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The hidden layer of indigenous land tenure: informal forest ownership and its implications for forest use and conservation in Panama's largest collective territory.

La couche cachee du regime foncier indigene: possession forestiere informelle et ses implications pour l'utilisation et la conservation de la foret dans le territoire collectif le plus etendu du Panama

D.A. SMITH, M.B. HOLLAND, A. MICHON, A. IBANEZ et F. HERRERA

Des preuves croissantes soulignent l'efficacite des territoires indigenes a reduire la deforestation tropical e, et des buts globaux de developpement mettent l'accent sur le besoin d'une reconnaissance legale du regime foncier indigene. Cependant, les systemes de regime foncier indigenes sont pour la plupart complexes et en plusieurs strates, demeurant par consequent peu compris en tant que sentiers par lesquels des couches ancrees, des regles et des normes influencent l'utilisation et la gestion de la foret. Ce papier offre en illustration un exemple de cette possession a plusieurs strates: le cas des communautes indigenes dans le Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, un territoire partage semi-autonome dans le Panama de l'ouest. Alors que le comarca detient un titre collectif formel, une recherche aupres de cinq communautes revele un systeme informel de regime foncier indigene, qui influence la maniere dont les ressources forestieres sont gerees, ayant egalement des implications pour les efforts de conservation a plus long terme. Les resultats indiquent que les foyers indigenes utilisent et gerent un large eventail d'especes botaniques, mais que l'acces aux ressources forestieres est inegal, alors que la pression sur les forets existantes continue de s'accroitre, au sein meme du Comarca, du fait de la croissance demographique. La foret mature encerclant ces communautes est tenue en possession de fait par individus et familles, lesquels restreignent l'acces a ses ressources. Ce systeme informel de possession semble ralentir la deforestation, du moins a court terme. Nombre de ces responsables de la foret desirent proteger a long terme au moins une partie de la foret, alors que plusieurs parcelles forestieres sont gardees en reserve pour la generation a venir de fermiers. Cette forme cachee de possession forestiere, ancree dans les terres gerees en communaute dans les hauteurs de comarca met en lumiere un important besoin de recherche pour tout desireux d'ameliorer l'efficacite des programmes de conservation forestiere dans la reduction de la deforestation et l'amelioration des revenus indigenes locaux.

La cara oculta de la tenencia de la tierra indigena: la propiedad informal de los bosques y sus implicaciones para el uso y conservacion del bosque en el territorio colectivo mas grande de Panama

D.A. SMITH, M.B. HOLLAND, A. MICHON, A. IBANEZ y F. HERRERA

Cada vez hay mas pruebas que apuntan a la efectividad de los territorios indigenas en reducir la deforestacion tropical, y por eso los objetivos de desarrollo globales hacen un llamado a un mayor reconocimiento legal de la tenencia de la tierra indigena. Sin embargo, los sistemas indigenas de tenencia de la tierra son tipicamente complejos y muestran multiples facetas, y por ello siguen siendo poco conocidos en terminos de las vias a traves de las cuales estas facetas, reglas y normas arraigadas influyen en el uso y mantenimiento de los bosques. Este documento ilustra un ejemplo de esta tenencia de multiples facetas en las comunidades indigenas en la Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, un territorio semiautonomo compartido del oeste de Panama. Si bien la comarca posee un titulo colectivo formal, la investigacion en cinco comunidades revela un sistema informal de propiedad de los bosques que influye en la forma de manejo de los recursos forestales, y que tiene implicaciones para los esfuerzos de conservacion forestal a mas largo plazo. Los resultados muestran que los hogares indigenas usan y manejan una amplia gama de especies de plantas, pero que el acceso a los recursos forestales es desigual y que la presion sobre los bosques existentes continua aumentando, incluso internamente en la comarca debido al crecimiento de la poblacion. Los bosques maduros que rodean a las comunidades son propiedad de facto de un numero de individuos y familias que restringen el acceso a los recursos, y este sistema informal de tenencia parece estar frenando la deforestacion, al menos a corto plazo. Muchos de estos administradores del bosque desean proteger al menos una parte del bosque a largo plazo, mientras que guardan varias parcelas forestales en reserva para la proxima generacion de agricultores. Esta forma oculta de tenencia forestal, arraigada en las tierras comunales de la Comarca, destaca una necesidad importante de investigacion para aquellos que buscan mejorar la efectividad de los programas de conservacion forestal para reducir la deforestacion y mejorar los medios de vida indigenas.

INTRODUCTION

Despite decades of conservation efforts, there continues to be tremendous concern about the loss and degradation of tropical forests globally, given their importance for both biodiversity and their role in the carbon cycle and climate change mitigation (Luyssaert et al. 2008, van Dam 2011). There is also strong evidence and policy conviction that formal recognition of land tenure through titling is a critical step toward improving livelihood conditions and achieving tenure security. This is reflected in such global initiatives as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically connected to Goal 15, and in calls from the global land community for recognition of community land and resource rights as a means for achieving sustainable development (United Nations 2015b). Given their shared interests and evidence that indigenous peoples are in general relatively good stewards of their forested lands (Vergara-Asenjo and Potvin 2014), conservationists and others promote the recognition of indigenous and traditional communities' territorial rights as a way to stop land invasions and slow deforestation (Alcorn 1993, Davis and Wali 1994, Redford and Padoch 1992, Stevens 1997, Stocks 2003).

In the last two decades or so, numerous indigenous groups have gained formal territorial recognition (Herlihy 1997, Peres 1994, Roldan Ortega 2004, Schwartzman and Zimmerman 2005), as part of what some have called "the single largest transfer of forest to local people" (Larson et al. 2010a: 83). In the tropics, those communally-held lands that are now under formal title are estimated to account for onequarter of total above-ground carbon storage (Pearce 2016). Today, close to one-quarter of all forests in Latin America are found within indigenous-controlled lands, and more are located within the territories of distinct Afroamerican peoples, community associations, and biosphere reserves that recognize local resource rights (Blackman et al. 2014, FAO 2011, Offen 2003, van Dam 2011). Across the Mesoamerican isthmus, where the conservation challenge is not only to slow forest loss but to improve habitat connectivity and reduce forest fragmentation, indigenous community forests represent critical complements to existing protected area systems (Vergara-Asenjo and Potvin 2014).

Conservation strategies that work for both people and forests on indigenous lands require a more nuanced understanding of existing forest resource use, access, and management, which are often shaped within layered systems of tenure. Numerous scholars have pointed out the importance of land titling and legal (de jure) recognition of property rights as a factor that influences landholder decisions about forest use and conservation, yet there is mixed evidence as to how secure tenure affects the viability and success of different conservation strategies (Robinson et al. 2017). In general, it is thought that securing tenure through formalization provides an important incentive to protect forests (Larson et al. 2010b) or promote reforestation (Otsuka & Place 2015). There is evidence in Latin America that formalization of community landholdings has strengthened exclusionary rights, in other words enforcing the ability of traditional and indigenous communities to keep external actors from accessing the forests on their territory (Hayes and Murtino 2008).

