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Although official on-the-ground environmental monitoring is absent over much of the world, many people living in these regions observe, manage, and protect their environment. The autonomous monitoring processes associated with these activities are seldom documented and appear poorly recognized by conservation professionals. We identified monitoring activities in three villages in the Mamberamo-Foja region (Mamberamo Regency) of Papua (Indonesian New Guinea). In each village we found evidence that local monitoring contributes to effective protection and deters unregulated exploitation. Although everyone gathers observations and shares information, there are also specific roles. For example, the Ijabait hereditary guardians live at strategic sites where they control access to resource-rich lakes and tributaries along the Tariku River. Often, monitoring is combined with and thus influences other activities: for example, hunting regularly includes areas judged vulnerable to incursions by neighboring communities. We identified various examples of community members intervening to prevent and deter outsiders from exploiting resources within their territories. Enforcement of rules and assessment of resource status also help prevent local overexploitation within the communities. Clearly, local people are effective in protecting large areas in a relatively natural state. We discuss the value of these autonomous monitoring and protection processes, their neglect, and the need for explicit recognition by those concerned about these people and their environments, as well as about conservation. We highlight a potential "tragedy of the unseen sentinels" when effective local protection is undermined not because these local systems are invisible, but because no one recognizes what they see.
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Sheil, D., M. Boissière, and G. Beaudoin. 2015. Unseen sentinels: local monitoring and control in conservation’s blind spots. Ecology
and Society 20(2): 39. http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-07625-200239
Research
Unseen sentinels: local monitoring and control in conservation’s blind spots
Douglas Sheil 1,2, Manuel Boissière 2,3 and Guillaume Beaudoin 2
ABSTRACT. Although official on-the-ground environmental monitoring is absent over much of the world, many people living in these
regions observe, manage, and protect their environment. The autonomous monitoring processes associated with these activities are
seldom documented and appear poorly recognized by conservation professionals. We identified monitoring activities in three villages
in the Mamberamo-Foja region (Mamberamo Regency) of Papua (Indonesian New Guinea). In each village we found evidence that
local monitoring contributes to effective protection and deters unregulated exploitation. Although everyone gathers observations and
shares information, there are also specific roles. For example, the Ijabait hereditary guardians live at strategic sites where they control
access to resource-rich lakes and tributaries along the Tariku River. Often, monitoring is combined with and thus influences other
activities: for example, hunting regularly includes areas judged vulnerable to incursions by neighboring communities. We identified
various examples of community members intervening to prevent and deter outsiders from exploiting resources within their territories.
Enforcement of rules and assessment of resource status also help prevent local overexploitation within the communities. Clearly, local
people are effective in protecting large areas in a relatively natural state. We discuss the value of these autonomous monitoring and
protection processes, their neglect, and the need for explicit recognition by those concerned about these people and their environments,
as well as about conservation. We highlight a potential “tragedy of the unseen sentinels” when effective local protection is undermined
not because these local systems are invisible, but because no one recognizes what they see.
Key Words: autonomous monitoring; common property; community conservation; community management; deterrence; Indonesia;
managing the commons; Papua; participatory resource assessment; policing
INTRODUCTION
Official protection of the world’s biodiversity is underfunded and
inadequate (McCarthy et al. 2012, McCreless et al. 2013).
Although 12% of the world’s surface is officially protected (Chape
et al. 2005), much of this area lacks effective management (Bruner
et al. 2001, Brooks et al. 2009). Even well-funded conservation
areas are unable to prevent erosion of their values or to nullify
every threat (e.g., Solomon et al. 2007, Scholte and De Groot
2010, Baker et al. 2012). Furthermore, numerous species,
including many of conservation interest, either occur primarily
outside formal protected areas or require larger areas to ensure
viability (Rodrigues et al. 2004, Ricketts et al. 2005, Brooks et al.
2009). Even when good environmental regulations exist outside
protected areas, enforcement is often inadequate to prevent
unsustainable exploitation and habitat degradation (Contreras-
Hermosilla 2002; Galinato and Galinato 2013). There are also
concerns about the sustainability of conservation measures
imposed on people without their consent or any proper
democratic accountability (Sheil et al. 2013). Although many
conservationists continue to press for the expansion of formal
protected areas, less attention has been paid to some alternatives.
Most regions of the world are inhabited. These inhabitants often
engage in practices that protect the environment from conversion,
degradation, and overexploitation, and contribute to
conservation outcomes (Berkes et al. 2000, Colding and Folke
2001, Vermeulen and Sheil 2007a). Communities control an
estimated total area of relatively wild habitat similar in extent to
that within official protected areas; modified landscapes sustain
additional conservation values (Molnar et al. 2004). So, although
the ability of formal conservation agencies to control, expand,
and improve environmental protection is limited, local people
may to some extent be filling the gap.
Monitoring, i.e., a sustained or intermittent process of assessing
change or threats, is fundamental to environmental stewardship
(Sheil 2001). Effective management means threats and problems
are recognized, evaluated, and addressed, and ideally anyone who
might cause problems is deterred from doing so. We recognize this
monitoring process when official managers gather and respond
to observations and data, but are less explicitly aware of
comparable activities by local people and what they achieve.
However, everyone assesses their environment and what is
occurring in it, and reacts as they judge most appropriate. Thus,
monitoring occurs wherever people are living in, and depending
on, their natural environment.
Autonomous local monitoring, i.e., monitoring that is determined
and maintained without the need for external guidance or
support, has seldom been examined in any detail. Many
researchers, including ourselves, have noted the environmental
trends recognized by local people without necessarily considering
the function, scope, and operational details of how this
recognition is achieved (e.g., Hellier et al. 1999, Lund et al. 2010,
Basuki et al. 2011, Boissière et al. 2013, Padmanaba et al. 2013,
Danielsen et al. 2014a, 2014b). Active oversight is implicit in work
on traditional resource management (Berkes et al. 1998) and in
the context of collaborative or participatory monitoring
(Danielsen et al. 2009). The principle of self-policing is
highlighted in the literature on common property management
(Ostrom 1990, Rustagi et al. 2010), but again the associated
monitoring processes are generally implicit. Furthermore, such
policing and processes have seldom been examined in other
property systems (see Appendix 1 for further elaboration).
We hypothesize that all societies that maintain significant day-to-
day control over their territories and resources also monitor them:
1Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, 2Center for International Forestry Research,
3Centre de coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement
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i.e., such practices are a general aspect of how people live when
external controls are weak or absent. This hypothesis implies that
such monitoring processes would once have been near-universal
and may remain commonplace. Beyond this, we want to
understand if these systems remain effective in contributing to
environmental conservation and protection.
Our goal is to highlight the existence and significance of local
monitoring practices, drawing on our own observations in three
communities, Kay, Metaweja, and Yoke, in the Mamberamo-Foja
region, most of which lies within the recently created regency of
Mamberamo Raya of Papua (Indonesian New Guinea,
previously Irian Jaya). This vast region has received little
systematic attention from biological researchers (Marshall and
Beehler 2007, Takeuchi 2009, Normile 2010, van Heist et al. 2010,
Keim 2012, Oliver et al. 2012), but biodiversity values appear high
and local conservation authorities have little oversight (Marshall
and Beehler 2007). In 2009, a total of 143 conservation staff were
responsible for 4,621,596 hectares of officially protected areas
across the entire Province of Papua (with much more in the
process of gaining protected status), as well as various other
conservations tasks (Departmen Kehutanan 2010).
We consider local monitoring with an emphasis on natural
resource management, environmental protection, and conservation.
