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Adapting to Socioeconomic Developments by Changing Rules in the Governance of Common Property Pastures in the Swiss Alps

Ivo Baur, Chair of Human-Environment Relations, Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich
Claudia R. Binder, Chair of Human-Environment Relations, Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich


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The common property meadows in the Swiss Alps have been managed by local self-organized governance systems since the Middle Ages, thus preventing their overuse. During the past century, socioeconomic developments, such as industrialization and rapid nonagricultural economic growth, have shifted employment opportunities from the agricultural sector towards the service sector. In the agricultural sector, this has led to less intensive use and maintenance of the meadows in the Alps and consequently to a reduction in biodiversity. We use the example of Grindelwald in the Swiss Alps to analyze how the governance system has adapted to these socioeconomic developments. We based our analysis on the Program in Institutional Analysis of Social-Ecological Systems (PIASES). We coded five statutes ranging in date from 1867 to 2003, and conducted interviews to investigate changes in the governance system. In so doing, we focused on changes in the operational rules that structure the focal interactions between the social system and the ecological system, namely harvesting level and investment activities. Our results show that the governance system has adapted to the socioeconomic changes (1) by creating an additional organizational subunit that allows appropriators to alter operational rules relatively autonomously, and (2) through changing several operational rules. We conclude by outlining the properties of the governance system that have allowed for constant harvesting levels and investment activities over time.

Key words

common property pastures; rules; SES; social-ecological systems

Copyright © 2013 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