The evolving literature on land tenure, however, highlights that tenure security does not depend on tenure form (Robinson et al. 2014); nor does formal or legal recognition alone guarantee tenure security (Robinson et al. 2017). In the case of indigenous lands, often the effort to establish formal recognition results in a single community land title that sets the boundaries for how that community's lands are viewed by external actors, including the state. Yet this singular title might represent only the top, or umbrella layer of tenure within a multi-layered or nested system across the territory. In their research on the ejido system in Mexico, Alcorn and Toledo (1998) referred to this as a "tenurial shell", and several researchers have pointed to the importance of identifying the underlying or nested informal (de facto) tenure to better characterize the ways in which norms and rules influence forest dynamics (Ankersen and Barnes 2004).

This paper examines the interplay between indigenous forest tenure, forest use, and conservation in western Panama. The research, based on fieldwork conducted across five neighbouring Ngabe communities within a formally-recognized indigenous territory, aims to provide a better understanding of the role of the forest in local livelihoods and the role of customary forest tenure on natural resource use and the maintenance of forest cover. The research reveals a layered system of tenure that includes de facto individual forest ownership and use, which exists within the legally-recognized communal territory. While informal private holding of forest plots appears to have positively influenced forest conservation and slowed deforestation in the short-term, the ability to predict longer-term forest outcomes is limited, as this informal tenure system remains invisible to broader-scale forest institutions and conservation groups. More broadly, the research illustrates the role that informal ownership of forest plots (1) may be playing within communally-titled territories specifically tied to mediating the conversion of mature forests.

INDIGENOUS LAND TENURE AND TROPICAL FORESTS

It has been recognized for many years that land tenure is a key variable that affects the maintenance of forests, but the influences of communal ownership "are highly context specific, depending on local and national, ecological, social and economic context" (Larson et al. 2010a: 79, Ostrom and Nagendra 2006, Pacheco et al. 2012). Secure tenure provides an incentive to protect forests and the natural resources they provide, and in cases where forests are owned or controlled collectively, customary practices can effectively regulate the use of the forest commons (Burger 2001, Ostrom 1990, Pagdee et al. 2006). This, however, is not always the case. There are examples of communities that have failed to manage their communal forests effectively, resulting in degradation and deforestation, even when the right local governance conditions seem to be in place (Blackman et al. 2014, Gibson and Becker 2000, see also Bowler et al. 2012, Robinson et al. 2014). Some have argued that that there are certain inherent characteristics associated with 'indigeneity' that influence improved ecological conditions in areas under indigenous community control (Barrera-Bassols 2006, Colchester 2000). Yet others caution against oversimplification of the relationship between indigenous groups and conservation, suggesting that the current momentum behind formalization of indigenous land tenure does not imply specific outcomes for slowing deforestation (Hope 2017). Importantly, field-based research can play a critical gap-filling role by exploring the contextual factors that may further be at play beneath this "tenurial shell" (Holland et al. 2017, Blackman et al. 2017, Robinson et al. 2017b).

Moreover, many of the studies that have added to the growing evidence base examine the relationships between forest tenure and deforestation primarily relying on quantitative methods, remotely-sensed imagery and secondary data, looking for correlations between variables for which data are more easily available (e.g., Bonilla-Moheno et al. 2013, Fearnside 1993, Paneque-Galvez et al. 2013, Pelletier et al. 2012). While an important contribution, this approach only provides a partial view of the processes involved in the conversion of forests to other uses. As this research shows, the locally-upheld tenure system most directly influencing forest conditions within community lands is not always consistent or fully captured by the legal categories for tenure forms typically used in analyses at larger geographic scales using remotely-sensed imagery and secondary sources of data. Field research is crucial for understanding indigenous forest use and management practices that occur under the forest canopy and under the umbrella of community land title--as these more directly capture the value of forest for local people --as well as the factors that shape decisions about whether to maintain or clear forests. Such research is also critical for improving the design and implementation of forest conservation initiatives, including payments for ecosystem services (PES) programs, which have enjoyed significant expansion at the national and sub-national scale throughout Mesoamerica during the past decade. More recently, the global initiative known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), formally approved as part of the UNFCCC Paris Climate Agreement, has placed increased value on clarification and strengthening of land tenure in tropical forests of high priority for carbon sequestration and storage (Blackman et al. 2014). Clear and uncontested land rights have been cited as critically important for participation in both PES schemes and REDD+ (Gregersen et al. 2010, Robinson et al. 2014, Wunder 2005, 2013). In Panama, the most recent estimates are that more than half of mature forest cover is held within indigenous territories, including the comarcas--semi-autonomous territories recognized by the state and legally protected from the invasion of colonists, and lands referred to as "claimed lands," which are in the process of petition by indigenous groups for formal state recognition (Vergara-Asenjo and Potvin 2014, Herlihy 1989). The same research by Vergara-Asenjo and Potvin found that formalized indigenous territories (comarcas) in Panama were as effective as formal protected areas at reducing deforestation, highlighting the opportunity for these forest lands to become a key component of Panama's national REDD+ strategy moving forward (Vergara-Asenjo and Potvin 2014).

SITUATING THE RESEARCH

This research took place in the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, the largest of the formally-recognized comarcas (6,814 [km.sup.2]), legally established in 1997 for Ngabe and Bugle communities after a long struggle to have their territorial rights recognized (Figure 1). The land ultimately included within the comarca boundaries did not include all of the territory originally claimed by the Ngabe and Bugle people, and much of the land within the comarca has soils and steeply sloping areas that are not suitable to sustained agricultural production (Young 1971, Wickstrom 2003, Michon 2010). The system of indigenous governance within the territory predates the establishment of the comarca, consisting of public gatherings called congresos that occur at district, regional, and "national" levels. This comarca was declared at the provincial level as a semi-autonomous territory, and yet the past twenty years have yielded little in terms of strengthened capacity and empowerment for self-governance. To highlight a telling example, the ostensible capital of the comarca, Llano Turgi (or Buabitdi, its Ngabere name), is not connected to the national electricity grid, has no internet connection, and lacks other basic needs of an administrative centre.

Progress in terms of increasing capacity for self-governance is also severely limited by persistent socioeconomic challenges associated with high rates of poverty, including challenges associated with multiple measures of human well-being: high rates of infant mortality, illiteracy, and isolation from economic opportunities that have over time increased the gap between these indigenous populations and the non-indigenous population in Panama (Michon 2010). The population living within the comarca has more than doubled in the past twenty years, to a most recent estimate of 178,000 inhabitants (INEC 2011). Unfortunately, aside from the ethnographic studies of Philip Young and Burton Gordon in the 1960s and 1970s, very little social science research has been done within the comarca, so there is a significant lack of understanding of indigenous land use, natural resource management, economic change, and cultural dynamics in the region.

