Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reframing Human-Wildlife Conflict

The principal purpose laying at the foundation of The Pasque Flower is to discuss new ways of thinking about contemporary protected area planning challenges and opportunities. A recently published manuscript co-authored by several of us demonstrates that thinking differently and at deeper levels may lead to new and useful insights. This paper, published in Oryx (First view, link uses the notion of mind mapping to uncover mental models of causes of human-wildlife conflict in Namibia, a country which is increasingly dependent on wildlife as a basis for attracting visitors and thus as a diversifying economic development strategy.

As I have noted before, a mental model is a simplified representation of the real world each of us have developed to deal with complexity and uncertainty in any given arena. In the current context, mental models of conflict underlie strategies and tactics to reduce conflict. For Namibia, this is an important question, for as investments in mitigating and preventing conflict have risen, so has the number of conflicts, suggesting that a new way of thinking would be useful to better understand the causes of conflict and effective responses.
In our paper, we discuss how we used small group processes combined with mind mapping software to identify mental models of conflict. A mind map is a graphical representation of factors that contribute to or influence a concept. The concept is located at the center of a graphic, the major factors affecting it are represented by arms, and then additional arms affecting those arms are also identified.

Shown below is one of the mind maps generated in this workshop. The figure shows that for the small group gathered, there were seven major factors affecting human-wildlife conflict: poor land use planning, inadequate management policies, family livelihoods, negative attitudes toward wildlife, increasing wildlife populations, proximity to protected areas, external influences, and increased competition for land and grazing. As the mind map shows, each of these arms is then influenced by other factors.

The closer an arm is to the central concept the greater the leverage that is possible in reducing conflict. Our experience is that many mitigation measures are focused on things easy to do, but with little leverage, such as aversive conditioning.

Thinking about our mental models, and thus diving deeper into the causes of human-wildlife conflict, reveals potential actions and strategies that would have greater leverage in reducing such conflict. Please read the article for more information.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The International Seminar on Protected Area Management – Saving Our Natural Heritage One Manager at a Time

They came from 22 nations, 27 protected area managers from all regions of our globe, from the Russian far east to the upper reaches of the Amazon basin, from central Africa to the Caucuses of Europe. The International Seminar on Protected Area Management (ISPAM), in its 14th year, has become a highly recognized effective force in building the individual capacities of managers to protect the world’s increasingly threatened natural heritage. Sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, the University of Montana and the University of Idaho, 375 managers from 80 countries have engaged the three week long course focusing on protected areas in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming in its 14 years.

The Seminar focuses on four themes that challenge nearly every protected area on the globe: engaging publics and communities, integrated planning, managing tourism and visitation, and managing across boundaries in the face of climate change. Participants share experiences and knowledge in each of these themes, interact with American park managers, conduct exercises to enhance their learning and challenge each other’s mental models of them. 

Protected area management is often about crossing boundaries as depicted
symbolically in this group photo of 2013 ISPAM participants and staff
at the boundary between Idaho and Montana
The seminar is built on several principles. First, the co-directors strongly believe that participants hold the knowledge that is needed to address these challenges; that knowledge needs to be brought out and tested in the discussions in the seminar. Second, interacting with American park managers is not done to show how to do something, but rather as a way of revealing the participants’ own approaches hidden from them in their own mental models. Third, participants are encouraged to “dive deeper” in searching for the patterns, structures and systems lying below the surface of individual events, a process I have encouraged in previous blog entries.

This year we learned a lot about uncertainty, as we had to move from our camp at the Magruder Ranger Station deep in central Idaho’s wilderness environment because of a rapidly growing wildland fire that unexpectedly changed direction. This demonstrated not only that the world is not predictable, but also tested our adaptive management skills as we had to think quickly about new accommodation!

But such tests are minor compared to the significant challenges faced by many of our ISPAM participants, such as Flavio Bocarde, manager for Pico da Neblina, 22,000 square kilometers of Amazon forest in the northwest of Brazil. Flavio manages this biodiverse important area with 3 staff. It is also a culturally diverse area involving 13 resident ethnic groups in 46 villages. 
Flavio and I atop Redsleep Mountain on the National Bison Range

While no tourism is currently permitted in the park, that doesn’t mean Flavio is not confronted with numerous challenges everyday, particularly with respect to engaging these groups to assist in management. Management, to be effective, must be culturally appropriate and communicating with these groups means lots of listening time—a proficiency needed by every protected area manager. While Flavio has education in geographic information systems, he recognizes that such advanced technology does not allow him to see everything in the forest, much of which would be culturally and spiritually significant to local indigenous peoples.

It’s been my privilege to work not only with the participants from nearly the beginning (with short presentations and a few days exposure each year), but for the last five years as a co-director with Wayne Freimund, Libby Khumalo, Bill McLaughlin and Laura Becerra. We have grown as well, not only in our roles but also in our awareness of the deep complexity of protected area challenges in an increasingly contentious and changing world.

ISPAM 2013 Co-directors Bill, Wayne, Laura, Libby and Steve.
A greater team there never was.
Our experiences raising interesting questions about what proficiencies are needed to protect natural heritage, how we develop competency in these proficiencies, and how we evaluate the success not only of individual managers but international conventions dealing with the protection of natural and cultural heritage. ISPAM is one response to those questions, but we need to have dozens of ISPAMs every year scattered across the globe to upgrade manager qualifications. Over 120,000 protected areas are officially recognized, each one needs the same careful and passionate stewardship that ISPAM participants provide. How will we accomplish this goal in a world that seems less inclined to support formalized continuing education capacity building programs?