation practice, the intimate social relationships among people engaged in conservation projects. These have a fundamental role to play in the success or failure of conservation programs and thus deserve more attention. Many conservationists strive for an objectivity that discourages examination of human relations, perhaps in recognition of the fact that true objectivity is impossible when humans study humans. This difficulty does not, however, excuse us from making the effort.

Social capital refers to "features of social life--networks, norms and trust--that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives" (Putnam 1995:664-665). With a focus on the "institution" side of human sociality, we may inadvertently assume that the people involved are interchangeable without any change to on-the-ground social relations (e.g., Salafsky et al. 2002). Fukuyama (2005:112) sums this up nicely, referring to
 ... the frequently dysfunctional character of 'best practice'
 mentality, where a practice that works in one part of the world is
 immediately publicized and set up as a model for other parts of the
 world. Successful programs [often involve] what James Scott (1998)
 labels metis--the ability to use local knowledge to create local
 solutions.


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

We somehow lose sight of the socially embedded nature of our own human activity when issues of material resources surface (Uphoff 1996; Fukuyama 2005; Lowe 2006). Seixas and Davy (2008: 99), in a recent study of successful conservation projects in 2002 and 2004, observed
 ... that CBC [community based conservation] and ICDP [integrated
 conservation and development program] initiatives opportunistically
 evolve in a multi-level world, in which local communities establish
 linkages with people and organizations at different political
 levels, across different geographical scales and for different
 purposes.


Their study found numerous examples of the kinds of involvement described herein for our network of researchers and activists, contributing to the success of their cases. In general, we share Seixas and Davy's (2008) conclusion that there is no right recipe for good conservation practice, that one needs a varying mix of ingredients: (1) involvement and commitment of key players, including communities; (2) funding; (3) strong leadership; (4) capacity building; (5) partnership with supportive organizations and government; and (6) economic incentives, including alternative livelihood options (emphasis added).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Here, we examine the social life of conservation, drawing on our collective and long-term experience in Danau Sentarum National Park (DSNP). In particular, we focus on DSNP teams' relations with local communities and interactions with other conservationists. We are particularly interested in how the nature of such social relationships affects conservation outcomes. We argue that the trust, interpersonal networks and reciprocity between and among conservation personnel and local stakeholders have been largely overlooked in conservation work and yet can be crucial to conservation success. Ideally, these characteristics would be part of all professional working relationships.

Study Site

Danau Sentarum Wildlife Reserve was established in 1985 (Giesen 1987), became Indonesia's second Ramsar site in 1994 and was upgraded to a national park in 1999 (Giesen and Aglionby 2000). Still, most management has been undertaken by local communities (Colfer et al. 1996; Dennis et al. 2001; Indriatmoko 2008). The park comprises around 1,320 [km.sup.2] (Whiteman and Aglionby 1997; Wadley et al. 2000), with unclear boundaries and a buffer zone. Indriatmoko's 2007 census (unpublished data) showed a population of 10,300 living in the park, 93 percent being Malays, the remainder mostly Iban.

Major threats to the park include uncontrolled logging, possible dam construction and oil palm development, gold mining and transmigration schemes. In 1992, the first project team, under subcontract to a consulting firm, began formal collaborative management of the reserve, under the Indonesian Agency for the Conservation of Natural Resources (KSDA) and Asian Wetlands Bureau (AWB). During the project's five years, three consecutive teams of researchers led larger, shorter-term teams. In September 2007, 10 years after the project officially ended, the government funded a management unit and developed a participatory management plan.

The conservation project began with a strong emphasis on collaboration. Team 1 moved to Danau Sentarum in June 1992 and initially encountered fantastic but real fears from the communities--that the researchers were seeking shrimp with diamond eyes, or a local virgin to kill and bury under the field center's house posts, or that they planned to build a bridge over Danau Sentarum (quite an improbable engineering feat). Working closely with communities, they established a field center, studied the two main local systems, and began comanagement. Less than a year into the project, however, Team 1 resigned over difficulties with their NGO employer.

Team 2 focused primarily on protecting the area from local communities, spending little time in the field and emphasizing ecological matters to the near exclusion of local communities. One member of Team 3 emphasized marketing of alternative income-generating opportunities for the community; the other focused on local ecology and a management plan. Rona Dennis, the remote sensing and GIS adviser, remained with the project throughout. Based in Bogor, she spent considerable time mapping in the field.