Thus little research has explored the internal comarca governance and, as the results presented here suggest, forest and land management decisions are seemingly shaped, enforced, and upheld at the local community level. Pressure from outside the comarca, especially in the form of mining, has generated situations in the recent decades whereby the comarca authorities have needed to organize to resist intrusions (Wickstrom 2003, Michon 2010).

Legally, within the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle there is no private property--the territory, including the forests, is owned collectively (ACUN 2003). As in other Latin American countries, the Panamanian state has formally recognized the property rights of the indigenous residents of the territory, which include rights to harvest resources and to exclude other users, but not alienation--in other words, selling lands is not permitted (Pacheco et al. 2012). The use and enjoyment of the land within the comarca is done through what is called a right of possession that belongs to an individual or a family, and that can be inherited (ACUN 2003). This right of possession can extend to both cultivated and non-cultivated lands, including forests. The federal government, through its role in protecting endangered species and issuing permits for logging, through the Ministerio de Ambiente (until recently called the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente, or ANAM), also plays a role in shaping resource rights. In the case of remote Ngabe communities however, the presence of the agency appears to be negligible.

The five communities that participated in the research are found in the central part of the comarca, on either side of the continental divide and proximate to large areas of contiguous mature forest that are priority corridor areas for the larger regional Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, connecting the Palo Seco Protected Forest and Santa Fe National Park (Figure 1).

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

The field research methodology for this paper was based on a combination of workshops, interviews and questionnaires carried out from 2010 to 2013. The overall research effort also included participatory mapping and focus groups, with discussion of those results detailed in Smith et al. (2017). Importantly, the participatory mapping effort incorporated the creation of a mature forest cover map for the study area. Mature forest cover was delimited using high resolution Ikonos satellite imagery (true colour image, 1 m resolution, from December 2, 2010), using GPS points with associated field notes on forest cover for reference. In order to situate the study area forest context within the broader region, the team also explored forest change over time within the comarca, as compared with national statistics, using the global forest change data product, developed by Hansen et al. (2013).

For this present study, the first phase of fieldwork began in the community of Tugwrabitdi (known outside of the region as Raton), and included ethnographic research focused on the use of wild forest plants (Michon 2010). Workshops were held with men and women to identify useful forest plants, and guided trips were organized to observe traditional management practices that occur in the forest. A second phase of the research began in 2011, when the study area was expanded to include four additional communities. A local coordinator was recruited to provide logistical support, and a regional coordinator became instrumental in explaining the objectives, methods, and outcomes of the project to comarca authorities and people in the study area. Four Ngabe university students were hired as research assistants, and one local investigator was selected in each of the five participating communities to become part of the research team.

Detailed data on forest use and informal tenure was collected with a four-page questionnaire that was administered with 25 people (22 men and 3 women) who were identified as owners of forest parcels in the study area (2). The questionnaires documented basic information about these owners (e.g., age, residence) and their parcels. Questions were also asked about the types of resource use that occur within parcels, including questions related to tenure rights such as access, exclusion, alienation, and management. During the interviews, a small sketch map was made of each forest parcel, but unfortunately, the information in these sketch maps was not sufficient to accurately delimit or measure the size of parcels. Respondents were also asked about their future plans for their forest parcels, short-term (5-years) and long-term (25-years), and to share their thoughts and suggestions about conservation strategies. Efforts were made to administer the forest parcel questionnaire with as many of the owners as possible, including all individuals who own larger parcels. It is estimated that the individuals or families have informal rights to well over half of the mature forest within the study area, within what they consider to be their community boundaries, providing a good characterization of forest use and forest tenure for the study area.

The protocols for each phase of the field research received approval from the Research Ethics Board through Carleton University (11/2011, #12-0283). The research team also received approval from comarca authorities and informed consent was provided by all research participants in the five participating communities.

RESEARCH FINDINGS

Land use and livelihoods among the Ngabe communities

Subsistence shifting agriculture is the cornerstone of livelihoods in the Ngabe communities that participated in the study. Families cultivate corn (Zea mays), the most important crop, in addition to beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), dasheen (Colocasia esculenta), bananas and plantains (Musa spp.), oranges (Citrus sinensis), and other crops. On the southern side of the continental divide, fields are burned toward the end of the dry season before planting, but on the very humid, northern slope this rarely occurs. Households also maintain dooryard gardens that include a wide variety of fruit trees, vegetables, and medicinal plants.

Cattle ranching occurs in all five of the study communities. It is practiced at a small scale, but the number of families involved in cattle ranching appears to be increasing. Ngabe men began raising cattle in the comarca toward the end of the 1800s (Young 1971), but it is a relatively recent introduction in the highlands along the central cordillera. In Tugwrabitdi, where small scale ranching appears to be more prevalent, 22 percent of households reported having one or more cattle. Most pastures are located on the outer edges of the village on lands previously used for cultivation, where they can be visited regularly to tend younger individuals. In some cases, cattle graze in nearby forest areas as well. As has been reported elsewhere, cattle represent an important asset that can be easily converted to cash, in a place where banks and other financial services are unavailable (Coomes et al. 2008, Young 1971).

The role of the forest in the lives and livelihoods of the Ngabe

Mature forest--called katogwa in Ngabere--is a source of resources that complement other aspects of Ngabe livelihood strategies. Forests are valued for the resources they provide, as well as for ecosystem services and cultural reasons. As it was discovered, forest use is shaped by an informal tenure system whereby mature forests have been divided into parcels that have recognized owners. The analysis is based primarily on the use and management of forest by people who have control over forest parcels.

Among the forest resources that Ngabe families depend on, plants are of particular importance--for firewood, food, house construction materials, and medicines. They are also used to make handicrafts, housewares and objects used for ceremonial purposes (4). At least 41 species are used, and many have multiple uses (Michon 2010). Mature forest reserve areas are visited regularly, especially for firewood and wild foods (Table 1). Mature forests are also a critically important source of house construction materials, although these are not harvested as frequently. Hunting occurs, but not often, which is likely due at least in part to the scarcity of game animals in the areas surrounding the villages.

Not all forest areas, however, are used regularly. More remote forest reserve parcels, for example, are not typically harvested for firewood given that it is more easily collected from nearby areas and from secondary forests. Some parcels are lacking in certain types of resources--e.g., particular food plants--which could be due to their small area, habitat characteristics, or a history of unsustainable harvesting.

