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Political Incentives for Biodiversity Conservation



There seems to be a worldwide lack of political will for conservation that leads, inevitably, to an undermining of conservation policy. This is a standard complaint but one that has received little academic attention. In an attempt to better understand the gap between conservation policy and practice, we examined conservation policies and practice as they have played out in the Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, India, over the past two decades. In particular we consider the park's experience within two larger contexts: (1) Himachal's current development orientation, which seeks to transform the state into the electrical powerhouse of the country by building over 300 medium and large power projects and (2) electoral politics that result in politician's support for villagers and others denied access to national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Each of these factors works to undermine state conservation policies. Conservationists need to build political bridges with local communities if they are to use electoral power to work for rather than against conservation. Only such electoral power can be expected to force governments to adopt more cautious policies in advancing a particular development agenda. In the absence of strategic alignments in places such as Himachal Pradesh with strong democratic traditions, one must expect continued political support for potentially destructive megaprojects and an absence of political support for the conservation of biological diversity.
Political Incentives for Biodiversity Conservation
Department of Political Science, Box 90204, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0204, U.S.A., email
†Director of Research, Moving Images, D III/3425, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi 110 070, India
Abstract: There seems to be a worldwide lack of political will for conservation that leads, inevitably, to an
undermining of conservation policy. This is a standard complaint but one that has received little academic
attention. In an attempt to better understand the gap between conservation policy and practice, we examined
conservation policies and practice as they have played out in the Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal
Pradesh, India, over the past two decades. In particular we consider the park’s experience within two larger
contexts: (1) Himachal’s current development orientation, which seeks to transform the state into the electrical
powerhouse of the country by building over 300 medium and large power projects and (2) electoral politics that
result in politician’s support for villagers and others denied access to national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
Each of these factors works to undermine state conservation policies. Conservationists need to build political
bridges with local communities if they are to use electoral power to work for rather than against conservation.
Only such electoral power can be expected to force governments to adopt more cautious policies in advancing
a particular development agenda. In the absence of strategic alignments in places such as Himachal Pradesh
with strong democratic traditions, one must expect continued political support for potentially destructive
megaprojects and an absence of political support for the conservation of biological diversity.
Key Words: community participation, conservation policy, electoral politics, Himalayas, hydroelectric projects,
India, South Asia
Incentivos Pol´ıticos para la Conservaci´on de Biodiversidad
Resumen: Parece haber una carencia mundial de voluntad pol´
ıtica para conservar que conduce, inevitable-
mente, a la socavaci´
on de pol´
ıticas de conservaci´
on. Esta es una queja generalizada que ha recibido poca
on de la academia. En un intento por entender la brecha entre pol´
ıtica y pr´
actica de conservaci´
examinamos como se han aplicado pol´
ıticas y pr´
actica de conservaci´
on en Parque Nacional Gran Himalaya,
Himachal Pradesh, India, en las dos ´
ultimas d´
ecadas. En particular, consideramos la experiencia del parque
en dos contextos mayores: (1) la orientaci´
on actual del desarrollo de Himachal, que busca transformar al
estado en la central el´
ectrica del pa´
ıs (con la construcci´
on 300 proyectos el´
ectricos medianos y grandes) y (2)
ıticas electorales que resultan en el respaldo de pol´
ıticos a aldeanos y otras personas a las que se les niega
acceso a parques nacionales y santuarios de vida silvestre. Cada uno de estos factores act´
ua para socavar
ıticas estatales de conservaci´
on. Los conservacionistas necesitan establecer puentes con las comunidades
locales si quieren utilizar el poder electoral para trabajar a favor, y no en contra, de la conservaci´
on. S´
olo ese
poder electoral podr´
aforzar que los gobiernos adopten pol´
ıticas m´
as cautas en el avance de una cierta agenda
de desarrollo. En ausencia de coordinaci´
on estrat´
egica en sitios con fuertes tradiciones democr´
aticas, como
Himachal Pradesh, se puede esperar respaldo pol´
ıtico continuo a megaproyectos potencialmente destructivos
y ausencia de respaldo pol´
ıtico a la conservaci´
on de diversidad biol´
Palabras Clave: Himalayas, participaci´on comunitaria, pol´ıtica electoral, pol´ıticas de conservaci´on, proyectos
hidroel´ectricos, Sur de Asia
Current address: Ford Foundation, 55 Lodi Estate, New Delhi 110003, India, email
Paper submitted January 13, 2004; revised manuscript accepted June 10, 2004.
Conservation Biology, Pages 310–317
Volume 19, No. 2, April 2005
Chhatre & Saberwal Political Incentives for Conservation 311
The conflict between conservation and livelihoods and bet-
ween larger and local interests has become an integral part
of conservation experiences in most parts of the world.
In one of its most recent enactments, Indian conservation-
ists have pitted the globally endangered Western Tragopan
(Tragopan melanocephalus), a brilliantly colored pheasant
endemic to the Western Himalaya, against the grazing and
plant-collection activities of local populations in the Great
Himalayan National Park (GHNP) in the state of Himachal
Pradesh, India. The preservation of the Western Tragopan
by exclusion of human pressure on its habitat runs counter
to local livelihoods that are heavily dependent on the same
The story of the Western Tragopan is complicated by
another factor. The water of one of the valleys of the
park is being harnessed for generating electricity. This
project requires the construction of diversion weirs and
underground tunnels in precisely the areas preferred by
the Western Tragopan. Through a peculiar sequence of
events in 1999, a part of the park was carved out to make
wayfor the Parbati Hydroelectric Project. The larger in-
terest of development appears in this case to have edged
out the interest of conservation. This is the story of the
Parbati and the Tragopan—emblematic representations
of development and conservation, respectively—as it has
played out in the GHNP over the last two decades and the
lessons we can draw for conservation elsewhere.