Conservation Teams and Local People

Three significant events pertaining to local resources and territorial claims affected relations between conservation teams and local people. Nevertheless, it is often the day-to-day interactions that more fundamentally create both problems and enduring links with local communities.

Land Claims

In June 1992, Team 1 and AWB colleagues visited DSNP to choose a field center site. Anxious to avoid Indonesia's recurrent territorial conflicts and cognizant of the common negative repercussions of conservation projects for communities, they visited several sites, discussing land tenure everywhere. The team was surprised when no conflicts appeared to exist and no claims on lands were expressed--given the frequency of such problems in Indonesia (and elsewhere). The only expressed interest was in fishing, the Malay communities' principal livelihood.

A month later, Team l was invited to a multistakeholder meeting at Selimbau's floating hotel on the Kapuas River, near the county-level military, police and government officials' offices. The team was immediately subjected to a prolonged and vituperative verbal attack (very unusual in Indonesia) by a locally respected man who accused them of trying to steal land that belonged to his family.

The team's genuine commitment to protecting local people's rights, combined with their mandate to build a field center in an unclaimed area, constituted a difficult ethical dilemma. Legally, the central government had the right to build a field center, even though communities in Indonesian protected areas typically have overlapping claims that the researchers considered legitimate. The team explained their point of view, and the group sent them to consult with district officials. On the team's return, the aggrieved man dropped his claim, apparently willingly, and the stakeholders involved subsequently worked cooperatively and apparently happily with the team. The low-key, rational way the agreement was negotiated helped establish these good relations. Local stakeholders realized the team was not intent on enforcing national policy at all costs and was seriously interested in both human welfare and effective conservation.

Territorial Mapping

Between 1994 and 1997, the project's mapping team followed up on the discovery of a sophisticated system of customary land tenure. They conducted discussions about boundaries with local fishing communities and created village sketch maps to understand better local people's use of natural resources (cf. Momberg et al. 1996; Sirait et al. 1994). The community mapping team, including local staff, accurately captured the complexity of these boundaries. Mapping identified conflicts between communities, and sometimes led to conflict resolution; some communities physically marked their boundaries; and suspicions surfaced about project motives in some communities, especially those with valuable forests.

In total, more than 85 wilayah kerja (village work areas) were mapped, and the team created a GIS. These boundaries, digitized and linked with other spatial data sets, provided a powerful platform for understanding local land-use dynamics. The team protected the communities' intellectual property rights, refusing to share the data with third parties. This became even more important during the peak of illegal logging in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Suharto's control had evaporated and new systems of government were not yet in place, creating an opportunity for external entrepreneurs to exploit local forests.

Interethnic Conflict

In 1994, the use of artificial chemical poisons by Dayak communities resulted in a major loss offish, both wild and caged. A settlement between Iban and Malays was brokered by the vice-governor, police, fisheries and conservation services and the project. High-level political intervention helped reach a settlement; the vice-governor traveled to the reserve for the signing. The agreement was based on adat (customary) law, on the premise that it could then be enforced by local communities rather than depend on police intervention. The project acted as an influential mediator, although subsequent research indicates that significant poisonings did recur on two occasions (Yasmi et al. 2007).

Day-to-Day Successes and Strains

Community-project relations evolve over time, in the course of day-to-day interactions. The process of working with communities may alternate between moments of elation and inspiration, dismay and regret.

On the beneficial side, community concerns began to evaporate as the team worked with groups to plan monitoring of timber companies, coordinate customary regulations in various microcatchments for better fisheries management, discuss how to limit in-migration during the dry season and conduct a study of floating gardens as a means to improve poor Malay diets and related poor health (Dudley and Colfer 1993). The communities recognized the team's serious concern for their welfare.

In 1995, several community members were appointed by the Conservation Agency (KSDA) as honorary rangers, giving them recognition and status within their community and perhaps moderating their ambivalence toward the project. A subsequent socioeconomic rapid appraisal uncovered a strong community interest in health centers, schools and credit. Various activities were arranged in the field center that exposed outsiders to communities and the reserve. All the efforts--meetings, conferences, a library, sports days, dances, TV viewing--to engage individuals and build social capital proved worthwhile.