Wild plant foods harvested from mature forests include palm heart, fruits, vines and ferns; consumption varies throughout the year depending on seasonal factors. The heart of mitdra (Prestoea acuminata) and the fruits of the nurun palm (Chamaedorea tepejilote) are of particular importance, and the young leaves and tendrils of three vines--ka (unidentified), ka teguea (Sechium venosum) and ngroga (unidentified)--are eaten frequently as greens. The young, tightly curled frond of the ka oguo fern (unidentified), or fiddlehead, is also eaten by the majority of households. Along with the edible plants, local people also eat a wild mushroom. Numerous medicinal plants are also collected. (3)

The majority of families in the region build their houses primarily out of forest materials, including at least 10 tree species. Again, while the harvest of house construction materials is not frequent, they are of critical importance when a new roof is needed or when a structure falls into disrepair and a new structure is needed. Corner posts that withstand both termites are rot are particularly valuable, and there are two main trees that are used: mra (unidentified, either one species or 2-3 closely related species in the Lauraceae family), and ngrie grie (Roupala aff. montana). It appears that these are the only forest products that are occasionally bought and sold within the community, which is likely explained by their special properties, limited and declining abundance, and critical importance for building shelter in a region where cash for buying manufactured materials is difficult to obtain. Beams, walls and floors are also made using forest species, and wild lianas are used for tying the structure together. While corrugated metal roofs have become more common, palm thatch--most often juogo (Geonoma undata subsp. edulis) continues to be the most commonly used material, and its decreased availability is a significant concern for local people. Decreased abundance of thatch appears to be due to a combination of deforestation and overharvesting (including, apparently, occasional theft by people from outside of the community). Forest plants are also used to make a range of household items (e.g., baskets, bowls, axe handles) and handicrafts, for which natural fibres and dyes are also used.

As mentioned, hunting occurs in forested areas, practiced mainly by men, but this is not done frequently. This is most likely due to the scarcity of game animals in areas surrounding the villages, which could be explained by habitat conditions, depletion caused by overharvesting, or a combination of the two. According to Ngabe hunters, the more commonly hunted game animals include agoutis, pacas, armadillos, white tailed deer, and collared peccaries, although these animals tend to be captured most often in agricultural areas. Many of the game animals captured in agricultural areas depend on forest habitats, but also forage in farms where an abundance of food can be found at different times of the year, as is the case in other parts of western Panama (Smith 2005). Birds are hunted using hand-made sling-shots, and larger animals are killed with rifles or bows and arrows. According to local people, very few large mammals are present in the immediate vicinity of the community, and overall, game is scarce. Species like tapirs, primates, and the great anteater are said by local people to have been in the area previously, but with deforestation and habitat fragmentation they have "fled" to more remote forested areas and are rarely if ever seen. Others, such as the red deer can still be found in the vicinity of some communities, but are now reportedly very scarce and in danger of local extirpation.

In general, forest products are collected for household consumption or given as gifts, and are not sold. Of the 25 people with forest parcels who were interviewed, only one person reported selling forest products.

Forests are also important for the environmental services they provide. Forests help maintain a reliable supply of fresh water in small streams, and people recognize that deforestation can cause them to dry out seasonally, especially on the drier, south side of the continental divide. One respondent noted that the primary motivation for maintaining his forest reserve, in fact, is to protect his household's water source. Others discussed the role of forest cover on stabilizing the soil and preventing landslides, which are common in this mountainous region.

The forest also has cultural significance. Some people told us that living close to the mature forest and using its resources is an integral part of their culture and their identity as Ngabe people. Furthermore, many plant and animal products from the forest are used for traditional ornaments and as part of their ceremonial dress, as well as in ceremonies for spiritual protection.

Forest conditions within the comarca and in forest parcels

The indigenous comarcas of Panama are critical for the conservation of biodiversity, containing an estimated 54% of the country's mature forest cover (Vergara-Asenjo 2016). Deforestation rates in the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle have been high over the last 25 years or so, with a reported total loss of 21.8% from 1992 to 2000 (United Nations 2015a, see also Vergara-Asenjo and Potvin 2014). Deforestation rates since 2000 are less certain due to the use of different methodologies and land cover classifications, and it is not possible to calculate the loss of mature forests within the study area where finer resolution is needed for accurate assessments of change over time. Visual inspection of a major initiative to provide finer-resolution forest cover mapping for the year 2012--work that distinguishes between secondary forests and mature forest--however, shows continued loss of mature forests in the study region (STRI, n.d.). Further analysis is needed to generate accurate assessments (4). It is clear, however, from publically-available information, as well as our own field observations and the consistent statements of local residents, that deforestation remains a significant problem in our study area.

The available deforestation numbers point to broader shifts in forest loss across the comarca, while the field research findings help to characterize the ongoing pressures on forests in the study area. Deforestation represents a threat to the livelihoods of many families living in the highlands of the comarca, especially for the more impoverished households who are more reliant on forest resources to meet basic needs. The clearing of mature forest to establish new farms as part of traditional shifting cultivation, typically at the edges of existing agricultural areas, is the main direct factor driving deforestation (5). According to older informants in the study region, most of the mature forest within walking distance has been cut down in the last two or three decades due to population growth and increased demand for agricultural land. An additional driver of deforestation that local people identify as being important, and that is clearly evident in the landscape, is cattle ranching, which is relatively new in the region, having been introduced in some communities only within the last two decades.
FIGURE 2 Reported amounts of mature forest holdings within different
size classes in the four communities surveyed. Numbers above columns
indicate the number of households with forest parcel holdings within
each size class. Several smaller parcels were likely missed by the
survey, but all of the large parcels were included Size of individual
parcels (ha)

< 5      1
5-10     4
11-20    5
21-100   8
101-500  4
> 500    3

Note: Table made from bar graph.


According to informants, deforestation is more extensive around the largest of the five communities, Tugwrabitdi, where mature forest is now only found as fringes along the highest elevations, mainly on steeply sloping lands. In contrast, the community of Mraribatda (Chichica) is in close proximity to mature forest and this community and Ngwoinibatda (Suiche) have access to relatively large extensions of primary forest. In the case of Bababatda, the extent of mature forest is limited, but informants explained that an awareness of deforestation as a problem in the 1970s led to conservation efforts and restrictions on the cutting of forest, which is now considered to be in a state of forest regeneration and recovery.

Layered forest tenure in study communities within the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle

As noted earlier, collective title is the only tenure form recognized for the comarca, and is what is visible to the state. Notwithstanding legal definitions and official policies, forest tenure in the comarca, for all intents and purposes, is practiced at the local level. Across the five study communities, over time the mature forest within what they consider to be their community boundaries, surrounding the villages, has been divided into parcels that are controlled by individuals or small groups, who are recognized locally as "owners" of these areas. In most cases the parcels have been inherited, indicating that the system has been in place for many years, and likely originally acquired through the mechanism of the right of possession, pre-dating the establishment of the comarca (ACUN 2003, Michon 2010). This type of informal private forest ownership was unexpected, given that mature forests in indigenous regions of Panama are usually not under individual control, but rather available to those needing land for farming, as opposed to farms and fallows (including secondary forests), that are held by individuals through usufruct rights (Gordon 1982, Smith 2003).