We examined a burgeoning literature in political ecol-
ogy that has pointed to the basic centrality of politics to
the outcome of conservation initiatives (Guha 1989; Neu-
mann 1992). Many of these studies document a harsh
state, bent on the exploitation of nature and labor. Yet
the notion of the omnipotent state, capable of exerting
its will over relatively powerless communities, has come
under serious attack (Sivaramakrishnan 1999; Peluso &
Vandergeest 2001). An emerging literature is increasingly
keen on providing more nuanced descriptions of both
community and state and the means by which access to
resources is negotiated or contested within and beyond
the community ( Jeffery & Sundar 1999; Agrawal & Gibson
2001). This move toward a better appreciation of local dy-
namics, however, has often entailed an underappreciation
of the larger politics of conservation and development. In
particular, two issues are ignored: electoral politics that
keep a postcolonial government in power and develop-
ment politics that today keep the state financially solvent.
We explored the outcomes of conservation policy and
practice in the GHNP within the context of large-scale de-
velopment initiated by the state and Himachal’s electoral
politics. Both factors play a decisive role in the outcome
of conservation policy and practice in Himachal Pradesh.
Any understanding of the trajectory of conservation in
Himachal Pradesh must therefore be considered within
these larger contexts. We first provide a brief account of
why the GHNP is important, focusing on both the bio-
logical values of the park and the role it plays in sustain-
ing local livelihoods. We also outline the GHNP story as
it has unfolded over the past two decades, with regard
to state attempts to exclude people from the park, local
resistance to this exclusion, and administrative and po-
litical developments related to the Parbati Hydropower
Project. We use key elements of this background material
to enter into a larger, more abstract discussion of the inter-
play between the politics of conservation and the politics
of development and the implications of democracy for
Importance of GHNP
The Great Himalayan National Park lies in a relatively iso-
lated part of the Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh. It was
established in 1984, following a survey of wildlife in the
Western Himalayas conducted by an international team
of scientists. Based on the relatively low human pres-
sures in the area and the exceptional condition of the
forests, the area was judged an ideal location for a national
park. Spanning over 1100 km2,itharbors one of only two
protected populations of the Western Tragopan (approx-
imately 1600 animals in the wild), four other pheasant
species, sizeable and contiguous populations of Himala-
yan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus) and blue sheep (Pseu-
dois nayaur), and an endangered population of musk
deer (Moschus chrysogaster) (Gaston et al. 1983; Wildlife
Institute of India 1999).
Local communities also use the park for a variety of pur-
poses. Approximately 15,000 people live in a 5-km-wide
belt that rings the western side of the GHNP border. All
families own and cultivate small parcels of land outside
the national park that provide subsistence for part of the
year. The bulk of the population depends on additional
resources within GHNP to meet their annual income re-
quirements, including the grazing of sheep and goats, the
extraction of medicinal plants to be sold to a burgeoning
pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry, and the collec-
tion and sale of morel mushrooms (Morchella esculenta),
consumed in restaurants around the world.
There is a temporal and spatial pattern to this use of re-
sources. The sheep and goats are grazed in the subalpine
forests and alpine meadows for 7 months of the year. Their
winters are spent at lower elevations, either stall-fed or
grazed in village forests. For the 7 months that the animals
are on the move, they are grazed in specific, clearly de-
fined grazing runs, based on customary rights that have
been worked out over the course of many decades. The
wool of the animals is used to meet family requirements,
and the occasional animal is sold as meat on the hoof,
eventually ending up in the meat shops of the Kullu Valley.
Conservation Biology
Volume 19, No. 2, April 2005
312 Political Incentives for Conservation Chhatre & Saberwal
Equally seasonal is the collection of morels, which grow at
the lower reaches of the GHNP forests and in forests out-
side the park. The mushrooms are collected from March
to early May, depending on the amount of snow that falls
in the winter and the timing of the snowmelt. The har-
vesters sell the mushrooms to local traders in the small
towns of the region or to traders in the bigger towns in
the Kullu Valley—Aut, Bhuntar, and Kullu. Morels have
been sold for as much as Rs. 7500 (US$166.00)/kg, a lot
of money considering the meager income-generating op-
portunities in the region.
The collection of medicinal plants is also highly lucra-
tive. For the most part, these herbs are extracted between
July and September from alpine meadows above 3200 m.
The combination of morel and medicinal herb sales con-
tributes an average income of over Rs.10,000 (US$220.00)
per family in villages around the park (Tandon 1997). It is
likely that reduced access would adversely affect the poor-
est sections of the populace, as emphasized by Baviskar
(2003), although there is little data to suggest caste- or
class-differentiated use of park resources.
Conservation Conflicts
Biologists and officials of the Forest Department have long
believed that human presence and resource use pose a
serious threat to the biological diversity of the region.
Sheep and goats have reportedly overgrazed the mead-
ows, decreasing plant diversity and increasing soil erosion
(Gaston & Garson 1992). Their movement through the
forests while on the spring migration to alpine meadows
disturbs the nesting Western Tragopan, with potentially
serious consequences for chick survival. At the same time
the sheep are moved up the mountains, large numbers of
people comb the forest floor looking for morels, further
disturbing the nesting birds ( Ramesh et al. 1999). Herders
and medicinal plant collectors reportedly lay large num-
bers of snares in the hope of catching musk deer. Far
more than other deer species, the musk deer is valued for
its musk pod, a commodity that commands high prices
in illegal trade in wildlife products (Vinod & Satyakumar
1999). And medicinal plant extraction has escalated to a
point where some species are reportedly on the decline,
far less visible, and smaller in size than just a few years
ago(DeCoursey 1997; Tandon 1997 ).
Although some villagers agree that certain species of
medicinal plants are on the decline, others argue the op-
posite. There is little sympathy with the idea that grazing
has a negative impact on forests and meadows. Most vil-
lagers claim that the act of rotating grazing through forests
and meadows guards against the possibility of overgraz-
ing. In counter-arguments related to the decline of medic-
inal plants, herb collectors claim that some of the most
intensively extracted herbs are root propagating and that
collectors do not extract the entire rootstock. Collec-
tors also claim that overharvesting of seed-propagating
species is biologically impossible because herb collection
takes place following seed set. There are mixed responses
to the allegations that morel collection is responsible for
disturbing the Western Tragopan at a crucial juncture in
its breeding biology and that shepherds and herb collec-
tors lay snares to catch musk deer.
