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Science for Place-based Socioecological Management: Lessons from the Maya Forest (Chiapas and Petén)

David Manuel-Navarrete, United Nations Economic Comission for Latin America and the Caribbean
Scott Slocombe, Geography and Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University
Bruce Mitchell, Department of Geography, University of Waterloo.


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The role humans should play in conservation is a pervasive issue of debate in environmental thinking. Two long-established poles of this debate can be identified on a preservation–sustainable use continuum. At one extreme are use bans and natural science-based, top-down management for preservation. At the other extreme is community-based, multidisciplinary management for sustainable resource use and livelihoods. In this paper, we discuss and illustrate how these two strategies have competed and conflicted in conservation initiatives in the Maya forest (MF) of the Middle Usumacinta River watershed (Guatemala and Mexico). We further argue that both extremes have produced unconvincing results in terms of the regionís sustainability. An alternative consists of sustainability initiatives based on place-based and integrated-knowledge approaches. These approaches imply a flexible combination of disciplines and types of knowledge in the context of nature–human interactions occurring in a place. They can be operationalized within the framework of sustainability science in three steps: 1) characterize the contextual circumstances that are most relevant for sustainability in a place; 2) identify the disciplines and knowledge(s) that need to be combined to appropriately address these contextual circumstances; and 3) decide how these disciplines and knowledge can be effectively combined and integrated. Epistemological flexibility in the design of analytic and implementation frameworks is key. Place-based and integrative-knowledge approaches strive to deal with local context and complexity, including that of human individuals and cultures. The success of any sustainability initiative will ultimately depend on its structural coupling with the context in which it is applied.

Key words

contextualization; integrated conservation; Maya forest; place-based; sustainability initiatives

Copyright © 2006 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