The owners of forest parcels exercise the rights of use, access, withdrawal, management, and to some degree exclusion, as they are able to prevent others from cutting down the forest for agriculture. These rights, as tied to possession of the forest parcel, appear to hold as long as the forest parcel is clearly occupied and used or managed. There is some expectation that the forest parcel will be worked in some way, but it appears that only a minimal amount of management is sufficient. This system of informal forest ownership is respected within the community, and appears to be accepted by comarca authorities at higher district and regional levels as well. It does not prevent people from entering the forest, for example, to track game or to simply walk from one place to another. Neither does it restrict people from other communities from making a temporary shelter for an overnight stay during a trip.

As indicated in the questionnaire responses, parcels have been owned for more than 40 years on average, and in several cases owners indicated that their parcel had been inherited over more than one generation. In only two instances were there forest parcels that did not have a previous owner. Young (1971) does not mention the practice, and Gordon (1982), who did research in the 1960s in the lowlands in the northern part of the comarca, states that usufruct rights to farmland were the norm, whereby mature forest is not owned by individuals. How the ownership of forest parcels emerged is unknown, but could stem from growing populations and a more permanent, nucleated settlement patterns that have led to increased competition for forest resources within walking distance of villages.

Forest parcels and their owners

The average area of the forest parcels, based on the data collected, is estimated at138 hectares, but there is tremendous variation, with individual parcels ranging in size from 1-2,000 hectares (6) (Figure 2).

Not surprisingly, the two communities that are located closer to the larger, uninhabited forest areas along the central divide and to the west--Mraribatda and Ngwoinibatda--have larger parcels and more forest area under individual control. These two communities can be considered more remote than the others given that they are farther from roads.

The majority of the parcel owners interviewed were men, with only 3 small parcels owned by women. In most cases, there is only one owner, but 13 of the parcels are owned by multiple people, in most cases by two or more brothers. Almost all of the owners interviewed have lived their entire lives in the community, except for a few who were raised in a neighbouring village, and two who were born elsewhere in the comarca. The age of parcel owners varies from 25 to 72 years old, with the average age being 48. In most cases owners have only one parcel, but eight participants have more than one. The majority--70 percent--of parcels were acquired through inheritance from the owner's father. A few more parcels were inherited from both parents (9 percent), one from a father-in-law, and another from a stepfather. As mentioned, only two parcels had no previous owner. Five parcels, representing an estimated 182 hectares, were purchased. At the moment, it is not clear whether these cases of forest parcels being bought and sold are exceptions to the rule or part of a trend.

In Tugwrabitdi, 27 percent of respondents indicated that they did not own a forest parcel, and another 57 percent reported having only a small forest parcel surrounded by their agricultural holdings. Access to forest resources then, is highly uneven. While a few households have control over large areas of mature forest, most have much smaller parcels, isolated fragments, or no mature forest plots at all. Highly unequal forest ownership has significant implications for less affluent households who have limited access to resources that are needed for food, house construction, and other necessities.

Customary forest tenure and the use and conservation of mature forests

So how does informal forest ownership affect the use of the forest and whether or not it will be cleared for agriculture? Firstly, ownership restricts other community members from harvesting the resources found within forest parcels. In general, the resources found within forest parcels are for the exclusive use of the individual and immediate family. However, relatives from other households, friends, and other residents of the community or a neighbouring community are commonly given permission to harvest medicinal plants, fuel wood, or game. Questionnaires and interviews revealed, however, that some species are less likely to be shared, such as those used for household construction (mra tree for house posts and juogo palm for thatch). Several owners in fact refer to their forest parcels as "juogo reserves." Active management practices to promote palm growth and survival help maintain palm populations within forest parcels. Weeding is done around these palms to promote growth, harvesting is usually limited to once per year at most, and when collecting thatch, at least one mature leaf and all young leaves are left on the plant.

More general forest management consists of clearing and selective removal of plants from the understory, something that might be termed "forest weeding." Local people explained to us that a cleared understory is esthetically more attractive, makes it easier to walk through the forest, facilitates the identification and monitoring of useful plants, and makes it easier to spot wild game and venomous snakes. Clearing the understory can also promote the growth of useful plants, such as food plants that are spared. It is a practice that is done habitually by people who collect forest resources, but it is important to keep in mind that many forest areas are used infrequently or not at all, so the effects of this practice on the floristic composition and structure of forests varies considerably. Another related practice is the selective cutting of larger trees and palms to provide increased sunlight for coffee agroforestry that exists in some forest parcels.

In the highlands of the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, where there are very limited opportunities to earn cash, owners have a strong interest in conserving their forest reserves to ensure the continued availability of certain resources. However, the value of these resources should not be assumed over the long-term. For example, corrugated metal roofs are becoming more common, and have been the focus of governmental assistance, something that could diminish the importance of thatch, and in turn, the economic value of the forest.

Informal forest owners prevent other community members from cutting down stands of mature forest for agriculture. There appears to be significant demand for additional farmland in the region, fueled in part by demographic growth. While it is somewhat difficult to measure, the research findings suggest that informal forest ownership is having some influence in slowing deforestation rates, at least over the short-term. It is important to keep in mind though, that there is nothing in the locally-upheld norms associated with this individual forest tenure that prevents an owner from clearing his or her forest parcels whenever they like. Furthermore, while informal ownership is restricted from the ability to sell the land to outside actors (i.e. restricted alienation rights), there was no report of whether a situation such as this had been enforced by comarca authorities. It also appears that these de facto owners could subdivide their parcels in the future, as a way to pass along wealth to more than one inheritor.

The future of forest parcels

The owners of forested areas were asked about their near- and long-term future plans for their parcels. When asked about what would likely happen with their parcels in five years, more than fifteen respondents, or 55%, indicated their intention would be to maintain all of their mature forest in its natural state. The remaining ten owners, however, stated that they planned to convert some or all of their forest parcel for cultivating crops or for cattle pasture. When owners were asked what might happen in 25 years, respondents were less sure about the future of their forest parcels and less optimistic that hey would be conserved. Only 16 percent thought that their forest parcels would remain intact over the longer term; another 34 percent said that they were unsure. Many of the respondents are elderly, and the majority noted that it would be up to their children, who would inherit their forest parcel, to decide how it should be used in the future. As one person said, "When I die, there will probably be negative changes, because children sometimes do not have the same idea as their parents." Or as another stated, "everything will depend on whether the family continues the same practice or whether they will receive some kind of incentive from an institution [to conserve the forest], but as long as I am alive, conservation will continue."