The point for most villagers is that the value placed on
the national park cannot be disassociated from the history
of use of the area. Many claim that the villagers need to be
credited with having taken good care of the park. They
argue that animal, bird, and plant populations flourish in
the area, not despite the use of the park by local people
but because of their seasonal presence. To support such
aclaim, they argue that certain medicinal plants need to
be regularly harvested to prevent them from “rotting.” It
is also now well accepted within parts of the scientific
community that moderate levels of grazing are necessary
to sustain high levels of diversity within grasslands the
world over (Behnke & Scoones 1992; Howe 1994; Smith
& Rushton 1994). Research within the GHNP supports
such a position (Mehra & Mathur 2001). Villagers argue
that because of their presence in the park, they provide
the ears and eyes that guard against large-scale poaching.
It is because of their alertness that forest fires have been
put out in the past. Were their access to the park to be
curtailed, they argue there would be deterioration in the
condition of park resources (Barnela & Saberwal 2001).
In 1999, 15 years after the park was first formally demar-
cated, the Himachal Pradesh government issued the final
notification for the park. The Indian Wildlife Protection
Act requires state governments to “settle” or “acquire”
rights of local populations prior to finally notifying an
area as a national park. Such acquisition of rights, through
aprocess legally known as a “settlement of rights,” takes
place either through the payment of monetary compensa-
tion or through the provision of alternative areas within
which such rights can be exercised. The settlement of
rights in the GHNP took place on the basis of a report
on rights in forests prepared by Alexander Anderson over
a hundred years ago (Anderson 1897). Based on names
of families derived from that settlement, 314 households
were granted monetary compensation. Alternative graz-
ing areas were to be made available to those claiming
long-standing rights to graze alpine meadows. Because
the collection of morels was not listed in Anderson’s set-
tlement report, no compensation was provided for this
loss of income and the majority was not compensated for
loss of access to herb-producing alpine meadows in the
park, owing to a lack of legal rights. The implementation
of the wildlife law has generated considerable resentment
within the affected population. Although there is wide
variation in the estimated income generated by families
in the area, a significant proportion of the community de-
pends heavily on medicinal plants, morels, and sheep and
Conservation Biology
Volume 19, No. 2, April 2005
Chhatre & Saberwal Political Incentives for Conservation 313
goat grazing to meet their annual income needs (Tandon
1997; Mehra & Mathur 2001).
That considerable amounts of morels and medicinal
plants are being extracted from the region is borne out
in discussions with traders who handle these products.
They point out that certain items such as tree lichens and
dhoop (Jurinea macrocephala)areremoved from the
area by the truckloads (Barnela & Saberwal 2001) and
that others are exported in the hundreds of kilograms.
The magnitude of this legal trade is troubling (there is re-
portedly a large and growing underground trade as well),
and the trade volume is indicative of the large amount of
revenue generated by these resources. Villagers are an-
gryatthe sudden denial of the stream of income in the
name of conservation, and they have used various means
to circumvent the law.
Community-Based Conservation
Long before the final park settlement took place, there
had been an earlier, more circuitous attempt to reduce
human pressures on the park. Faced by mounting criti-
cism of an exclusionary policy that forced people from
their homes, conservation organizations the world over
devised a number of variants on the same theme: local
communities need to be provided a stake in the conserva-
tion process to improve the conservation record (Wells &
Brandon 1992). In India this took the form of ecodevelop-
ment. Within the logic of ecodevelopment, local commu-
nities would be provided alternative means of livelihood
through a variety of development initiatives, thereby re-
ducing their dependence on resources within protected
areas. This was to be experimented with in eight na-
tional parks in the country, with support from the Global
Environmental Facility (GEF). The World Bank provided
funds for two pilot studies, one in GHNP the other in the
Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (World Bank 1994;
Pandey & Wells 1997).
Ecodevelopment came to GHNP in 1994. Over the
course of 5 years, approximately Rs.70 million (approx-
imately US$1.5 million) was spent on ecodevelopment,
research, and management in GHNP, all part of a loan
from the World Bank. Because ecodevelopment was to
take place for the people and required their coopera-
tion, its implementation was to be carried out through
the agency of ecodevelopment committees, formed at the
level of a cluster of a few villages. The agents in charge of
forming these committees were forest guards and deputy
rangers—the frontline staff of the Forest Department.
With inadequate exposure to and no training in partici-
patory development and conservation, these agents were
thrown headlong into the implementation of the Ecode-
velopment Project.
Confronted with the need to form ecodevelopment
committees, most forest guards did not attend seriously
to social hierarchies. Invariably, it was the more powerful
people in the village who became members of these com-
mittees (Baviskar 2003). In numerous cases, there was
significant overlap between membership in the ecode-
velopment committees and that of the devta (or deity)
committees, institutions that direct and control all aspects
of community and civic life in this caste-riven society.
Eventually, upper-caste men comprised the bulk of those
present on these committees (Baviskar 2003).
Most villagers are unhappy with the way ecodevelop-
ment funds have been spent. Rather than being directed at
the creation of alternative forms of livelihoods, funds have
been used to repair temples, testimony to the presence of
devta committee members on the ecodevelopment com-
mittee. Funds were also spent on the building of bridle
paths, some water-holding tanks, and rain shelters. Need-
less to say, such construction has played little role in gen-
erating alternative forms of livelihood, and pressures on
park resources have in no way diminished. More gener-
ally, the failure to link project expenditure on alternative
livelihood strategies to reduced use of park resources is
afeature of the entire spectrum of activities undertaken
under the ecodevelopment project.
Development and Electoral Pressures
The above-mentioned aspects of the conflicts centered
on conservation have been well documented around the
world (Wells & Brandon 1992; Agrawal & Gibson 2001).
