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Synergy Between Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Conservation Science Supports Forest Preservation in Ecuador

C. Dustin Becker, Kansas State University
Kabita Ghimire, Kansas State University

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Abstract

Meeting the desires of individuals while sustaining ecological “public goods” is a central challenge in natural resources conservation. Indigenous communities routinely make common property decisions balancing benefits to individuals with benefits to their communities. Such traditional knowledge offers insight for conservation. Using surveys and field observations, this case study examines aspects of indigenous institutions and ecological knowledge used by rural Ecuadorians to manage a forest commons before and after interacting with two U.S.-based conservation NGOs: Earthwatch Institute and People Allied for Nature. The rural farming community of Loma Alta has legal property rights to a 6842-ha watershed in western Ecuador. This self-governing community curtailed destruction of their moist forest commons, but not without the influence of modern scientific ecological knowledge. When Earthwatch Institute scientists provided evidence that forest clearing would reduce water supply to the community, villagers quickly modified land allocation patterns and set rules of use in the forest establishing the first community-owned forest reserve in western Ecuador. This case demonstrates that synergy between traditional knowledge and western knowledge can result in sustaining both ecosystem services and biodiversity in a forest commons.
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087