But these positive interactions were interspersed with more disruptive ones. The researchers found that small personal mistakes could have long-term and serious consequences, and that their relationships with community members needed continual monitoring and enhancement. Commonly, disruptions between conservation workers and communities arose from everyday human foibles, like fatigue and irritation. In August 1992, for instance, Carol Colfer wanted to accompany a local Malay woman on her agricultural rounds, to get a better sense of women's views. Colfer's assistant wanted to accompany her. Fearing that the woman would be inhibited if a local man were present, Colfer persuaded him to stay behind. Things were progressing well when suddenly the assistant and several other men arrived to help. Soon it became clear that the men were going to take over the conversation, as Colfer had predicted; she stormed off in an angry huff, even though she knew her abruptness was inappropriate. The woman, with whom she had been building a relationship, avoided her for the remainder of her stay there, considering her unpredictable and rude; the distrust of this woman, a respected community member, surely did nothing to improve the project's standing in the community.

In 1993, following Team 1's departure, new consultants were appointed. Although Team 1 had made considerable strides in overcoming local people's fears and developing the project, they had been able to work directly in only five villages. Team 2 largely ignored the communities and did not consider them conservation managers. By April 1994, when Julia Aglionby, an environmental economist, arrived, significant levels of distrust regarding the project had built up. She visited all villages within the reserve and the proposed extension, appraised community use of resources and mapped the territories they managed.

She found a resurgence of rumors--for example, that the project was digging out the hill behind its field center to find gold and would fill the holes with skulls. Communities wanted nothing to do with the project. This distrust came to a head at a Pontianak workshop attended by DSNP village heads, when a document was distributed that accidentally described the Iban as kejam, a word that can be and was interpreted as "savage." Iban leaders met with Aglionby privately and demanded a trial; otherwise there would be killings. The Indonesian civil servants took the threat seriously, convening an adat (customary) court that afternoon. Project personnel apologized profusely, a sentence was handed down, and the fine was paid. The matter having been settled, no further mention of this incident was made, in accordance with Iban tradition.

Social Capital among Conservationists

Although relations between communities and conservation workers are important, the interactions among conservation workers have received even less attention in conservation efforts. Here we show how social capital--an inherently variable and unpredictable element in social life--among conservation workers can affect conservation success. We begin with a story about fatigue and miscommunication, then address trust, administrative constraints and capacity building.

Although the project plan was to involve eight Indonesian civil servants in DSNP management, Team 1 initially supplemented their own labor with that of speedboat drivers and community members. Nine months into the project, the field center had been built, and several young, enthusiastic Indonesian researchers were hard at work. One night, the team leader lay in his bunk--Team 1 lived on a 10m motor (boat)--tired from a long day, waiting for the field center's generator to be turned off so that he could sleep. Nine o'clock--the agreed-upon hour--passed but the noise of the generator continued. After another half-hour of exhaustion and frustration, unable to sleep, he got out of bed, pulled on his clothes, and stormed up to the field center, where he found the researchers talking, working and laughing. In a fit of pique, he upbraided them for interfering with his sleep, stormed back down to the generator and abruptly turned it off.

The next morning brought disaster. Two of the new arrivals had been working and found themselves suddenly immersed in darkness when the generator went off. They considered this a serious affront to their dignity and were ready to pack their bags and leave. Immediately. Colfer writes,
 At this point, the poignancy of the situation overwhelmed me. We
 finally had the co-workers we had wanted, and these two were
 unusually fine people. But difficulties caused by fatigue and
 cross-cultural miscommunication were threatening it all.... The
 last thing we wanted to do was drive them away, by accident. My
 tears seemed to convince them that we actually were genuinely
 contrite, and they began slowly to forgive us (2006:109).


Incidents like that--so common in international conservation efforts--can truly endanger a conservation effort. By demonstrating their regret, however, the team ultimately forged stronger ties with these volunteers. One now works for KSDA, with significant responsibilities for DSNP, the other worked for years at Wetlands International, and both have maintained their commitment to conservation.