We describe local monitoring and seek examples of enforcement,
deterrence, and restraint that contribute to maintaining
conservation values. We focus on outcomes: we accept that people
may not hold conventional “conservation motives” (for a wider
discussion, see Smith and Wishnie 2000, Wadley and Colfer 2004,
Vermeulen and Sheil 2007a). Our study region and study topic
have received little attention from researchers in the past; thus,
we provide more context in two appendices. More detailed
information on the three communities, based on our own
observations, interviews, and enquiries, is in Appendix 2. We
provide a brief literature-based discussion of autonomous
monitoring in Appendix 1.
METHODS
Sites
We worked in three communities: Kay, Metaweja, and Yoke, in
the Mamberamo-Foja watershed (Fig. 1). The Mamberamo-Foja
watershed possesses many rare, vulnerable, little-known, and
undescribed species, and is considered to have globally significant
biodiversity values (Richards and Suryadi 2002, Boissière et al.
2006, 2007, Marshall and Beehler 2007, van Heist et al. 2010).
Most of the area is covered by forested mountains and flood
plains, and also contains open wetlands with meandering rivers
and shifting lakes (Fig. 2a, b, c). People are concentrated in
settlements of varying size, allowing river access (Fig. 2d), with
low overall population densities. Official sources report 19,839
people in the 23,813 km² of Mamberamo Raya (RTRW 2009).
Local livelihoods remain highly dependent on wild resources (see
Fig. 3a-g).
Difficult access, malaria, and communities willing to confront
intruders have discouraged settlement and exploitation by
outsiders (Richards and Suryadi 2002, Sheil and and Boissière
2006, van Heist et al. 2010). External threats include mining,
logging, plantation developments, and a proposed hydroelectric
dam (Richards and Suryadi 2002, Marshall and Beehler 2007).
At the time of our survey, Kay was divided into two settlements
on the Tariku River, and people from upstream visited the village
on their way to the settlements of Dabra or Kasonaweja.
Metaweja was more difficult to access because of the steeply
incised terrain. Yoke was on the coast, near the Mamberamo
estuary and easily accessible from Kasonaweja, Sarmi, and
elsewhere.
Fig. 1. Map indicating the location of our study, Kay (1
and 2), Metaweja, and Yoke and their relation to
Kasonaweja, and the Mamberamo-Foja Wildlife Reserve
(inset map shows relation to Papua). Note the two main
tributaries to the Mamberamo were known as the
Rouffaer and Idenburg under Dutch rule but are now
named the Tariku and the Taritatu.
Fig. 2. Typical land cover and features in the Mamberamo
region. (a) Foothills of the Foja Mountains (DS); (b) dynamic
flood plains with shifting rivers (MB); (c) mixed forest with
sago palms (DS); (d) typical riverside huts near Kay (MB).
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Table 1. The three communities considered in the Mamberamo Watershed (Papua, Indonesia): their populations, territories, ethnicity and
languages, livelihood, livelihood concerns (as stated in focus group discussions), how land and resources are determined, authority, and
relationship with government authorities.
Community
Pop. /
area km²
Ethnicity Language Primary livelihood activities Livelihood
concerns
regarding
resource and
area control
Sacred sites Land/ resource
ownership/ control
Principal
authorities
Relationship with
higher authorities
Kay
163/
1300
Kwersa,
Torweja,
Wekerig
Kwersa &
Torweja
Gathering wild sago,
cultivating mixed gardens,
fishing, hunting crocodiles,
pigs, cassowaries, NTFP
collection (e.g., matoa,
gnetum, wild guava)
Extensive
territory to
protect from
outsiders
Yes, located
upstream
By clan Head of village
(gov.), clan
leaders, pastor
Very limited
Metaweja
225/
300
Kawera Kawera Hunting (pigs, cassowaries,
birds), NTFP collection (e.
g., gnetum, matoa,
breadfruit, mushrooms),
sago cultivation, wild sago,
few mixed crop gardens,
coconut groves
Isolation with
poor access to
markets;
developing
infrastructures
Yes, on hill
tops near
the village
By clan Head of village
(gov.), pastor
(same person),
clan leaders (the
main customary
leader resides
elsewhere
(Kasonaweja)
Very limited
Yoke
339/
1400
Paito &
Bosumbaso
Yoke Fishing, sago cultivation,
collecting wild sago, minor
gardening, minor hunting
of crocodiles, lizards,
cassowaries, NTFP
collection (e.g., clam, crabs,
gnetum, ferns)
Outsiders fishing
without consent
Yes, where
some
channels
intertsect in
the tidal
swamp
Shared (clan
divisions avoided
in near-village
contexts); for sago
groves and garden
areas clan
ownership prevails
Head of village
(gov.); customary
leader, pastor
Some
relationship with
local government
(vice head of
Regency-
Kabupaten is
from Yoke)
NTFP, Nontimber forest products.
The total area of the three community territories was 3000 square
kilometers (see Table 1). Each territory was further subdivided by
clans. All three territories overlapped the 2,000,000-hectare
Mamberamo-Foja Wildlife Reserve (an official status that prohibits
human settlement or exploitation, although this has not been
enforced). This reserve was declared in 1982 without local
consultation and is officially “controlled” by the Balai Besar
Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam (BBKSDA; Natural Resource
Conservation Agency). The reserve was unstaffed and seldom
visited by BBKSDA staff. We are aware of only three visits and two
were because of the participation of BBKSDA in our study; the
other was a check on crocodile hunters (BBKSDA staff, personal
communication; authors, personal observation). Despite the overlap
with their territories, communities were unaware of the protected
area until 2005 and have maintained their own claims, customs, and
rules governing these areas. Within these territories only particular
people have rights to engage in, or to permit, certain activities in
specific areas; in sacred areas any human presence is discouraged
by taboos and/or prohibitions.
Selected community characteristics are summarized in Table 1,
including population, territory size, ethnicity and languages,
livelihood activities, livelihood concerns, sacred sites, ownership and
controls over land and resources, community authorities, and
relationship with government authorities at the time of our study
(2006 to 2013). Additional information is in Appendix 2.
Approach and methods
We built trust through our activities over several years. Activities
included (1) mapping local and customary needs, perceptions, and
practices; (2) an examination of community resilience to climatic
variation and change; (3) an examination of the context for
participation in Measuring, Reporting and Verifying carbon stocks
and related activities; and (4) this study. We selected our three
communities based on the opportunity provided by our field work
plans and to represent a range of distinct locations and lifestyles
(coastal, riverside, far upstream). More detail on these activities and
methods can be found in various reports and publications, such as
Boissière et al. (2007). Boissière et al. (2006; in Indonesian) provide
details of our initial work concerning local perceptions and
preferences about landscapes and natural resources, based on
methods described in Sheil et al. (2002). Padmanaba et al. (2012)
describe the process of participatory land planning. Boissière et al.
(2013) describe our assessment of community views regarding
climate variability.
Our team members included male and female interviewers. We also
included staff from local government agencies (the Forestry
Department and Badan Perencana Pembangunan Daerah, the
regional body for planning and development). In each community
we started with meetings where we presented our reasons for being
there, what we hoped to achieve, how we hoped we could work
together, and what we could and could not offer. We answered
questions, sought permission for the activities, and asked for
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Table 2. Local monitoring observed in the Mamberamo Watershed (Papua, Indonesia) by community, including goals, activities, and how
monitoring is undertaken. In each village we identified distinct processes (numbers) that themselves may address more than one issue or be
used in more than one way (numbers subdivided by letter).
Community and
area’s official
status
Goals Activities Who is involved? Organization,
leadership, institutions
Data and how it
leads to decisions
Frequency and response
Kay
Part of the
territory within
protected area
and part in
production
forest.
1 Control access
to lakes (fish,
crocodiles, and
other resources).
1 Families settle at locations with
good visibility (also convenient for
their own resources access).