It is clear that while some forest areas are being maintained indefinitely, in particular for the resources they provide, others are being held in reserve for future conversion to agriculture. In the case of the largest forest parcels, it would likely take many years--possibly even decades--for them to be converted to agricultural uses by a single family, even in the case of large households with many children. It is unclear, however, whether this would be possible over the long-term given the tremendous inequality in land ownership and demand for farmland among less affluent families.

Parcel owners were asked what they considered to be promising strategies for conserving the forests over the long-term. While the majority did not have concrete suggestions, a range of answers was provided, including payments to farmers who give up plans to convert forest areas to agriculture, and educational programs that promote a culture of conservation. When asked if they would support the creation of a protected area within the comarca to protect mature forests, most respondents were in favor, but the need for continued access to forest resources was emphasized repeatedly. Among others there was reluctance, stemming from fears that the central government would assume control over the area if it were to be included in the National Protected Areas System (SINAP).

Overall, the findings lead us to be concerned about the fate of mature forests within the comarca. It is important to keep in mind, however, that current trajectories can be altered. One promising development is the initiative of a group of residents of Bababatda (Cerro Flores) to formally protect their forest parcels. The maps that were made as part of the research have been used to help formulate a proposal and begin discussions with national authorities to establish a legally recognized protected area.

DISCUSSION

Community title has been an important step for recognizing the legitimacy of the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, and for negotiations with external actors and programs, including those administered by the Panamanian state. This has also represented the portal through which more global strategies such as REDD+ can set the stage for collaboration in forest conservation. Beneath this umbrella system of communally-held lands, however, this study uncovers an informal and locallyupheld tenure layer of individual forest ownership and management. Those seeking to secure future forest conservation in the area would benefit from recognizing this layered system and finding entry points for engagement with these de facto forest stewards.

At present there remain many questions about how land tenure affects forest use and whether collective ownership of forested lands reduces deforestation (Skutch et al. 2014, Blackman et al. 2017, Robinson et al. 2017). Part of the uncertainty may be related to the fact that there can be significant discrepancies between legal (de jure tenure) status and on-the-ground (de facto tenure) realities. Fieldwork with local communities can reveal customary tenure systems that provide individual forest rights that do not correspond with what are classified as community forests. Analysis of the relationships between tenure and deforestation based on legal categorizations that do not correspond to local practice can lead to misleading results. (7) To better understand the drivers of deforestation and how to counter them, research on the relationships between property rights and deforestation that relies primarily on remotely sensed data and legal categories needs to be complemented with field research. One of the more significant contributions of this research is the unveiling of indigenous forest use and management beneath the canopy and the hidden forest parcel owners functioning within the umbrella of indigenous community tenure.

The findings show that mature forests continue to provide a wide range of products that Ngabe families rely on, and that forests are managed by parcel owners to promote the abundance of valuable species. Informal forest ownership provides an important incentive to manage forests to enhance their value, perhaps more importantly, prevents them from being cleared by others for agriculture. In some cases, these forests are being kept in reserve for the owner's children to clear in the future, but it still provides some breathing room to develop economic alternatives that are more sustainable. However, at present comarca governance does not preclude owners from clearing their forests, and given current trends, it is unlikely that informal ownership will prevent the conversion of forests to agricultural uses over the long-term. Individual control over forest parcels also poses challenges for broader scale conservation initiatives.

Hidden forest owners and prospects for conservation

Deforestation in the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle is a persistent problem that will likely grow more challenging if there is no conservation engagement and support for those who steward the forests in these communities. As more than one person put it, the forest is cut down "por necesidad" (out of need). Customary forest ownership, which is accepted at the local level as well as by comarca authorities, prevents other families from cutting down areas of mature forest to establish new farms, but there is nothing that prevents owners or their descendants from cutting down their forest reserves to establish new farms. Deforestation rates are likely to remain significant given the high fertility rates and a lack of economic alternatives in the region. The apparent increase in cattle ranching is also a significant concern, given that pastures tend to be established on nearby lands previously used for cultivation, which means that farms must be established elsewhere to replace them. Also worrisome is the practice of renting pastures to ranchers from outside of the local area, which has begun to occur in the community of Tugwrabitdi. An additional factor that merits further study is the influence of social assistance payments. For impoverished families they are a critically important source of income. While important for the many families who need the help, anecdotal evidence suggests that some have invested at least part of this money in buying cattle.

The questionnaires and interviews with these hidden forest owners suggest that their forest stewardship is not necessarily guaranteed in the long-term. Future pressure from population growth and migration within the comarca, in addition to factors that are difficult to anticipate, mean that these individuals could quickly shift from forest stewardship to increased exploitation of forest resources or conversion to agriculture. In light of this, those seeking to avoid future deforestation will want to consider ways to both incentivize the continued stewardship of these forests by working with the existing norms, and consider how comarca governance might be supported in designing ways to both support these informal owners in their existing roles, and restrict rights such as alienation through parcel fragmentation to dis-incentivize future forest loss. Such restrictions to specific rights within the bundle have proven to be effective for forest conservation in other study areas in Latin America, while also potentially problematic for individual families seeking a secure livelihood for future generations (Holland et al. 2017). Should there be a shift to enforcing additional restrictions on individual forest ownership, it would be important to at the same time to provide assistance to enhance the value of forest parcels, and explore ways for de facto forest owners and entire communities to generate benefits from sustainable use and management of the forests. Currently however, in addition to game animals, certain forest plant resources have become depleted within the existing forests, undermining the economic value of some forest areas (Michon 2010). More can be done to promote the survival and abundance of useful species, and value of the forest--for example, by combining scientific and indigenous knowledges to develop propagation techniques for valuable species that have been depleted.

Local residents recognize that there is potential for greater economic benefits from ecotourism if forest cover is maintained. At present, tourism is extremely limited, but there is an expectation that it will arrive eventually. Ornithological tourism (aka, "birding") may have the most potential given that Panama already has an international reputation as a bird watching destination, as well as the fact that there are at least two endemic bird species within this mountainous region of the comarca (Angehr 2003). The promise of ecotourism was in fact one of the motivations for the establishment of Bababatda's protected forest. However, while there are many factors that are important to consider, successful ecotourism initiatives have tended to be community projects (Coria and Calfucura 2012). Informal ownership of forest parcels, however, could complicate ecotourism initiatives, in terms of how to assign responsibilities and share benefits in communities where highly unequal access to forest resources may already be causing tensions.

