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Non-governmental organizations improve the social-ecological fit of institutions conserving the Andean bear in Colombia

Rhianna R. Hohbein, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
Nathan P. Nibbelink, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
Robert J. Cooper, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA


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Research has increasingly emphasized the importance of spatial alignment between ecosystems and the institutions that govern them, known as social-ecological fit. Social network analysis (SNA) has been recognized as a valuable tool capable of integrating social and ecological network data for empirical assessments of social-ecological fit. Few studies have integrated SNA with more complex spatial models, and assessments of social-ecological fit have rarely been conducted from the perspective of “fit” for wildlife conservation. We examined the spatial fit of the institutional network of heterogeneous conservation actors (both governmental and nongovernmental) working to conserve the Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) across the Colombian Andes. Our analysis was based upon social network and qualitative data derived from 67 semi-structured interviews with Colombian conservation practitioners along with a model of Andean bear connectivity. In Colombia, the known range of the Andean bear crosses the jurisdictional boundaries of 22 different “autonomous regional corporations” (corporaciones autonomas regionales or CARs), the primary entities responsible for implementing conservation policy in the country. We found that 53 pairs of CARs shared habitat along their jurisdictional borders that was identified as important to Andean bear connectivity, but only 16 pairs of CARs (30% of pairwise matches) communicated with one another about Andean bear research and conservation strategies. CARs were more likely to communicate with entities of Colombia’s National Natural Park Service or with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). These other entities were often located within the social network structure as intermediaries between otherwise disconnected CARs. These actors could use such strategic positions to facilitate coordination between CARs that share habitat important for Andean bear connectivity and, in so doing, improve social-ecological fit for the conservation of this species. Indeed, during interviews, Colombian NGOs often expressed concern over the lack of coordination among the CARs and several were working to amend the situation.

Key words

corporaciones autonomas regionales (CAR); landscape connectivity; network governance; nongovernmental organizations; social network analysis; spectacled bear; wildlife conservation

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087