1 Hereditary/voluntary but
approved and overseen by male
clan elders.
1 Observations of who is doing
what and where. Also attention to
status of local resources.
1 Observations are near continuous.
This is an effective deterrent. Any
major breach of the territory could
escalate to fines and/or
confrontation.
2 Control
movements along
the main river and
access to
resources
(crocodiles, fishes,
sago).
2a Families stay for several days on
small alluvial river islands with
good visibility onto the river. They
make gardens and fish.
2b All villagers will report or
challenge any unauthorized visitors
they see.
2a Voluntary but approved and
overseen by male clan elders. Tends
to be determined by wish to hunt
or fish near these islands. These
gardens generally belong to
families (not clan level).
2b Report to clan elders and to
village head.
2 Observations of who is doing
what and where are directly shared
in the village and decisions are
made by clan leaders.
2 Observations are ad-hoc but
widespread. People caught are fined
by villagers; no report is made at the
district or regency levels. Outsiders
who fish or hunt crocodiles without
prior authorization from clan
leaders are fined by the customary
leaders and head of village.
3 Determine
status of aquatic
resources to avoid
overharvest.
3a Fish resources are assessed
based on net catches (similar to
Yoke but appears more casual and
ad-hoc in nature).
3b Crocodile numbers, sizes, and
breeding status are assessed in two
main approaches:
(i) During the dry season, by
observing crocodiles and their
tracks (associated with nesting [egg
laying] on the river banks).
(ii) Hunters use torches at night to
spot crocodiles. This is efficient as
eyes are reflective and the stronger
the reflection the larger the
crocodile.
3 Fishers and hunters assess where
the resource is most readily
available and avoid areas where
more effort will be required.
3 Assessments are based on local
experience and judgement.
Information is shared and
discussed to build general
awareness, which helps track and
judge options (where to access,
what and where to avoid).
Restraints and controls will be
discussed by clan leaders and local
owners if depletion becomes a
concern.
3 Observations are near continuous
but widely scattered. When
resources decline, controls or
prohibition on extraction may be
agreed and imposed by local owners
and clan leaders. Access channels
may be barricaded with logs. Less
formal mechanisms, suggesting
where to extract resources and
where to rest, are generally
sufficient.
Visitors from neighboring villages or
other outsiders coming from the
highlands come and go several times
each month and if and where they
are granted permission to fish or
hunt is closely guided by feedback
from community resource users.
Metaweja
Territory lies
within protected
area.
1 Control access
to territory and
resources.
1 Huts and semipermanent camps
owned by particular families are
strategically located at borders with
neighboring villages. They include
gardens and sago stands around
the camp (stays may be 1 day to 1
month, stated goals include
hunting, sago cultivation or
harvest, camp maintenance).
1 Individuals or groups (mostly
young men, but sometimes women
and families) volunteer from local
clan. Specific people have
knowledge of specific locations
and assume local responsibility.
Information is widely shared and
discussed within the village.
Problems or events would be
reported and discussed with clan
leaders and village head.
1 Those active in area are seen,
heard, or indirectly detected (foot
prints, camps, etc.).
Anyone will immediately challenge
intruders directly, ask their intent
(they may confiscate their catch).
Rarely they might expel an intruder
or confiscate a boat.
Visitors and outsiders can ask
permission for activities from clan
leaders.
1 Activities are irregular but
frequent. Consequences depend on
who is seen doing what. There is
some flexibility in the
implementation of village
regulations depending on the
incursion and who is implicated and
their relationships and history.
Neighboring villages visit several
times each month.
2a Resource
protection.
2b Resource
status.
2 During hunting, food gathering,
and other activities villagers gather
direct observations and signs of (a)
people’s activities and intrusions
(b) valued species and resources.
2 Everyone is active within the
larger territory either in groups or
alone.
2a Signs of people’s activities may
be carefully scrutinized and
intruders may be intercepted.
Actions will be taken according to
the scale of problems identified. In
principle the entire community may
act together.
2b Abundance assessments from
hunting effort and yield. General
status of animals and plants are
gathered through familiarity of
signs, of success while hunting and
gathering. All these factors are
discussed by the hunters.
2a Action can be taken at short
notice.
2b Resource availability and status is
discussed on a near daily basis and
areas are accessed or avoided
accordingly. Formal interventions
have seldom been invoked though
informants noted that fish poison
had been banned because of a
decline in fish, but we heard that
people still use it and it is a cause of
conflict. There is a similar
discussion about fine meshed nylon
nets.
Yoke
Territory lies
within protected
area.
1 Control access
to territory and
resources (fishes,
crabs, shells, etc.).
1a Village strategically located. All
villagers may see and challenge
visitors. This is a deterrent.
1b One family lives on Lake
Tabaresia (a mangrove system).
They observe and help control who
uses this lake.
1 Resources must be gained
through the villagers: generally a
price will be agreed and the
villagers collect the resource for the
outsiders.
Villagers take direct action or
report to the clan leaders and the
village secretary (government
representative present in the
village) when an outsider is
entering.
1 Information of outsiders and
their movements and activities.
Intercept and take action against
incursions.
Observations shared in the village
and decisions made by leaders and
head of village.
1 Observations are near continuous.
Coordinated actions based on
information received: perpetrators
may be required to pay fine.
1a Neighboring villages visit every
week and outsiders ask permission
perhaps once a year. Larger boats
have been challenged several times
in recent decades.
(con'd)
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2 Assess resource
status.
2 Resources are assessed based on
catches (abundance, size, quality)
and effort required by location.
2 All villagers involved (women are
specialized in crab collection).
Assessments are based on
experience and judgement.
Information is shared and
discussed to build general
awareness of resource status.
2 General awareness guides
extraction options (what to access
and where). The need for restraints
and controls can be discussed by
village leaders and local owners.
Typically, however, they just focus
on gathering what they need where
it is most readily available.
2 Daily assessments and
discussions. When resources
are seen to be declining
controls or prohibition on
extraction could be agreed
and imposed by local owners
and other leaders. But such
processes have not been
needed in many years.
Apparently resources are
more than adequate for the
community.
informants to help inform our research. The information used in
this study was derived from field visits, interviews, discussions,
and participatory exercises (Fig. 4a-d). Initial work helped
generate engagement and build trust (Boissière et al. 2006, 2007).
Additional visits to the region occurred over five years in
conjunction with other projects, allowing some communities to
be visited multiple times. We also met villagers from the different
communities when we visited Kasonaweja, which we did regularly.
That provided an update on what was going on in relationships
with outsiders and other villages, and in implementing land use
planning. These meetings were also a chance to check details.
Fig. 3. Selected livelihood activities based on natural resources.
(a) Hunter carries a pig back to the village (Metaweja, GB); (b)
fishermen catch various aquatic creatures, here a freshwater
soft-shelled turtle, likely Pelochelys signifera (hunter’s face
obscured by authors to protect identity, MB); (c) fishing with
harpoons (Yoke, MB); (d) young crocodile, Crocodylus
novaeguineae or Crocodylus porosus, caught in fishing nets
(Kay, MB); (e) fish are cooked and dried/smoked (Kay, DS); (f)
the main starch in people’s diets is derived from the processing
of wild and planted sago (Metaweja, MB); (g) large timber trees
are locally plentiful on drier land and are processed for
constructing local buildings (Kay, DS).
Activities included participatory mapping with four selected
groups (young men, old men, young women, and old women) and
joint exercises to identify and clarify the local importance and
significance of categories and types of land cover and location,
and the importance and significance of different species (Sheil et
al. 2002, Sheil and Liswanti 2006). In each exercise we involved
groups of male and female informants. Our field teams included
female interviewers who engaged the women. After the maps had
been drafted and checked by community members and field visits,
they were finalized, printed on plasticized paper, and returned to
each community.