Another potential conservation challenge associated with individual control over forest parcels is that it can make it more difficult to establish conservation easements or payments for ecosystem services. While the decisive right to exclude comes with informal ownership, negotiating and administering numerous individual contracts would likely be much more cumbersome, and lead to the "high transaction costs of dealing with many smallholders," although grouping people into a single, collective agreement could potentially help overcome this problem (Wunder 2005: 17). Numerous smaller agreements would be more likely to result in a fragmented patchwork of protected forests, rather than a larger contiguous area. This is one of the potential challenges facing the UN-REDD+ program, which was initiated in Panama in 2010 as a pilot program, and formally approved as part of the UNFCCC Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. It would be challenging both logistically and in terms of program goals for REDD+ to be link at the individual community or even individual forest parcel owner scale. This study also reveals that the individual forest owners are best characterized as forest stewards who have long managed and conserved the forest. There is little evidence from the questionnaires that would suggest these forests are under active pressure of conversion and thus any involvement in REDD+ or an associated PES scheme would be to reward these communities and de facto forest owners for their stewardship, and incentivize it to continue into the future. It might also be practical to work with comarca authorities and community representatives to establish payments in return for protecting remote forest areas that do not currently have owners. This would require further research and fieldwork to identify these remote forests and their characteristics.

Governance of forests within shared indigenous territories

Much of the literature on forest tenure and conservation points to the importance of effective governance institutions (Gibson et al. 2000, Hecht 2014, Pagdee et al. 2006). There are numerous examples from around the world of complex customary governance systems that regulate the use of forest resources and prevent deforestation (Colchester 1994, Clarke and Jupiter 2010, Ganjanapan 1998, Hammi 2010, Niamir 1990, Ormsby and Bhagwat 2010, Sirait et al. 1994). This is not the case in the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, where there are no community or regional governance systems that prevent parcel owners from doing what they wish with them, despite the negative impacts of deforestation on plant resources, game populations, and the water supply for downstream communities. While informal ownership is likely helping to protect the forest over the short-term, it is far from being a panacea, and there continues to be an important role that comarca authorities will need to play in the long-term to protect forests within this shared territory. As Ostrom (2001: 23) notes, "larger [political] regimes can facilitate local self-organization by providing accurate information about natural resource systems... and mechanisms to back up local monitoring and sanctioning efforts." Support will be needed to address knowledge gaps and inadequate technical expertise, but political will also be required to negotiate the balance between conservation goals that provide broad, long-term benefits with the more immediate needs of impoverished communities who depend on these lands for their well-being.

Specific conservation initiatives tied to forests, such as the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, payments for ecosystem services (PES) schemes, and REDD+ typically tie their engagement with indigenous and other traditional communities through the umbrella layer of tenure and related institutions. The comarca's internal natural resource governance and institutional capacity remains weak. Multiple reasons exist for investing in capacity building and supporting the comarca's internal approach to resource governance, while stressing the importance of recognizing these informal forms that tie together forest management and conservation within individual communities.

Forest conservation partnerships

Given that so many tropical forests are under some form of community ownership, "it is imperative that government, donors, and other stakeholders devote the resources needed to ensure that co-management is as effective a conservation tool as possible" (Blackman et al. 2014: 36). There is now a large body of literature on community-based forest management that can be drawn from, that demonstrates that while there continue to be challenges there are effective ways of achieving success (Colchester 2004, Lazaro et al. 1993, Porter-Bolland et al. 2011, Ros-Tonen 2007). Strengthening co-management through providing infrastructure, technical assistance, and research partnerships are recognized as key recommendations for the conservation of forests, although it is important to avoid loss of local autonomy and subordination of indigenous knowledge along the way (Blackman et al. 2014, Finley-Brook 2007). Potential pitfalls can likely be avoided by conducting field research that provides a better understanding of traditional forest use and customary forest tenure practices. Conversely, poor understanding of local conditions can lead to conflict, failed conservation policies, and ultimately, further deforestation. Partnerships need to be sensitive to traditional practices and be open to developing strategies "in a way that is consistent with their own knowledge systems and cultural frameworks" (Davis and Wali 1994). As Larson et al. (2010a: 84) point out, new forest management strategies "may recognize some existing resources uses embedded in local livelihoods and customary practice but also introduce new rules and standards and restrict certain previous behaviours."

Any type of conservation or forest co-management strategy should take into account the very different worldview of the Ngabe and Bugle inhabitants of the comarca as well as the legacies of colonialism that continue to place indigenous communities in a less powerful position than outsiders. Indigenous societies often have very different conceptualizations of land ownership. As Burgher et al. (2001: 4) point out, the idea of the commons "rests on very simplified liberal-worldview assumptions about individual interest and behavior." Distinctive belief systems need to be respected, and not dismissed as anecdotal or less valuable than scientific modes of thought.

Over the long-term, forest conservation will require efforts to promote sustainable development, to provide economic alternatives for people who currently have no choice but to cut down more forest for subsistence farming. Initiatives could include the development of forest resources with commercial value that provide additional incentives to protect the forest, which has been shown to be a powerful way of preventing deforestation (Larson et al. 2010, Ruiz-Mallen 2015). As mentioned above, ecotourism also holds some promise as a sustainable economic activity that is compatible with the maintenance of mature forests, and could also provide opportunities to sell handicrafts made from forest materials.

In summary, forest conservation in the comarca will depend on a combination of strategies that build on and respect customary practices, good environmental governance, and partnerships with organizations and agencies from outside of the comarca.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

While still challenging, several favorable conditions exist for protecting the remaining forests within the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle. Firstly, they provide valued resources and they have significant cultural meaning. Secondly, after a long struggle, there is now secure collective ownership in the form of a semi-autonomous territory, where pressures on forests and other natural resources is mitigated by a strengthened ability by the comarca authority to exclude. There is also widespread concern in the region about deforestation and an evident conservation ethic tied to Ngabe cosmology, as well as among comarca authorities who recognize the many benefits that forests provide. These conditions are favourable for effective co-management, and present opportunities for communities to leverage support for existing forest stewardship practices as part of broader global goals for climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation, and habitat connectivity. However, while local people can manage forests very effectively, community forestry is "not a panacea for obtaining improvements in livelihoods and forest conservation" (Larson et al. 2010a: 79).

How do these multi-layered tenure arrangements affect the protection of forests over the long-term? This is an important question, and one that calls for more explicit research engagement by both the land tenure and conservation community. In the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, an in-between type of customary forest tenure exists, whereby individuals or small groups have exclusive control over who can harvest resources within forest parcels, and the right to clear them for agriculture if they choose, despite the fact that the forests within the territory are part of the commons. These processes cannot be detected from satellites, and need to be investigated in the field, which can be arduous given that it usually involves building rapport, gaining approval, and conducting research in remote locations. As Poteete et al. (2010: 6) note, "the practical challenges of conducting rigorous social science research on topics for which data are scarce, or difficult to access or to interpret, have not received adequate attention."

