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The Tragedy of the Park: an Agent-based Model of Endogenous and Exogenous Institutions for Forest Management

Elena Vallino, Department of Economics and Statistics, University of Torino, Italy


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Many scholars of common-pool resources have found that institutions might solve the tragedy of the commons. I address a particular situation of natural resource management: that of a protected area. In this situation, interests differ. Local rural inhabitants care about the quality of their environment but also need to exploit the resources for livelihood reasons. An external entity such as the State, a donor, an NGO, or some combination thereof decides that there is a need for nature conservation in that area. Because of some evidence of failure for a strictly top-down conservationist approach, the external entity decides to apply the concept of participatory conservation: the local inhabitants become stakeholders in the management of the area and become collectively responsible for conservation, with rights to exploit the resources up to some degree. I argue that project designers try to find a solution to nature conservation through the creation of a situation of a commons: creating a community that has rights and duties toward a particular natural area that is endowed with some resources. Many scholars rely mostly on institutions that are endogenously created within the users’ community to avoid the tragedy of the commons. However, what happens if institutions are imposed? In participatory conservation initiatives, the community has collective rights over the resources, and in this sense, the issue of endogenous rules for the commons management is relevant. However, the level to which the community should exploit the resource is usually imposed by the external project designers. Using agent-based simulations, I develop a theoretical model to look at the consequences of an imposed institution on the state of a forest and on the users’ profit, taking into account the possibilities of violating the imposed rules and facing enforcement. I compare the consequences of this imposed institution with those deriving from an endogenously created institution. I also analyze the interaction between the different kinds of institutions and the individual perceptions of each agent. Many results of the model confirm the quantitative and qualitative findings of the literature: the presence of institutions and enforcement improve the management of the resource with respect to an open-access situation, with different degree of success depending on the kind of institution in place. The two main counterintuitive findings are the following. First, an exogenous institution imposed by external agents may crowd out agents’ intrinsic environmental motivations. Second, when an imposed exogenous institution is in place, the most effective rule is one allowing a sufficient degree of access to resources for the agents, provided that adequate rule enforcement is implemented.

Key words

agent-based models; commons; institutions; participatory conservation; protected areas

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087