Fig. 4. Methods used to engage community members regarding
the examples in this study. (a) Field visits with informants (Kay,
DS); (b) focus group discussion around the results of the initial
participatory mapping with a group of women (Metaweja, GB);
(c) discussing locations on participatory map with men (Yoke,
MB); (d) hunters scoring the frequency of visits to the
community boundary (Metaweja, GB).
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In Yoke and Metaweja we used dedicated group discussion (same
number and arrangement as participatory mapping) on local
monitoring of resources, territory, and borders. In the three
communities, we surveyed and interviewed 83 heads of
households as part of household surveys and conducted an
additional formal 60 interviews covering topics such as village
institutions; rules, norms, and traditional rules; local land use and
natural resources management; sacred places; relationships with
external authorities; history; land use; and trade, products, and
resources. Many field visits were undertaken, and there were many
less formal discussions during the course of the studies that also
identified or clarified relevant issues and examples. We visited
field camps, gardens, sacred sites, and the area controlled by one
Ijabait close to Kay. In Yoke we visited the base of the lake
guardian. We also conducted specific group exercises to identify,
discuss, and characterize monitoring activities in Yoke and
Metaweja.
Most of the initial identification of monitoring and guarding
activities arose from the participatory mapping and focus group
discussions on the importance of forest and forest products, and
on the rules about access and use. Much of the further clarification
derived from informal discussions with individuals and small
groups during visits to specific locations as part of our program
of field checking the various participatory maps in all three
communities. These field checks, when done by boat, generally
involved researchers traveling with at least three local people, two
to manage the boat and one elder with local expertise and
authority. When done on land, the researchers generally worked
with at least two or more local people who knew the area, although
these numbers were sometimes much larger. For example, in
Metaweja entire families joined some trips because it was an
opportunity to visit remote hunting areas and gardens (and keep
an eye on the researchers). The group exercises were required to
map and explore the typical frequency of monitoring activities.
Informants were repeatedly reminded that the research results
would be shared with an outside audience and were invited to
voice any concerns. If concerns remained after further discussion,
we subsequently respected them. Thus, we do not talk about
specific locations of high-value products. We worked in
Indonesian using local translators when necessary. Most
information was derived from multiple sources and cross-
checked; for confidentiality and brevity, we shall not cite these
sources for every statement. We identified and clarified various
examples within each community that involve monitoring and
control over resources. In each community we sought to find and
elaborate specific examples showing effective responses to
external and internal threats.
Those seeking to replicate our study would not need to conduct
all the activities we did because we had multiple goals. However,
they would need to invest the time required to build trust. We
spent a lot of time, especially in the first few days in each
community, explaining what we were doing and answering
questions. Effort is also needed to develop effective
communication. For example, the jointly made maps provided a
shared basis for talking about places and associated activities, and
we also spent a lot of time talking about types of places, roles,
norms, rules, and resources, so as to develop an understanding of
the basic labels used and what they imply. Observing what people
are doing also has value—how they spend their time and
understanding the rules about visiting different sites and accessing
different resources by actually seeing the locations, resources, and
practices in question. A lot of repetition and cross-checking were
necessary. Rapid surveys would likely fail because they would lack
trust and the time needed to build a credible understanding among
the local people.
We also conducted a literature search for examples of people
monitoring and policing the environment by and for themselves.
Specifically we sought examples of monitoring in the tropics
where design, implementation, and use of the monitoring are
achieved autonomously by local people as part of a long-
established process of land and/or resource management. This is
close to the category of “autonomous local monitoring”
described in Danielsen et al.’s (2009) typology of participatory
monitoring (see also Danielsen et al. 2014b). We used the terms
“indigenous monitoring,” “traditional monitoring,” “community
monitoring,” “autonomous monitoring,” “indigenous guarding,”
and “traditional guarding” in the ISI Web of Science database
(http://thomsonreuters.com/thomson-reuters-web-of-science/.) The
results and additional literature are discussed in Appendix 1.
RESULTS
In each village we found both threat monitoring and resource
monitoring (summaries in Table 2 and Fig. 5a-f). Here, we expand
on selected examples from each of the three communities.
Kay
At nine locations within the territory overseen by Kay, an Ijabait
resides (see Fig. 5c as an example). An Ijabait is a patrilineal
hereditary guardian whose primary role is to control local access
for the clan that owns the territory. All nine locations provide
strategic oversight of river access to resource-rich areas. Two sites
are ox-bow lakes (Fig. 5e) and seven are tributaries to the main
river, with abundant crocodiles, sago, and fish, and good dry
season hunting for pigs and cassowaries. Some Ijabait control
multiple locations in one vicinity and move among them. We were
told that Ijabait seldom leave their area of responsibility, and hunt
and fish locally to provide for their wife and children who live
with them; other family members bring anything required from
elsewhere.
The Ijabaits are respected and act as a powerful deterrent: we
heard of no incidents of anyone trying to slip by unnoticed. Those
we visited owned hunting dogs, which further increased the chance
of detecting and catching intruders. Anyone entering the
restricted territory would be intercepted. We were told that anyone
caught with products would be punished (likely fined), although
our informants remembered no specific incursions, either by
outsiders or community members, despite the rich resources
available. Our informants commented that such guarding
activities were not restricted to Kay but were present in
communities all along the Tariku River, where most channels and
lakes were guarded.
Local lakes were, in general, connected to the main river only by
narrow channels that may, we were told, occasionally be
barricaded purposely with tree trunks to impede access. We never
saw such blocks, but this practice would be used where the Ijabait
was not located near the specific access point. Generally any such
bans would be known and respected within the community: they
would in principle also be enforced, although no one could recall
any examples of this being necessary.
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Fig. 5. Contexts and activities associated with autonomous
monitoring. (a) Settlements are strategically located and look
out over the most valued fishing grounds (Yoke, MB); (b)
regular camping sites include huts and gardens, here on the
village territory boundary (Metaweja, MB); (c) the home of an
Ijabait hereditary guardian by the Tariku (Rouffaer) River
(Kay, DS); (d) anyone accessing these flood plain territories
leaves visible tracks in the soft substrate (a tributary of the
Tariku near Kay, DS); (e) accessing the resource-rich lakes is
easiest via specific channels that can be closely monitored (Kay,
DS); (f) monitoring of crocodiles is easiest using strong torch
light at night. This is a method that people have adopted from a
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
team that assessed crocodile populations in the 1980s (Kay,
MB).
Status assessments were seen as a key determinant of the choice
to harvest or protect resources. An interesting example is hunting
crocodiles (Crocodylus novaeguineae and Crocodylus porosus);
these were among the most important resources at Kay until
recently and hunted primarily for their valued skin, with the flesh
used as food. Only people from Kay had any right to hunt
crocodiles; outsiders were never permitted. In the past animal
stocks had been assessed from experience and accumulated
observations, but in recent years animal numbers and sizes were
assessed at night using hand-held spotlights (Fig. 5f). Harvesting
was then stopped or reduced in any area where crocodile numbers
appeared low. This judgment was made directly by those involved
in the survey; there were no additional analyses.
The spotlight method originated from a Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations (FAO) team that conducted
crocodile surveys in the 1980s (Frazier 1988). In each territory the
FAO team explained the activity, asked permission, and was then
accompanied by local clan representatives as they assessed the
crocodiles. Interestingly this FAO project had also suggested that
crocodile harvesting for both species be regulated by size (animals
of 28-56 cm being “commercial belly width”) to maintain a good
breeding population (Frazier 1988, Cox 1992). Although initially
viewed as interference, these regulations were subsequently
adopted as part of Kay’s code of rules and norms. Other
communities in the region, such as Kwerba and Papasena, also
adopted and adapted these methods and guidelines for managing
crocodile harvesting (DS and MB, personal observation).