There are two additional dimensions of the GHNP story
that we wish to illuminate: development and electoral
politics. The idea of the Parbati Hydel Power Project had
been in circulation for many years but had been shelved
because of a lack of finances and, more critically, because
some construction would need to take place inside GHNP,
something prohibited under the Indian Wildlife Protec-
tion Act. In 1999 the relevant portion of the park was
simply deleted from the original demarcation. The final
settlement of rights conducted in 1999 appears to have
been timed to enable this deletion and was justified at the
time by characterizing the excluded area as “ecologically
insignificant.” Yet surveys by wildlife biologists strongly
indicated that the area between Gatipat and Kundar vil-
lage, part of the area that was denotified, had some of the
finest bamboo forest and was ideal habitat for the Western
Tragopan (Ramesh et al. 1999).
Slightly more than 10 km2was deleted from the origi-
nal demarcation of the GHNP—not a huge area in itself.
Run-of-the-river projects (like Parbati Project) envisage
the artificial creation of a head of water by channeling it
through tunnels along the hillsides rather than collecting
water in large reservoirs. Because there is no submer-
gence of land, these projects are projected to have lower
direct ecological and social costs than those associated
with large dams. The area was deleted primarily to allow
Conservation Biology
Volume 19, No. 2, April 2005
314 Political Incentives for Conservation Chhatre & Saberwal
the building of a wide road to access the dam site inside
the park. The building of this road, and eventually the con-
struction of the dam itself, has resulted in a labor force of
5000–6000 people setting up camp in the town of Sainj,
on the outskirts of the park. This represents a tripling of
the population of this small town. The combination of
higher population and construction of roads will have an
adverse impact on the forests in and around the park and
will destabilize the mountainside. From the perspective
of biological diversity, the Western Tragopan and Cheer
Pheasant (Catreaus wallichii) populations that inhabit
the area will need to move elsewhere, certainly with less
protection. What comes through most vividly in the fi-
nal notification documents is the double standard of a
developmentalist state. Although local livelihoods can be
sacrificed for the sake of biological diversity, biological
diversity must make way for national development.
When, in June of 1999, the deputy commissioner an-
nounced the ban on villagers entering the national park,
there was incredulity and some feeble protests. With na-
tional elections 2 months away, the Congress (the oppo-
sition party in the state legislature) used the situation to
extract maximum electoral mileage by characterizing the
incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party as antipeople. Forced
on the defensive, the local member of Parliament, Ma-
heshwar Singh, called the deputy commissioner and or-
dered him to allow people back into the park. This was
done through an entirely illegal order issued by the deputy
commissioner and circulated within all affected villages
in early September 1999. People returned to the park and
Maheshwar Singh survived the elections. In December of
the following year, 2000, elections were to be held for
local village councils. That summer, the park authorities
again tried to prevent entry into the park. Once again
the political leadership thwarted him with an eye on the
Part of the problem for the park authority is that elec-
tions come at regular intervals. Local, state, and national
elections are not synchronized: elections to the state as-
sembly in April 1998 and December 2003, national elec-
tions in 1999 and 2004, and village council elections in
2000 and 2005. Six elections are held within 8 years, and
in every election access to forests is a crucial issue all
over the state (Saberwal 1999). There is little room for
implementing conservation policies that entail electoral
costs. Conversely, opposition to exclusionary conserva-
tion policies has the potential to create an abundance of
political capital.
Failure of Conservation Policy
The impulses of conservation and development are po-
tentially contradictory, and a politically powerful rural
electorate can exercise a strong influence on conserva-
tion policy and practice. This insight is well understood
in analyses of conservation politics in advanced indus-
trial democracies but has been overlooked in developing
Two seemingly unrelated events lie at the heart of the
GHNP story. Both are associated with the final settlement
of the national park, but the two events have led to dra-
matically different outcomes. The first event involved the
Himachal Pradesh government issuing the final notifica-
tion for the GHNP, in a settlement that would deny people
access to park resources. It is significant that this notifica-
tion came 15 years after the intent to constitute the park
wasfirst announced. During that period, as with almost
every other protected area in India, GHNP was a national
park only on paper, meeting none of the legal require-
ments that all human consumptive use of resources be
stopped. With over 500 protected areas in the country
at the time, only a handful had been finally notified, tes-
timony to the fact that state governments were willing
to go along with a conservationist agenda only up to a
point. No state government was willing to incur the po-
litical costs of eliminating human access to these areas.
That the Himachal government should choose to finally
extinguish all rights within the national park flies in the
face of all electoral logic.
But the second event, that of deleting a portion of the
Jiwanal from the original boundaries of the park, provides
aclue to political calculations. The government’s justifi-
cation for the deletion had little credibility. The area is
important habitat for the Western Tragopan, and families
living here have long since vacated the area under pres-
sure from the Forest Department. The decision to entirely
exclude the area from the park appears to have been
necessitated by the need to accommodate the building
activity associated with the Parbati Project. The Indian
Wildlife Protection Act prohibited such construction as
long as the area remained a part of the national park.
Despite the seemingly contradictory nature of these
two impulses—the protection of wildlife and the en-
abling of environmentally destructive development on
the other—they are closely connected. Such political acts
are crucially entwined with a certain kind of develop-
ment discourse that enables the government to appeal to
alarger Himachali identity—in this case an identity cen-
tered around the creation of a new Himachal Pradesh as
the powerhouse of the country. Hydroelectric projects
have been conceptualized and implemented for many
decades, but the current government has provided a
huge impetus to establishing Himachal Pradesh as a ma-
jor source of hydropower in the coming decades. Over
300 projects are proposed in the state and are up for
grabsbythe private sector (Coward 2001). Big develop-
ment derives part of its legitimacy through the process
of identity creation, a process by which Himachalis them-
selves associate their state with hydropower. The manner
in which the settlement process was carried out, includ-
ing the machinations around the exclusion of a part of the
Conservation Biology
Volume 19, No. 2, April 2005
Chhatre & Saberwal Political Incentives for Conservation 315
Jiwanal valley of the park, appears directly linked to this
developmentalist agenda rather than the conservationist
agenda of the state government.