Trust is an integral part of the social capital we consider crucial for effective conservation actions (cf. Berkes 2007b). It is central to effective collaboration and has serious effects on team members' motivations. It can also be destroyed much more easily than it can be established.

Team 1 entered Danau Sentarum in June 1992 with great enthusiasm about community involvement in conservation and the opportunity to work with an NGO that they thought was sincerely motivated. Their trust quickly began to erode. The project site was 16 hours of rough travel by car and speedboat from Pontianak, the nearest place to communicate with the home office and receive funds. The team would develop proposals and requests for funding; the Bogor office would agree to send the money within a month. A month later, only half of the money would be there, or none at all, and meanwhile, the team had made commitments and hired people on the basis of the approved budget. Throughout 1992 and 1993, Team 1 repeatedly used personal funds to make up the difference and pay local people their promised wages.

During the fall of 1992, on each visit to Pontianak, the team leader would ask the home office about the researchers' own salaries and be told, "Yes, they've been sent to the U.S. bank." In December 1992, the researchers discovered that only one remittance had gone out--five months previously, in July. They had been working (and in fact funding parts of the project) pro bono since then.

Month followed month and the team's trust in their employers eroded further. They threatened to quit. Promises of improvement were made. In April 1993, Colfer became ill and returned to the United States. Still no administrative improvements were made. Finally, the members of Team 1 reluctantly submitted their resignations, with heavy hearts; they worried about conservation outcomes and community enthusiasm should a "fines and fences" approach follow--a concern that proved justified.

The loss of trust had resulted in the loss of the two central conservation workers. But administrative constraints alone can also be a stumbling block. AWB, the NGO, was subcontracted by a for-profit consulting firm; relations between these two entities were not cordial. As a result, the field team was denied essential support while the two Java-based institutions quarreled. Moreover, the team, suspected of accounting irregularities actually committed by the NGO, was subjected to requests for "mileage" for speedboat travel and receipts from illiterate local people--all of which detracted from progress on conservation.

Relations between the project and the national park authorities also encountered landmines. The first KSDA director helped the team work through the bureaucracy and avoid costly mistakes--such as calling the field center a building, which would have involved the Public Works Department (then a corrupt institution). By calling it a field post, the team avoided paying additional "charges."

The second KSDA director was a bright young scientist who had had a series of run-ins with other international workers. He initially took a very aggressive stance, demanding to know what Team 1 had accomplished in its first four months. The team complied, mentioning also the problems obtaining funds and reminding him gently that they were alone in the field, despite the promise of eight KSDA collaborators.

With his gradual realization that the team was working to accomplish project goals under difficult conditions, he became an advocate, even coming to the field and sending some of his junior staff to work there. Although Team I worked with him for less than a year, the trust they developed has endured.

A subsequent team member had a less successful relationship with him, however. This wildlife volunteer wore shorts and sandals not just in the field, but inappropriately at the KSDA office. When he inadvertently took the project car that a senior KSDA official wanted to use, he was denied permission to stay in the field. His lack of awareness of cultural norms cost the team a valuable and much-needed human resource.

The evidence of genuine concern for local people contributed to and strengthened some local individuals' long-term commitments to conservation and resulted in effective capacity building. One group of local project employees formed their own NGO, Riak Bumi. Another now works with Flora and Fauna International and has served as a periodic consultant. A community leader from Pulau Majang has maintained his concern and conducts "shared learning" meetings on collaborative conservation throughout Indonesia. There are many other such examples.

Conclusions

The formal DFID-KSDA project to manage Danau Sentarum only lasted five years (1992-1997), but low-level inputs continued. Local actors, Indonesian researchers and bureaucrats, and international researchers have retained their commitment and enthusiasm for DSNP conservation and for people's well-being.

Riak Bumi's continued involvement is one indicator that conservation concerns remain alive--that Danau Sentarum is more than a paper park. Others include routine contributions to keep a community newsletter going; five-year pledges to contribute funds to Riak Bumi; a popular book (Colfer 2006) whose royalties, although small, went to Riak Bumi; and the creation and showing of CIFOR films, Cerita Pak Burung and Danau Sentarum National Park: The Abandoned Paradise, to national and international audiences.