Metaweja
Territorial protection was a shared responsibility in Metaweja.
Some households maintained huts or camped regularly at
strategic locations near their territory boundaries. Attention was
focused on boundaries with mistrusted communities. Metaweja’s
men reported the frequency of their visits to different portions of
their territorial boundary (Fig. 4d). In total, around 50 km of the
approximately 80-km territorial boundary were regularly visited.
Frequency increased according to both accessibility and level of
distrust with the neighboring community (see Fig. 6). Such
distrust was explained by past conflicts. For instance, several
decades ago, likely before the mid-1950s when missionaries ended
such activities, one woman from Surumaja Gunung was said to
have been “stolen” to marry an elder of Metaweja’s clan, which
started a long-running conflict between Metaweja and Surumaja
Gunung. The border between these territories is more than 10 km
long but is close, accessible, and regularly visited, sometimes
several times a week. Many gardens and sago groves have been
established near this strategic border (Fig. 5b).
In 1994, hunters from the neighbouring Surumaja Gunung
community were intercepted while collecting birds of paradise in
the Opiye Mountains, in Metaweja territory. These birds are
generally shot with air rifles and preserved by drying; a dried bird,
in good condition, could be sold to traders for around 1 million
IDR (around US$110) and a living bird could bring as much as
5 million IDR (US$550). Immediate fines were demanded, a
minor struggle ensued, and the hunters escaped without injuries.
However, the hunters were recognized, and when the customary
leader learned about the incident, he sent a message to the other
village naming the intruders. In 2006, another group from
Surumaja Gunung was captured in Metaweja territory. A fine of
500,000 IDR per bird (US$55) was demanded by the customary
leader; the hunters lacked money and were allowed to leave
without the birds. The fine was never paid, and no collectors have
returned.
The 12 young and old male respondents in one focus group
discussion claimed to know when a resource or species became
scarce or degraded, and indicated that they typically take action
by not collecting that resource or species until it recovered; this
could be either a personal or a group decision depending on
context. More subtle information also influenced such decisions.
For example, a wild pig (Sus scrofa) was typically killed every few
days: details of the location including the patterns of prints,
wallows, nests, leaches, and other signs were examined and
reviewed, as was the ease of the hunt and the animal’s condition.
These details were discussed among all the hunters. Nothing is
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written or recorded, but hunters remember and readily recall
significant details and their interpretation. Based on such
observations, less productive areas would be rested until the next
rainy season. Typically areas are identified in relation to specific
streams, rivers, or hills and appear to involve several tens of square
kilometers. Such choices improve hunting success and also aid
recovery. Discussion with the community indicated that less than
one-third of the territory is regularly used for hunting (Fig. 6).
Fig. 6. Map of Metaweja territory showing areas regularly
visited for hunting and highlighting the relative frequency per
year of boundary visits, based on scoring by the hunters
involved (Metaweja men). Rivers and relief are based on terrain
data, but boundaries and areas visited are based on hand-
drawn information.
Sanctions were applied to anyone failing to respect controls and
the associated norms. For example, the village headman in
Metaweja told us that if anyone in the community took too many
birds of paradise, they would be asked to stop. If they refused,
they could be reported to district officials by radio. This formal
control option had never yet been used but is a recognized
deterrent primarily because of the implied public shaming.
Several informants noted that fish had been depleted in local rivers
because of the use of fine-meshed nylon nets and excessive use of
fish poison. Our informants noted that the community had agreed
to ban poison, although some people were known to be flouting
the ban and continuing to deplete the rivers. Indeed, this seemed
to have caused some resentment and animosity. Stronger
measures had yet to be taken, although some felt these were
needed (MB, informal discussions with community members). Slow
progress likely reflects the day-to-day absence of a traditional
leader and the fact that fishing was always a minor activity (local
rivers are narrow and shallow). It also reflects steady pressure
within the community to address such new problems at a pace
that balances their severity against a preference to avoid conflict.
Yoke
Many of Yoke’s most valued fishing areas were directly visible
from the village (Fig. 5a). One exception was Lake Tabaresia,
where one family lives at a strategically selected location
overseeing this lake in a role similar to Kay’s Ijabaits.
In 2003, a boat from the Bintang Emas company was seen fishing
within the village territory and asked to leave; when the crew
refused, claiming bad weather, the villagers seized the boat and
held it for several days until a company representative arrived. In
the meantime the crew was fed and housed in the village. The
company representative negotiated with the then village head, and
the boat and crew were released. We remain unsure if a fine was
paid because apparently this information was never shared with
the rest of the community.
The community intercepted another commercial fishing boat in
2011 and warned it to leave. It did.
All villagers collected various resources. The muddy terrain in
much of this territory and the necessity of boat access meant
tracks were created to access land (Fig. 5d). These tracks were
“read” by the villagers, who interpreted what had happened and
who was involved. Inappropriate activities were thus hard to
conceal. Furthermore, everyone was familiar with resource
conditions in the locations they frequented, and community
experiences were widely discussed in an informal manner.
Collection, fishing, and hunting focused on areas where resources
were easily gained. If a resource appeared to be deteriorating,
villagers would naturally avoid the areas involved or switch to
other resources. We were told that informal processes had been
sufficient to manage use and maintain resources, but the
community recognized the potential to agree to more formal
controls that the whole community would then enforce if needed.
When we sought specific examples of such restraint, informants
insisted repeatedly that there was no shortage of important
resources. For example, wild vegetables, trees used for timber, fish,
shellfish, and crabs were still abundant, and people took only what
they needed, so the community had never needed to impose any
restraints (trade with outsiders remained negligible). When
pushed, one group of older men reported that some aquatic
species had become harder to find in specific locations, but there
was little concern because they remained plentiful elsewhere.
These included crocodiles, sharks, turtles, “bandeng” fish (likely
Chanos sp.), and “bubara” fish (likely Caranx sp.). Exploring these
examples indicated that some of these trends were very local; e.
g., the decline in fish abundance was blamed on the dirty water
near the village rather than overfishing.
DISCUSSION
We predicted that established societies in a remote region of Papua
(Indonesian New Guinea) would monitor and control their
territories and resources. We confirmed this with examples of
both territory control and resource assessment in each of the three
communities (an area of 3000 km²). We and our colleagues have
worked with communities in Indonesia and elsewhere, and based
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on various unpublished observations, we believe similar practices
occur in most of them. This implies that autonomous monitoring
is both widespread and recognizable. For example, previous
collaborations with two other Mamberamo communities, Kwerba
and Papasena, showed that these communities actively prevented
access to the Foja Mountains, although they were willing to grant
permission to and support researchers once trust had been earned
(Sheil and and Boissière 2006).
Our investigations in three communities show that autonomous
monitoring is an integral part of people’s lives, livelihoods, and
cultures. Autonomous monitoring practices can be focused and
general simultaneously. Here, we acknowledge these intrinsic
values and their local significance but take a conservation-centric
perspective to highlight some wider implications. Specifically we
consider researchers’ neglect of autonomous monitoring and the
implications of improved recognition.
Effectiveness and why autonomous monitoring matters
Monitoring has emerged as a major theme in resource
management and conservation (Sheil 2001, Stem et al. 2005,
Gardner 2012). Management must recognize and respond to an
ever-changing context. However, monitoring has often become
separated from response, with data collection becoming an end
in itself (Sheil 2001, Nichols and Williams 2006). In the
communities in Papua we see that observation and the potential
to respond are closely linked. Virtually all able members of each
village, especially the men, are familiar with large regions of the
territory. They understand access routes, know the best places to
hunt or to camp, and are skilled in assessing their environment
and detecting and interpreting signs. These abilities are honed by
regular use. People recognize and respond to threats everywhere.