As a result of the final notification of the park, people
were not allowed to access park resources. Yet for four
years now, people have used the park as they please. Vil-
lagers petition local politicians, who in turn call upon
district bureaucrats or the park director and get them to
permit villagers access to park resources (Baviskar 2003).
The electoral constituency of a member of the Legisla-
tive Assembly or the Parliament constitutes the crucial
arena within which the politics of conservation is played
out. It is at this level that the actual implementation of
conservation policy takes place and where the flexible
arm of the law comes into its own. Pastoralist commu-
nities in Himachal Pradesh have routinely used political
influence to undermine Forest Department restrictions
on access to reserved forests, one of the most restrictive
categories under the Indian Forest Act (Saberwal 1999),
and such manipulation of an ostensibly restrictive state is
widely reported (Moench 1990; Thapar 1998). It is the
knowledge of this flexibility that provides the necessary
reassurance that a final notification need not in fact force
the government to incur significant electoral losses.
It is the interaction of development and electoral pol-
itics that ultimately shapes both the direction of devel-
opment and the practice of conservation in Himachal
Pradesh. As in the GHNP case, the state may espouse
aconservation ideology while pursuing a developmen-
talist agenda that has potential for great environmental
damage. Significantly, the articulation of a conservation-
ist agenda provides legitimacy with international funding
agencies and an urban middle class with an interest in
conserving wildlife. Interventions at the level of the po-
litical constituency work to minimize electoral costs the
government may have to bear through an enforcement
of unpopular policies. It is only because the director of
GHNP insisted that all restrictions be enforced that much
notice has been taken of the settlement at all. Eventu-
ally, the director himself had to back down or risk being
replaced with someone more pliable.
Limitations of Community Participation
With the growing availability of funding for conserva-
tion projects, there is a newfound reason for state gov-
ernments to adopt language more in line with interna-
tional expectations. Thus, ecodevelopment has emerged
in recent years as a panacea for dealing with continuing
conflicts between people and protected areas, the ratio-
nale being that through the development of alternative
sources of income, local dependencies on park resources
will be drastically lowered. Human development is seen
as going hand in hand with the effective conservation
of biological diversity (Wells & Brandon 1992; Pandey &
Wells 1997).
But development is a complex process, and the GHNP
experience indicates that ecodevelopment is no differ-
ent. The government appeared to have little conception
of how to implement the ecodevelopment project as en-
visaged in the project documents. Although a certain ex-
penditure of money took place in the construction of
community civil works, and items such as handlooms,
television sets, and pressure cookers were handed out to
the villagers, none of this was linked in any way to an im-
pending curtailment of villager access to park resources
(Nangia et al. 1999). Ultimately, close to 70% of the money
budgeted for ecodevelopment was spent on civil works
of a general nature, with few inputs into activities or ini-
tiatives that would enhance villagers’ capacity to reduce
their dependence on park resources. People took what
came their way via ecodevelopment without relinquish-
ing, in thought or deed, any right of resource use in the
park (Baviskar 2003).
Cross-Scale Engagements
Given the centrality of politics to conservation, there is
aneed for a more insistent strategic engagement with
the political process, an engagement that needs to occur
at the intersection of local, state, and national govern-
ments. Such engagement must include dialog with peo-
ple directly affected by conservation policies, and many
have argued for the building of bridges with local commu-
nities (Wells & Brandon 1992; Kothari 1997). Coalitions
composed of conservationists, local people, the forest de-
partment, and social activists are likely to achieve far more
than the current fragmented approach that pits conser-
vationists and foresters against the local community and
social activists.
For political pressure to work in the interests of conser-
vation, particularly when confronting big development,
there is a need for mobilization over a much larger scale.
Within Himachal Pradesh there are the beginnings of such
mobilization. A number of groups in the Palampur region
are working toward the establishment of a state-wide net-
work of individuals and organizations involved with a va-
riety of issues related to conservation and development.
At the national level, recent initiatives such as the Biodi-
versity Conservation Prioritization Project (1996–1999)
coordinated by World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF-
India) and the Kalpvriksh-led National Biodiversity Strat-
egy and Action Plan (1999–2003) have managed to in-
volve large sections of society in identifying conservation
priorities and strategies. Policy makers, foresters, wildlife
biologists, social activists and, most critically, local peo-
ple have worked together to produce impressive policy
recommendations. Such collaborations bring many more
Conservation Biology
Volume 19, No. 2, April 2005
316 Political Incentives for Conservation Chhatre & Saberwal
stakeholders into national discussions of conservation pri-
orities and strategies.
What these collaborations fail to do, however, is to en-
gage people explicitly with the political process at the
state or national level. The energies of such collaborations
are primarily directed toward documenting what changes
need to take place in the legal framework, rather than in
exploring the political means by which such changes can
be effected. This choice of not directly engaging with the
political process has serious implications for how far the
discourse on participatory conservation can be taken.
The building of bridges with local communities can
become a real possibility only if an enabling legal frame-
work permits local use of resources within protected ar-
eas across a range of options: no-use areas, low-intensity
use areas, and high-intensity use by rotation. Without the
appropriate legal flexibility, recommendations for involv-
ing local communities sound hollow. It is in the absence of
aconcerted, strategic effort to change the law, rather than
merely suggesting changes to the law, that urban-based
conservationists have failed to make significant progress
with regard to a better involvement of local communities
in conservation.
The Fate of GHNP and Lessons for Conservation
What happens to GHNP? Within the Himachal Pradesh
Forest Department, there is an extremely small lobby of of-
ficers with an articulated interest in wildlife conservation.