Where indigenous governance regimes are not adequately supported and weakly developed, as is the case in western Panama, this underlying tenure layer of informal ownership can slow deforestation due to locally-upheld rights of access, use, withdrawal, and management. But informal ownership and resulting forest stewardship may only be buying time, and strategies are needed to provide economic alternatives for growing populations that are currently reliant on farming for their sustenance. Developing effective strategies will require consideration of customary tenure practices. Individual ownership of forest parcels will be compatible with some strategies, and pose difficulties for others. Importantly, the authors recognize that this study is limited in its ability to extrapolate and offer broad policy guidance, given the focus on only five communities within the comarca. Moreover, the analysis presented here is based on the study team's perspectives as outside researchers; indigenous community leaders and comarca authorities may have different understandings of how the multi-layered land tenure regime may be affecting forest conservation.

If promoting and sustaining forest conservation and community livelihoods is a common goal, then research of this scale and depth plays a key role in helping to untangle and unveil the often complex and layered forms of tenure within community forested lands. In this way, the conservation community can support communities and invest in forest conservation efforts that steer away from universals and false assumptions to work collaboratively with community realities, share knowledge, and build on customary practices.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We would like to thank the many people who made this research possible, in particular people in the five communities involved in the project, Tugwrabitdi (Raton), Mraribatda (Chichica), Bababatda (Cerro Flores), Uribatda (Quebrada Hacha), and Ngwoinibatda (Suiche), who listened to us and answered our questions. The local investigators, Rubiel Montezuma, Titi Montezuma, Gustavo Castillo, Jose Pineda and Hector Reyes, made invaluable contributions, as did our regional project coordinator, Alberto Montezuma, and the local project coordinator, Ramon Pineda. We would also like the thank the four university students who participated in the project, Noris Flores, Elias Gallardo, Hidalgo Taylor and Tonis Abrego for their hard work in all stages of the project. Alexis Jimenez worked diligently to digitize the mature forest of the region. Finally, we would like to thank the institutions involved in the study, for their support of staff and resources: Carleton University, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), and the University of Panama. The Association Panamanian Center for Social Action (ACEASPA) was responsible for the administration of the project and played a critical role in its success. Many thanks go to Jesus Alemancia, Olimpia Diaz and Charlotte Elton at CEASPA, and Blas Quintero of Accion Cultural Ngobe, for their valuable contributions. We also greatly appreciate the valuable comments and suggestions of four anonymous reviewers. Finally, the research would not have been possible without the generous financial and administrative support of the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation of Panama (SENACYT).

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D.A. SMITH (a), M.B. HOLLAND (b), A. MICHON (a), A. IBANEZ (c) and F. HERRERA (d)

(a) Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

(b) Department of Geography and Environmental Systems, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

(c)Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Avenida Luis Clement, Balboa Ancon, Panama City, Panama

(d) Facultad de Humanidades, Universidad de Panama, Avenida Octavio Mendez Pereira, Panama City, Panama

Email: dereka_smith@carleton.ca, mholland@umbc.edu, amichon@ottawariverkeeper.ca, ibaneza@gmail.com and herrerafrancisco545@gmail.com

(1) The terms plot and parcel are used here, but in the region, these areas are often referred to as "reservas." We are not aware of an equivalent Ngabere term.

(2) An additional questionnaire was administered in Bababatda, but was not included in the analysis because it was not about specific forest parcels but rather, about the use of the forests as a whole.

(3) Medicinal plants were not investigated because of the sensitive nature of this topic, and the potential risk of research results being used for bioprospecting.

(4) Global forest change data available from Hansen et al. (2013), were used to calculate a 3.1% loss of forest cover in the comarca from 2001 to 2016, compared to a loss of 5.7% for the entire country over the same time period. These figures, while valuable for their longer temporal scale, represent an estimate of total stand loss, where a change from forest, defined as >50% tree canopy cover, shifts to 0% cover in a given year. As such, they include regenerated forests reported elsewhere (CATHALAC 2009), that are of less value for the conservation of more sensitive, vulnerable species. Moveover, much of the change that is happening beneath the canopy through selected harvests and other uses remains uncaptured with these change estimates.

(5) While the proximate causes of deforestation (e.g., population growth) are important, the legacies of colonialism, neglect and social inequalities at the national scale remain one of the most important underlying drivers. Rates of extreme poverty within the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle are reported to be 98.0 percent, compared to 14.4 percent for the country as a whole (INEC 2008, World Bank 2011).

(6) Forest areas were not measured. The estimates reported here are based on reported size. Sketch maps were made of each of the parcels providing an opportunity to assess the accuracy of reported size, but were not detailed enough to allow for precise delimitation. The degree of error associated with reported forest parcel size is unknown, but it should be pointed out that local people are accustomed to using hectares as a unit of measurement for planning and management (e.g., for buying seed or as part of their involvement in coffee production and other agricultural extension programs). Sketch maps provide details on the toponyms of rivers, mountains and other geographic features as well as the names of the owners of neighbouring parcels, confirming that the limits of forest parcels are well known. The total area reported for the forest parcels surveyed, which likely includes all of the larger parcels of the four communities, corresponds well with the estimate of the total amount of the four communities' mature forest area, which is roughly 6.0 [km.sup.2] (the exact size depends on community boundaries, which were not delimited).

(7) While the scope of informal ownership of forest parcels within collectively owned indigenous territories is not known, it is not unique to western Panama. For example, within collectively owned ejidos and other "social properties" of Mexico, while ownership is shared, in practice, individuals may have recognized rights over "uncertified" land parcels, including forest parcels (Skutch et al. 2014, Smith et al. 2009).
TABLE 1 Relative frequency of harvesting resources from forest
parcels, as a percentage of all parcels surveyed (n = 41)

                           Firewood  Edible  Medicinal
                                     plants    plants

At least once per week        39       23         3
1 to 3 times per month         6        9        11
Every 3 to 4 months or so     11       14        18
Once or twice per year         6       19        26
Parcel not used for this
type of resource harvest      39       35        42

                           House construction  Game
                              materials

At least once per week            0              0
1 to 3 times per month            5              0
Every 3 to 4 months or so        15             30
Once or twice per year           46             33
Parcel not used for this
type of resource harvest         34             37

TABLE 2 Forest parcels surveyed

Community                   Number of   Number of  Reported
                             owners      parcels    total
                           interviewed             area (ha)

Tugwrabitdi (Raton)            4            5          260
Mraribatda (Chichica)         10           23          714
Ngwoinibatda (Suiche)          8           10        4 644
Uribatda (Quebrada Hacha)      3            3           40
Total                         25           41        5 658
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Author:Smith, D.A.; Holland, M.B.; Michon, A.; Ibanez, A.; Herrera, F.
Publication:International Forestry Review
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:2PANA
Date:Dec 1, 2017
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