A group of early researchers produced a special issue of the Borneo Research Bulletin devoted to DSNP (Volume 3l, 2000); these special essays are its successor. Research has been conducted on hunting (Wadley et al. 1997), illegal logging (Wadley 2000), fires (Harwell 2000; Dennis et al. 2005), criteria and indicators (Colfer and Byron 2001), land cover change (Dennis et al. 2001) and more. New researchers work with communities, conduct ecological studies, train villagers and coordinate multi-stakeholder management planning (e.g., Indriatmoko et al. 2007; Yasmi et al. 2007; Indriatmoko 2008; Prasetyo 2008; Mulyana et al. 2008; Yuliani et al. 2008a,b).

The vibrancy of this continued involvement builds on relationships of trust, reciprocity and sociability both with local communities, but perhaps more significantly, among those working on conservation. The significant actors became friends, linked together by common concerns, and draw others into the network of concerned researchers, students, activists and officials. Those who grew to love the area and its people retain a commitment to work toward protecting it for the people who live there now, for the generations to come and for the human race as a whole.

Converting this informal but powerful network into a set of "best practices" seems unrealistic. There is growing evidence of the significance of both individual action and multilevel linkages in successful collective action and conservation. Krishna (2002) quantitatively examined social capital's role in development in 69 Indian villages, concluding that despite social capital's significance, agents to link communities with outside sources and actors were more important (see also Uphoff 1996). Kubo (n.d.) examined three cases of community forestry in Asia, similarly concluding that personal agency was the most critical component. There are powerful arguments for demanding a commitment to responsible and empathic behavior from conservation workers as part of our professional skills set.

Simply recognizing the long-lasting power and significant impacts of personal connections among conservation workers could go a long way toward better conservation practice. Conservation project personnel should be strengthening their social capital with other stakeholders who can sustain long-term initiatives.

Although threats to DSNP continue--dams, oil palm, transmigration, logging, population growth--the park has not been destroyed. In fact, the level of uncontrolled logging has declined, the dam has not been built, nor has the landscape yet been converted either to oil palm on a massive scale or a huge transmigration site. The capabilities and commitments of local communities and bureaucrats continue to be strengthened through collaborative efforts in and around the park and through their participation in forums like the forest governance and learning groups and the shared-learning workshops (similar to learning networks; Berkes 2007a; 2009 in press). Without continued involvement by such a network, it seems clear that DSNP would have suffered more dramatic damage than it has.

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Yuliani, E., Y. Indriatmoko, V. Heri, S. Ernawati, L.B. Prasetyo, and M.S. Zulkiflie 2008 Promoting Good Governance in Managing Danau Sentarum National Park through Adaptive Collaborative Management Approach. In: B. Manos and J. Papathanasiou (eds.), Governance and Ecosystems Management for Conservation of Biodiversity. Thessaloniki: Gemconbio Project, EU and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Reed L. Wadley (1)

Department of Anthropology

University of Missouri-Columbia

Columbia, MO 65211 USA

Carol J. Pierce Colfer

Center for International Forestry Research

JL. CIFOR, Sindang Barang

Bogor, West Java, Indonesia

c.colfer@cgiar.org

Rona Dennis

Center for International Forestry Research

JL. CIFOR, Sindang Barang

Bogor, West Java, Indonesia

rdennis@satnetcom.com

Julia Aglionby

H&H Bowe Ltd, Borderway

Carlisle CA1 2RS UK

Julia. aglionby@hhbowe.co.uk

(1) Carol J. Pierce Colfer is the corresponding author; Reed Wadley, who initially envisioned this paper and wrote the first draft, died prematurely of cancer in June 2008.

(2) One reviewer identified some potential root causes of the problems discussed in this paper: unequal power relations, perceived moral superiority of some conservationists, short term involvement with a corresponding minimal sense of responsibility toward local people, the view of communities as sources of data rather than as people with their own interests, and the sometimes extreme goal orientation of projects, which pressure researchers to provide tangible results immediately.
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Title Annotation:DANAU SENTARUM ESSAYS: MEMORIAL IN HONOR OF REED WADLEY
Author:Wadley, Reed L.; Colfer, Carol J. Pierce; Dennis, Rona; Aglionby, Julia
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Geographic Code:9INDO
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Words:5705
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