That these officers are men of integrity who are pursuing
the protection of GHNP in the context of a commitment
to conserving biodiversity cannot be questioned. But the
relative isolation of GHNP, politically speaking, also can-
not be glossed over. Within Himachal Pradesh, practically
the only other people with an interest in the park are
those who are currently being denied access to its re-
sources. If they cannot be directly and politically involved
in the management of the park, there is little chance that
the Forest Department will ultimately succeed in keeping
people out. In the absence of the recognizable authority
of either the forest department or local institutions, GHNP
will remain an area of open access, vulnerable to intrusion
by developmental activities such as dam building and to
grazing and medicinal herb collection.
It is worth exploring the merits of the argument that
certain human activities can have a positive outcome from
aconservation perspective. The continuation of moder-
ate grazing practices may contribute to high levels of herb
diversity within the alpine meadows, although that fact
needs to be established empirically. The presence of peo-
ple with a real stake in the biological resources of the park
can lead to greater support for effective management, in-
cluding better monitoring of who goes into the park, for
what, and at what times of the year. Poaching could be
more effectively controlled, as could the excessive ex-
traction of medicinal plants, without having to close off
all access to the park itself. If people have a stake in the
park, it is possible that electoral pressure will counter
real threats in the form of big dams and other industrial
development. Proposals already exist for establishing hy-
droelectric projects on the Sainj and Tirthan rivers on the
edges of GHNP. Without the support of resident villagers,
there is little chance that any significant opposition will
be mounted against such developments.
The failure of conservation policies in developing coun-
tries has multiple sources. Alienation of local communi-
ties is only one of these, and community participation in
conservation is severely limited by existing legal frame-
worksinmany countries. However, analyses of conserva-
tion policy and practice also need to pay greater attention
to two further sources of failure: electoral politics and de-
velopment. Unless conservationists build coalitions with
groups representing local communities at higher scales of
electoral politics, conservation policy will continue to pay
lip service to lofty ideals while deviating widely in prac-
tice. When local communities have a direct stake in the
outcome of conservation projects, they are more likely to
provide the political support necessary to balance devel-
opment pressures that are omnipresent in poor societies.
Such support can only come about, however, if conser-
vationists pay greater attention to coalition building at
higher levels.
We thank S. Prasanna and S. Barnela as collaborators in the
larger project on which this article is based and I. Singh
and S. Pandey for sharing information, insights, and hospi-
tality generously while maintaining their intellectual and
ideological differences with our work. Our greatest debt
is to the numerous villagers and community leaders in the
Great Himalayan National Park area, particularly Hukum,
Motiram, Khubram, Agaye, and Guman, for welcoming us
into their lives.
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Conservation Biology
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... This might have been true for non-protected areas, which experienced notably less land development in social-democrat Asturias than in conservative Galicia, both loosing residents in the second period of the study (INE, 2020). Though political factors are seldom specifically addressed in conservation studies, a number of studies around the World have noted the key influence of political decisions in protecting biodiversity (Chhatre and Saberwal, 2005;Bernard et al., 2014;Mascia et al., 2014;Qin et al., 2019). Land development plans are developed and approved in a long, multifaceted process by local governments in Spain, with regional governments having territorial planning competencies by which local plans must abide as well as oversight competencies over passing local development plans, including compulsory environmental impact assessments (Iberley, 2018). ...
Full-text available
Protected areas (PAs) are the main global policy instrument to avert the current biodiversity crisis by conserving important species and habitats on site. Yet important pressures around PAs and in PAs, notably land use-land cover (LULC) changes, jeopardise the conservation role of these tools. In Spain, as well as in most developed countries, land development is the main pressure on its rich biodiversity. Here, we used a semi-experimental Before-After-Control-Impact (BACI) research design with covariates to ascertain whether three categories of multiple-use PAs including Nature Parks, Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) have been effective to prevent land development in Atlantic Spain between 1987 and 2017 using CORINE Land Cover (CLC) data. We split our census sample of PAs according to two geographic zones: coastal zone and inland zone, and four administrative sub-zones (regions with distinctive governance systems): Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country. We created and tested the validity of three types of controls specific to each PA category: standard 5-km buffer controls, bio-physically adjusted standard controls, and bio-physically adjusted random controls across zones. Multiple-use PAs reduced, though not completely avoided, land development in all zones and sub-zones compared with controls. An effectiveness gradient among PA categories was apparent: NPs ≥ SCIs > SPAs. Coastal areas, both protected and unprotected, experienced greater land development rates than inland areas, with coastal SPAs showing poor effectiveness results. The Basque Country was the best-performing region regarding PA effectiveness, with the remaining regions showing similar PA performance results regardless of the prevailing political party in power for most of the study period. Random controls had the greatest bio-physical similarity to their cases and produced larger control areas than standard buffer controls. The limited effectiveness of multiple-use PAs, especially of SPAs, at preventing land development in highly pressured coastal areas suggests the need for enhanced legal protection of these areas if long-term biodiversity conservation is to be ensured. Governance and political factors are likely to have influenced the effectiveness of PAs in Spain and should thus be further considered in environmental studies.
... Several authors have suggested that management to conserve and increase wild bird numbers should concentrate on improving foraging habitat quality, i.e. increasing the abundance of nutritious invertebrate chickfood (browne et al. 2006). Thus, a higher control of agricultural practices should be conducted by the local administrations, and more founding of projects focused on the relationships between farming and biodiversity should be encouraged (see, for similar claims: berry et al. , Chhatre & Saberwal 2005. ...
... Our results show there is an urgent need for more data on habitat suitability for Asian rhinoceros (Cédric et al., 2016); most of the knowledge we found was focused on African species. Besides these knowledge gaps, other factors, such as political will toward the conservation of elephants and rhinoceros, are likely to be critical in addressing the complex and holistic threats they face (Chhatre & Saberwal, 2005;Visseren-Hamakers et al., 2012). Efforts to study and address these political challenges are needed for proactive conservation and the safeguarding of these species. ...