Efforts focus on strategic locations, although people also move
over large areas and are alert to potential problems.
Autonomous monitoring practices likely play a key role in
community resilience and adaptive capacity (in the sense of Miller
et al. 2010 and Engle 2011). The ability to recognize and follow
up rapidly on anything that attracts attention generates
considerable robustness and flexibility, and provides a good basis
for learning. The systems will change but as long as people’s lives
and livelihoods depend on the wider landscapes they inhabit, they
are likely to remain intimately engaged with observing and
actively protecting it.
Autonomous monitoring processes have limitations. The capacity
to identify, deter, or address threats is context dependent.
Although our examples suggest restraint is often effective in
protecting resources from overharvesting, local problems do arise,
such as the depleted fish stocks in Metaweja that had not recovered
despite a ban on using fish poison. It appears that inadequate
enforcement and/or new fishing methods such as fine mesh nylon
nets prevented recovery. Nonetheless, given the discontent voiced
by our informants, it seems likely that community disapproval
and enforcement will escalate until the problem is addressed.
However, local people cannot identify or address all threats. For
example, local people may not know about a regional dam project
that will flood their territory or the potential effects of an invasive
alien species. Remote communities lack the power required to
influence many key decisions that affect them. It is hard to see
how Australia’s marginalized aboriginal people (discussed in
Appendix 1) could have prevented nuclear weapons tests in their
territory even if they had known about it (Cane 2002). More
typical examples are the timber concessions, mines, and
plantations that are often imposed in remote frontier regions
without the informed consent of the local people (Robertson-
Snape 1999). Negligence, disrespect, opportunism, and deception
are symptoms of this power imbalance.
One of us (MB) was working in another Mamberamo community,
Kasonaweja, when a clan leader pointed to a new mud road
through the forest as part of a new logging concession for the
company PT Mamberamo Alas Mandiri, previously known as
Kodeko. The leader commented, “This part of our territory is
sacred. The company should not encroach. We told them and they
agreed. But they encroached anyway. We complained and blocked
the road for a while but in the end what else can we do?” We suspect
the company may ultimately regret their error. Even where power
imbalances appear insurmountable, the victim finds smaller, or
sometimes larger, ways to exact justice. This local justice is likely
more widespread and costly than generally recognized because
those involved are already near invisible to authorities and may
actively conceal their actions (Scott 1985).
Although local people are often at a disadvantage against
powerful external forces, this is not always the case. At the end of
the last century, a couple of years after Indonesia’s Suharto regime
had ended, companies took advantage of the perceived power
vacuum in remote regions. In the territory of Langap Village in
Malinau in East Kalimantan, a company began to cut timber
within 1 km of a series of caves where locals collected the nests
of swiftlets (Aerodramus spp.) to sell for bird nest soup and other
delicacies. The logging broke previously established agreements.
The villagers took the law into their own hands and forcibly
confiscated the company’s vehicles and heavy machinery, refusing
to return them until a fine was paid. This cost the company revenue
and authority, and acted as a deterrent to other companies in the
region (DS, personal observation and various discussions with
villagers and local officials). Such incidents may be relatively
common: for example, the community of Bau Baru in West
Kalimantan was upset by an oil palm company’s broken
commitments. After various protests, villagers finally drove
company machinery into a swamp, thus finally gaining the
company’s attention to their grievances (Colfer 2001). Such acts
target perceived injustices and are double-edged for conservation:
both threats to conservation values and conservation itself can
trigger resistance if judged illegitimate by the people affected.
Alienation of local people increases the burden on conservation
authorities. When protected areas are declared, local people may
lose their role as stewards and much of their incentive for caring
about sustained resource use. They may even automatically
become “illegal” users if they persist with established practices.
Defenders may thus be transformed into a perceived menace
(Sheil and Boissière 2006). Such alienation can intensify threats
to biodiversity and increase conservation costs (Sheil et al. 2013).
Estrangement and even hostility often result (e.g., Sharpe 1998,
Boissière et al. 2009, Baker et al. 2012). Such outcomes appear
tragic and ironic when adversaries had previously shared similar
goals: to safeguard the environment and its resources from
uncontrolled use.
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Recognition of local monitoring is part of our vision to recognize
and support locally conceived conservation (Sheil and Boissière
2006, Sheil et al. 2006, Boissière et al. 2007, 2010, Sassen and Jum
2007, Vermeulen and Sheil 2007b). Conservation that proceeds
with local community support has a more ethical foundation for
addressing long-term threats. It is also likely to be more
sustainable and less costly.
Recognizing how some communities actively protect nature may
counterbalance the scepticism that projects seeking to re-establish
such local control have often engendered (Blaikie 2006, Larson
and Soto 2008, Cox et al. 2010). Such positive examples provide
both technical guidance and inspiration, as highlighted by the
experience in Pacific Island fisheries (Johannes 2002).
Autonomous monitoring involves various activities undertaken
by different people for many reasons. However, without sufficient
recognition, the benefits can be lost to ill-conceived interventions
that take a uniform approach and leave insufficient opportunity
for local norms and practices to be maintained, as observed in
many traditional fisheries in Canada and New Zealand (Turner
et al. 2013).
Why have they been overlooked?
Our discussions with colleagues suggest widespread recognition
that communities oversee, manage, and protect natural resources
in many ways. However, our examination of the literature shows
limited formal attention to the degree to which people monitor
their environment to protect it. For many the presence of local
monitoring is implicit, as in much common property research
(Ostrom et al. 1999, Pagdee et al. 2006, Chhatre and Agrawal
2008, Rustagi et al. 2010). Why has more explicit characterization
not been attempted?
The lack of attention from conservation professionals and
biological scientists, as with other issues of local collaboration,
likely reflects disciplinary obstacles related to awareness,
credibility, training, rewards, and communication (Sheil and
Lawrence 2004). However, many aspects of these autonomous
monitoring practices also appear relatively inaccessible to
research. For example, consider the age and history of these
practices. Most have developed, we assume, over many
generations, but we have no way to evaluate this or to assess
changes beyond recent decades. Setting aside possible, if unlikely,
archaeological insights and detailed reports from earlier travels
by outsiders, it is only through a recent innovation, e.g.,
spotlighting crocodiles, that we can gain a specific insight.
Autonomous monitoring systems are also challenging to describe
and characterize. They tend to be integrated with other activities
and other goals. Resource maintenance and protection are not
necessarily the sole or primary motives. For example, sacred sites
are controlled for intangible reasons. Where to monitor is
influenced by distrust and past conflict with neighboring
communities. Much information gathered about resource status
depends on day-to-day activities (e.g., LaRochelle and Berkes
2003). Key aspects are often informal and may operate most
effectively where they are most invisible, e.g., in the least accessible
places. Shame, with transgressors labeled cheats or incompetents,
likely plays a role, but such controls are not readily seen by, or
shared with, researchers.
As in many such cross-cultural contexts, researchers and local
people may fail in multiple ways to communicate effectively (Sheil
and Wunder 2002, Sheil and Lawrence 2004). Our own field
experiences revealed various practical challenges in gathering
reliable information. Building the necessary trust and ease of
communication takes time. Communication can be challenging
when discussing abstract concepts and motivations, and
information can be contradictory and hard to verify. Candor is
not assured. In our own studies, conflicting information generally
highlighted uncertainties or misunderstandings rather than wilful
efforts to mislead, but even the most cooperative informants may
proffer clear information to keep researchers happy rather than
admit uncertainties. Cross-validation and repeated checking are
key.
