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Innovation in Management Plans for Community Conserved Areas: Experiences from Australian Indigenous Protected Areas

Jocelyn Davies, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences
Rosemary Hill, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences
Fiona J Walsh, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences
Marcus Sandford, Australian Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities; Indigenous Protected Areas Program
Dermot Smyth, Smyth and Bahrdt Consultants; Charles Darwin University
Miles C Holmes, Beit Holmes and Associates Pty Ltd; University of Queensland


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Increasing attention to formal recognition of indigenous and community conserved areas (ICCAs) as part of national and/or global protected area systems is generating novel encounters between the customary institutions through which indigenous peoples and local communities manage these traditional estates and the bureaucratic institutions of protected area management planning. Although management plans are widely considered to be important to effective management of protected areas, little guidance has been available about how their form and content can effectively reflect the distinctive socio-cultural and political characteristics of ICCAs. This gap has been particularly apparent in Australia where a trend to rapidly increased formal engagement of indigenous people in environmental management resulted, by 2012, in 50 indigenous groups voluntarily declaring their intent to manage all or part of their estates for conservation in perpetuity, as an indigenous protected area (IPA). Development and adoption of a management plan is central to the process through which the Australian Government recognizes these voluntary declarations and invests resources in IPA management.

We identified four types of innovations, apparent in some recent IPA plans, which reflect the distinctive socio-cultural and political characteristics of ICCAs and support indigenous people as the primary decision makers and drivers of knowledge integration in IPAs. These are (1) a focus on customary institutions in governance; (2) strategic planning approaches that respond to interlinkages of stewardship between people, place, plants, and animals; (3) planning frameworks that bridge scales by considering values and issues across the whole of an indigenous people’s territory; and (4) varied communication modes appropriate to varied audiences, including an emphasis on visual and spatial modes. Further research is warranted into how governance and management of IPAs, and the plans that support these processes, can best engender adaptive management and diverse strong partnerships while managing the risk of partners eroding local control.

Key words

aboriginal land management; community-based conservation; indigenous community conserved areas; indigenous protected areas; management effectiveness; planning

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087