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Proactive approaches aimed to anticipate the long‐term effects of current and future conservation threats could increase the effectiveness and efficiency of nature conservation interventions. However, these processes can be obstructed by a lack of knowledge on habitat requirements for wildlife. In order to aggregate and assess the suitability of current information available on habitat requirements for proactive conservation, we used a research weaving approach, and conducted a systematic literature review on peer reviewed literature on elephant and rhino habitat requirements. We synthesized data by combining a vote counting assessment with bibliometric and term maps, and contextualized this with a narrative review. We mapped out the current methodologies, results, terminology and collaborations of 693 studies. Our results indicated that the gathering of habitat suitability knowledge and the ability for proactive conservation interventions to succeed will further increase by embracing two types of inclusiveness. First, since habitat requirements can be classified as both ecological and anthropogenic, we call for the integration of these two dimensions into holistic habitat suitability and carrying capacity estimates, when planning conservation interventions like habitat restoration and (re‐) introductions. Secondly, the active creation of collaborations within and across networks of researchers focusing on different species, as well as across regional and continental borders, and science‐policy realms is necessary to avoid a waste of limited resources. These arguments are supported by previous research findings; yet, our literature case‐study regarding elephant and rhino habitat requirements shows that there is still substantial room for improvement. We end with recommendations on how to engage with the challenge of utilizing this potential, learning from insights from the field of human‐wildlife coexistence. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
... In addition, further destruction of freshwater ecosystems by urbanization, mining and agriculture must be avoided. Such measures require political will (Chhatre and Saberwal, 2005), only accomplished through public discourse and knowledge (Cooke et al., 2013), which also needs to be founded on an improved understanding of the scale of loss of freshwater ecosystems and our dependencies on these systems for ecosystem services. ...
Of the Earth's three major biomes or realms, freshwater is the smallest, dwarfed in size and extent by terrestrial and marine realms. It has also been the most exposed to human exploitation, resulting in higher declines of biodiversity compared to other realms, primarily because of human reliance on fresh water and invasive species. Major sub-biomes in the freshwater realm can be grouped into seven categories: rivers and streams, lakes (salt, freshwater, oases and springs), palustrine wetlands (swamps, marshes, and floodplains), transitional waters (including estuarine and coastal lagoons), brackish tidal systems (deltas, intertidal forests, saltmarshes), subterranean water bodies and artificial wetlands (dams, rice paddies, aquaculture, canals and channels). A range of key freshwater characteristics, including the hydrological regime, water quality, and influences from terrestrial and marine drivers, form unique ecosystems around the world, providing for diverse species but ones which share many functional traits, reflected in convergent evolution. Direct or indirect appropriation of water resources (consumption, agriculture, and hydro-electricity) and disposal of waste water has devastated many of the world's freshwater ecosystems. Their protection demands identification of sustainable and cost-effective management of hydrological regimes and inflows, including protection and restoration of flows for the environment as well as management of invasive species, stopping habitat destruction and pollution.
... Consequently, effective policy and governance of migratory fishes often necessitates multiple government sectors working together, such as fisheries and those that deal with energy and water resource management (see Nieminen et al., 2017). It is also established that political will to enact policy that benefits the environment (including migratory fish) depends on an engaged and vocal public (i.e., the electorate; Chhatre and Saberwal, 2005). With regards to migratory fishes, these considerations raise the following questions: ...
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Migration is a widespread but highly diverse component of many animal life histories. Fish migrate throughout the world's oceans, within lakes and rivers, and between the two realms, transporting matter, energy, and other species (e.g., microbes) across boundaries. Migration is therefore a process responsible for myriad ecosystem services. Many human populations depend on the presence of predictable migrations of fish for their subsistence and livelihoods. Although much research has focused on fish migration, many questions remain in our rapidly changing world. We assembled a Lennox et al. Fish Migration Questions diverse team of fundamental and applied scientists who study fish migrations in marine and freshwater environments to identify pressing unanswered questions. Our exercise revealed questions within themes related to understanding the migrating individual's internal state, navigational mechanisms, locomotor capabilities, external drivers of migration, the threats confronting migratory fish including climate change, and the role of migration. In addition, we identified key requirements for aquatic animal management, restoration, policy, and governance. Lessons revealed included the difficulties in generalizing among species and populations, and in understanding the levels of connectivity facilitated by migrating fishes. We conclude by identifying priority research needed for assuring a sustainable future for migratory fishes.
... Alternatively, communities living in the vicinity of PAs suffers from limited historical rights, restrictions in traditional livelihoods and insignificant role of local communities in managing and protecting such designated areas [9,10,11,12,13]. In addition, crop damage by wild herbivore, livestock depredation and human casualties by tiger and other carnivores impose diverse and pervasive cost on local communities resulting in hostility towards conservation [14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22]. Therefore, a fair understanding of such issues impacting local communities living in and around PAs is fundamental in balancing conservation goals [23,24,25,26,27,28]. ...
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India with estimated more than 2000 tigers (across 18 states) accounts for more than half of the remaining tigers across its range countries. Long-term conservation requires measures to protect the large carnivores and its prey base beyond the Protect Areas. The Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR) and adjoining forest divisions with high density of tigers play a crucial role in conservation of tiger in Uttarakhand state as well as the Terai-Arc Landscape. However, CTR is surrounded with multiple-use forest (forest divisions), agriculture land, human habitation, townships and developmental projects. The movement of large carnivores and other wildlife through such habitats adds to the chances of human-wildlife conflict. The aim of the current study was to understand the patterns of livestock depredation by tigers and leopards in and around CTR. We examined a total of 8365 incidents of livestock depredation between 2006 and 2015 with tigers killing more livestock in a year (573.3±41.2) than leopards (263.2±9.9). Geographically, in north zone of CTR leopards were the major livestock predator (166.6±11), whereas tigers (547.7±40.1) in south zone. Examination of livestock kills indicated cows (75%) as the main victim, followed by buffaloes and other species. Analysis revealed that the livestock depredation by tigers varied significantly among seasons in south zone but not in north zone. However, such an explicit seasonal variation was not observed for leopards in north and south zone of CTR. Hotspots of livestock predation were identified around CTR. Addressing a conflict situation in a time-bound manner, timely disbursement of ex-gratia payment, involving locals at various tourism related activities and consistent rapport building initiatives are required to mitigate the human-wildlife conflict.