A related and, in our experience, more common challenge occurs
when informants claim ignorance and inability to help.
Sometimes, this is simply shyness and lack of confidence in talking
to outsiders; sometimes, they may fear saying something they will
regret. Because of their often more limited access to schools,
reduced knowledge of Indonesian, and cultural norms, female
informants were often less at ease sharing information, including
with female researchers. However, in each community they clearly
possessed relevant roles, experience, and expertise for their day-
to-day practices relating to sites, values, and resources (e.g., the
collection of crabs and clams/shells in Yoke). There are no easy
solutions. Even if communication obstacles are overcome, the
observations gathered by the communities in Papua are hard to
assess directly, as with much indigenous knowledge (Agrawal
1995) and even much participatory monitoring (Staddon et al.
2014). The observations are not written. Quantities, when used,
are judged rather than measured (such judgments can be highly
skilled). The quality and value of such observations depend on
context, purpose, and who is making the judgment, and adequacy
is demonstrated by the management system’s overall
effectiveness.
The activities, too, may be difficult to access and characterize.
Community members may not wish to explain how and why they
check on each other. Such interpersonal politics are hard to
explore given the vested interests, conflicts, and distrust
potentially involved (Sithole 2002). As recognized in Western
cultures, what makes a responsible citizen or a nosy troublemaker
is often a question of perspective. There can be reticence or taboos,
even shame, in describing internal conflicts to outsiders, while
discussing such themes risks (re)igniting conflicts. Even if the
researcher is wholly trusted, which seems unlikely, sensitive
information may not be shared because of restraints on sharing
strategic, privileged, or sensitive knowledge.
Understanding how observations trigger action can be difficult
to elucidate given the knowledge, experiences, and beliefs
implicitly involved. Furthermore, effectiveness can be hard to
demonstrate. Available evidence is often anecdotal and hard to
verify, and formal experiments would be difficult and ethically
problematic. This is an area requiring further work.
Another practical challenge is to distinguish an effective deterrent
from an absence of threat. Much of the effectiveness we see in
our Mamberamo communities depends on deterrence. This in
turn frequently involves location-specific beliefs and norms in our
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study sites and also elsewhere, e.g., in the supernatural
punishments noted in Seram (Sasaoka and Laumonier 2012) and
the customary obligations seen in Australia (Cane 2002). In our
sites, superstition and taboos remain powerful, with communities
believing that transgressors will suffer supernatural punishments
that outsiders may ascribe simply to misfortune or bad luck.
Metaweja villagers recalled a visit by geologists in 1985 who
neglected local permissions and taboos, and cleared vegetation to
build a helipad in a sacred area. They cut bamboo and cooked
rice in a bamboo stem. According to the informants two of the
team died shortly after they left: one was responsible for cutting
the bamboo and died from unknown causes, and another had
died while bathing when a “small stone entered his head.” We
were unable to verify any aspect of these events, but the accounts
were accepted as demonstrations of supernatural punishments
within the communities, and may even give sceptics cause for
second thoughts on occasion. However, determining the power
of such deterrence in a valid manner remains a challenge.
Our interactions with both locals and outsiders who know the
region persuaded us that anyone entering local territories
believing them open for exploitation will quickly change their
minds. Future study could examine forest resource and land users,
including industries and investors, and determine what they seek
and what they avoid in terms of community presence.
Looking forward
Can we be confident that communities will maintain their
monitoring activities and continue to contribute to environmental
protection? This depends on contexts, options, and motivations.
Systems are flexible and can be influenced when it is useful. For
example, lights provide an effective way to assess crocodiles. Kay’s
crocodile hunters also adopted size restrictions, and when the
markets changed, they turned to other resources.
There is no reason to expect only positive outcomes. For example,
an increasingly cash-based economy, resource commercialization,
access to more efficient harvesting technologies, and changing
aspirations and perceptions may all pose challenges. Some
monitoring activities may decline as conflicts decline and as trust
increases. For example, the Dani watchtowers of the Baliem Valley
(also in Papua, Indonesian New Guinea) once indicated the
vigilance with which communities observed each other in a culture
of frequent small-scale raids (Gardner and Heider 1968). Such
watchtowers were costly to build, maintain, and operate, and no
longer exist because there is little need for them. In Mamberamo,
too, mistrust among communities ensures vigilance. However,
although increased trust may reduce policing efforts and
likelihood of incursions in some locations, such efforts may
decline or be expended more evenly across the territory depending
on motivations.
Recognizing local activities that contribute to conservation
outcomes has unexplored implications. Here we have focused on
the value and significance of autonomous monitoring and control
processes primarily in terms of their local significance and their
implications for those interested in achieving environmental
conservation and the protection of biodiversity. We are wary of
implying that the value of these long-neglected systems lies
primarily in how we might be able to use them. That is not our
view. The potential to adapt these systems was not the subject of
our study. Nonetheless, when considering possible synergies with
external interests, the options include how communities might
participate in and contribute to externally overseen conservation
(Cooke and Kothari 2001, Sheil and Lawrence 2004, Sayer et al.
2013) or natural resource monitoring (e.g., Guijt 2007, Danielsen
et al. 2009, Staddon et al. 2014), including the various activities
involved in monitoring as well as Measurement, Reporting and
Verification of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest
Degradation (REDD) or payment-for-environmental-services
schemes (Boissière et al. 2014, Torres et al. 2014, Torres and
Skutsch 2015). Just as importantly, we can invert the question and
consider when and how external conservation interests can
contribute to existing community efforts.
In an ideal world we would leave these local practices alone, at
least if that is what the community wanted. However, in a world
where threats change, grow, and diversify, external agencies may
sometimes be able to play a vital role. Rather than replacing local
management systems, we should seek ways to support them. The
benefits of local monitoring are provided free to the world;
bolstering these schemes would help sustain these benefits.
Opportunities for cooperation may also exist where objectives
align (Vermeulen and Sheil 2007a, Berkes 2010, Sayer et al. 2013).
Communities are not always able to address all the challenges
confronting them, as when miners encroached on the Amazon’s
Kayapó territories (see Schwartzman and Zimmerman 2005).
Such shortfalls may sometimes be addressed through building
active collaboration with outside agencies.
There is a considerable need for basic research to recognize how
communities may cover the shortfall where government
authorities are generally overstretched and unable to effectively
manage the areas for which they are responsible. We suspect such
situations are common. We won’t know until we look.
Equally, we know nearly as little about community actions in
situations where governments and others have imposed authority
and claimed oversight. There is potential for both synergy and
conflict. We speculate that such circumstances may result in the
modification and coexistence of autonomous systems as well as
replacement and loss of the autonomous systems.
Given autonomous protection of land, water, and resources, and
the limitations of official bodies in performing a similar function,
coexistence seems desirable. There must be ways that the strengths
of each approach can work in synergy. Communities would
manage and protect against local threats, while governments and
others would provide assistance when required and focus on larger
scale challenges. Achieving such outcomes will require effort: such
an effort depends on a wider acknowledgement of both the
problem and the solution.
CONCLUSIONS
We call for greater attention to autonomous monitoring. Such
monitoring and control may still dominate in many regions of the
world where external authorities lack day-to-day oversight. These
systems have limits, and many pertinent questions remain
unanswered. We encourage a respectful case-by-case examination
to understand the extent, significance, and effectiveness of
community activities, from the perspective of the community as
well as our own. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How,
and in what contexts, might we protect and support them?
Whether autonomous monitoring is widespread and effective, or
Ecology and Society 20(2): 39
http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol20/iss2/art39/
rare and ineffective, we need to recognize not only when local
people are willing to champion environmental causes, but also
when they are already doing so. The potential tragedy of the
unseen sentinels is that so much may be lost simply because we
failed to open our eyes to look.