... It was also found that more than the ecological carrying capacity the socio-economic issues like equity in ownership and benefit sharing were given much more importance at the village level while assessing the sustainability of the pastoral systems. (Chhatre & Saberwal 2005). Consequently grazing is pervasive in most of the protected areas in the country (Kothari et al. 1989) and the same holds true for KNP which was notified in 1977. ...
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This has been added to capture the citations that wrongly used this title of the PhD
The discourse on biodiversity conservation often presents this domain as an antithesis to economic development. However, in practice, the relation between conservation and development is far more complex because conservationists possess limited powers and must give serious consideration to the economic aspirations of others in any given region, such as local communities and industries. Moreover, conservationists are themselves a heterogeneous group with diverse ways of working. Therefore, although the relation between conservation and development is often described in binary terms such as conflict—co-operation, this does not adequately capture the nuances and dilemmas of actual conservation practice. In this article, I present an ethnographic study of marine turtle conservation in Rushikulya (eastern India), to argue that the relation between the two domains is essentially ambivalent and uncertain and hence, best understood as one of being ‘frenemies’ i.e. friendly enemies, rather than as allies or antagonists. From fieldwork conducted over three years (2012–2015), I describe how actors in both domains opportunistically borrow tools and concepts from each other, which blurs the boundaries between them and results in both connections and contestations. To conclude, I suggest we need more ethnographic studies to understand the realities of practice and provoke reflection on current approaches to both conservation and development.
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State-led policies of pastoralist removal from protected areas, following the fortress model of biodiversity conservation, have been a common practice across parts of Asia and Africa. In the Himalayan region of South Asia, restrictive access and removal of pastoralist communities from protected areas have been compensated by the state through “eco”-tourism. In this paper, we critique the current conservation model adopted in the Indian Himalaya, which focuses on a conservation-pastoral eviction-ecotourism coupling. With a focus on pastoralists and pastoral practices, we argue that this model is neither an inclusive engine of development, nor does it always help conservation. Instead, it recreates a landscape favoring the state's interests, produces exclusions, and may also negatively affect both society and ecology. We build on the case of Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP) situated in Sikkim, Eastern Himalaya. We used mixed methods and conducted 48 semi-structured interviews, 10 key informant interviews, and two focused group discussion in the four village clusters situated in the vicinity of KNP, West Sikkim. The grazing ban policy and concomitant promotion of tourism caused the end of pastoralism in KNP. It transformed a pastoral cultural landscape into a tourist spot with a transition in livestock from the traditional herds of yak and sheep to the pack animals and non-native hybrid cattle. Locally perceived social impacts of the grazing ban include loss of pastoral culture, economic loss, and the exclusion of the pastoral community from the park. As per the respondents, perceived ecological effects include a decline in vegetation diversity in the high-altitude summer pastures, altered vegetation composition in the winter due to plantation of non-native tree species, and increased incidents of human-wildlife conflict. Rangelands of the Himalaya transcend political boundaries across countries. The conservation model in Himalaya, should henceforth be done with a trans-boundary level planning involving the prime users of high-altitude rangelands, i.e., the pastoralists. The lessons from this study can help design effective future policy interventions in landscapes critical for both pastoralist cultures and wildlife conservation.
Medicinal herb collection has historical and cultural roots in many rural communities in developing countries. Areas where herb collection occurs may overlap with biodiversity hotspots and crucial habitat of endangered and threatened species. However, impacts of such practices on wildlife are unknown and possibly underestimated, perhaps due to the elusive nature of such activities. We examined this phenomenon in Wolong Nature Reserve, China, a protected area in the South‐Central China biodiversity hotspot that also supports a community of Tibetan, Qiang and Han people who use herb collection as a supplementary source of livelihood. We adopted a participatory approach in which we engaged local people in outlining spatial and temporal dynamics of medicinal herb collection practices. We found that the overall spatial extent of herb collection increased in the past two decades. We then overlaid herb collection maps with localities of giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) feces collected over two time points in the reserve. Using a Bayesian parameter estimation, we found evidence for declined giant panda occurrence in the areas most recently impacted by emerging medicinal herb collection. Our methodology demonstrates the potential power of integrating participatory approaches with quantitative methods for processes like herb collection that may be difficult to examine empirically. We discuss future directions for improving explanatory power and addressing uncertainty in this type of mixed‐method, interdisciplinary research. This work has implications for future attempts to understand whether and how prevalent but subtle human activities may affect wildlife conservation.
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How have national and state governments the world over come to “own” huge expanses of territory under the rubric of “national forest,” “national parks,” or “wastelands”? The two contradictory statements in the above epigraph illustrate that not all colonial administrators agreed that forests should be taken away from local people and “protected” by the state. The assumption of state authority over forests is based on a relatively recent convergence of historical circumstances. These circumstances have enabled certain state authorities to supersede the rights, claims, and practices of people resident in what the world now calls “forests.”
1. Haymeadows in the Yorkshire Dales and the North Pennines in Northern England are grazed with cattle and sheep outside the 2-3-month summer period, when a hay or silage crop is grown. Experimental exclosures were used from August 1987 to June 1991 to prevent this grazing for various periods in the year in a meadow at Ravenstonedale, Cumbria. Vegetation change was investigated using biomass samples taken in June of each year. 2. Experimental treatments were: (i) no grazing at any time of the year; (ii) no grazing from the time of the hay cut until 1 January; (iii) no grazing from 1 January to the time of the hay cut; (iv) control plots in which the normal grazing regime was followed each year. All other management factors were kept constant. 3. All plots showed vegetation changes related to treatment and to time. The main trend was the treatment effect, with the greatest reduction in species richness occurring in the ungrazed plots. Changes in the species composition of the plots were associated with species' strategies (sensu Grime 1979) in the established and regenerative phase. 4. The results are discussed in the context of management designed to manipulate plant species composition in old meadowland.