Responses to this article can be read online at:
http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/issues/responses.
php/7625
Acknowledgments:
We thank the communities of Kay, Metaweja, and Yoke in
Mamberamo Raya for their participation, assistance, patience, and
hospitality. We thank Teresia Yeuw, Michael Padmanaba (Center
for International Forestry Research; CIFOR), and others team
members who collected data, and Serge Rafanoharana (CIFOR),
Agus Mohammad Salim (CIFOR), and Hendi Sumantri
(Conservation International) for their assistance in generating
maps. We acknowledge the l’Agence Française pour le
Développement (AFD) for their financial support to the project
Collaborative Land Use Planning in Papua (COLUP) and to the
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the
Norwegian Agency for Development (NORAD) for their financial
support of the research project Participatory Measuring, Reporting
and Verifying (PMRV). DS’s work with CIFOR was supported by
the European Commission. This research was carried out by CIFOR
and the Centre de coopération Internationale en Recherche
Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), as part of the
CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. We
are grateful to Carol Colfer, Claire Miller, and two referees for many
helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
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Appendix 1
This appendix summarizes published literature relating to autonomous monitoring by
people deriving their livelihood largely from wild species in tropical regions.
Our ISI keyword search (see methods) provided several hundred hits. Most dealt with
healthcare or with citizen science within Western industrial societies and were thus
excluded. When titles and abstracts were reviewed for possible relevant papers, 23
were examined in full text, with a further 33 texts of interest identified from the
citations also examined. Only two of these 56 texts met our criteria by describing
autonomous processes relevant to conservation in a tropical context. Of these, only
one explicitly considers such monitoring in practice (LaRochelle and Berkes 2003)
while the other recognizes their existence but lacks examples (Danielsen et al. 2009)
but see also (Danielsen et al. 2014). From our own readings, and the suggestions of
two reviewers, we have identified further cases that place our observations in a
broader context. Most examples are implicit rather than explicit.
Several temperate or boreal examples do offer useful insights that may have wider
applicability (Moller et al. 2004). However, these are mainly pre-occupied with
collaboration and participatory approaches which is not our focus here.
Regulations, sanctions and self-policing are part of communal management and
feature as a key element in the common property literature (Ostrom 1990, Ostrom et
al. 1999, Berkes 2010). Studies indicate that autonomous policing and enforcement
help avoid excessive exploitation of shared resources (Chhatre and Agrawal 2008,
Rustagi et al. 2010) and that increased monitoring and sanctioning are associated
with less resource degradation (Pagdee et al. 2006). Most discussion focuses on
principles rather than the technical details that might normally be applied to
discussions of monitoring. For example, members of some Swiss Alpine communities
police common areas and can impose fines on other members when accepted rules
are violated (Casari and Plott 2003).
Common-property self-monitoring can produce surprising implications. For example,
in one case-study community members in Zimbabwe were concerned that valuable
grass (used for commercial broom-making) was being degraded and overharvested.
The community themselves suggested, among other things, to increase, not
decrease, the number of households accessing and thus benefitting from this
declining resource the view was that if more people benefitted there would be more
observers intolerant of damaging practices (Vanclay 2010).
Outside the common property literature examples of autonomous monitoring
practices are harder to find largely because they are not readily identified with key
words or summaries.
Pacific islanders often practice various measures to prevent the overharvesting of
marine resources (Johannes 2002, Jupiter et al. 2014). Measures often include
controlled access and the enforcement of no take zones and/or seasons. For
example 27 out of 27 villages interviewed in Vanuatu prohibited exploitation of local
marine resources by outsiders without permission, and many had established local
bans on exploiting specific sites, or species, or using certain harvest methods
(Johannes 1998). The effectiveness of these measures has led to recognition,
encouragement, and renaissance in such management (Johannes 2002). Our own
reading of this literature provides many examples of the principles being applied but
few details of how rules are enforced.
We find examples in the literature that address monitoring without using the term. For
example, in Seram, Indonesia, the forest is traditionally divided into parcels owned by
families who have exclusive rights for gathering resources and hunting. The owners
rest parcels when resources appear depleted. During these rest periods the parcel
owners may observe evidence of illicit use (Sasaoka and Laumonier 2012). In these
cases the land owner claims to know, based on the evidence, who is responsible.
The alleged wrongdoer is not confronted, but the allegations are shared discreetly
within the community, and any subsequent misfortune that befalls the purported
perpetrator or their family is interpreted as supernatural punishment (Sasaoka and
Laumonier 2012). While accurately described as an example of supernatural
involvement in management (Sasaoka and Laumonier 2012), it also relies, albeit
implicitly, on the repeated observations that lead to resting land and identifying illicit
use.
A typical account of how resource users interact with their environment is provided by
LaRochelle and Berkes (2003) who studied the management of wild forest food
plants by the Raramuri people of Chihuahua State in Mexico and commented that
resource monitoring was part of “daily activities, such as gathering livestock,
collecting fuel wood, or harvesting plants … participants noted that to monitor the
state of edible plants, people must harvest and use them”.
Another example: in the deserts of Western Australia the aboriginal “Spinifex People”
considered land to be sacred. Each community member learned the complex
mythology tying them and their ancestors to specific locations and territories with
associated rules, roles, rights and responsibilities. Only close family freely enter
another’s territory without permission. Roles and responsibilities include site
protection (Cane 2002). For example, certain waterholes can only be accessed by
specific men who manage the surrounding vegetation and keep the water clean (no
one else can draw water, but in droughts they may gain permission to camp nearby
and have water carried to them). Punishments for transgressions were historically
severe, but for most the fear and shame were sufficient deterrent. Local knowledge,
tracking skills and rapid action provided effective control over a vast region: in 1995
for example, some elders intercepted a group of unauthorized geologists who were
guided off the territory and told not to return (Cane 2002). Again nothing in this
account identified the activities as monitoring.
Evolutionary psychology suggests that self-policing has molded our behaviors (Fehr
and Gächter 2000, Rand and Nowak 2013). Examples include human interest in
what others are doing, willingness to punish, and the influence of observation (Haley
and Fessler 2005, Bernhard et al. 2006, Powell et al. 2012, Miyazaki 2013, Nettle et
al. 2013).
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D. S. Balete, T. Blomley, and J. Brashares. 2009. Local participation in natural
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participation in scientific research to the indicators and needs of international
environmental agreements. Conservation Letters 7:12-24.
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in Vanuatu. Ocean & coastal management 40:165-186.
Johannes, R. E. 2002. The renaissance of community-based marine resource management
in Oceania. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics:317-340.
Jupiter, S. D., P. J. Cohen, R. Weeks, A. Tawake, and H. Govan. 2014. Locally-managed
marine areas: multiple objectives and diverse strategies. Pacific Conservation Biology
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LaRochelle, S. and F. Berkes. 2003. Traditional ecological knowledge and practice for edible
wild plants: Biodiversity use by the Rarámuri, in the Sirerra Tarahumara, Mexico. The
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traditional ecological knowledge: monitoring populations for co-management. Ecology
and Society 9:2.
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watching eyes effect in the Dictator Game: it's not how much you give, it's being seen
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commons: local lessons, global challenges. Science 284:278-282.
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Appendix 2
This appendix provides a more comprehensive description of the communities and
their livelihood context.
Kay: Most of the territory is level and seasonally flooded but there is steeper terrain
reaching to about 350 m a.s.l. in the north. Valued resources included sago
(Metroxylon sagu), rattan (various species Calamus spp., Daemonorops, spp. and
perhaps Korthalsia spp.), crocodile (Crocodylus novaeguineae and C. porosus), fish
(various marine and fresh water species), wild pigs (Sus scrofa), cassowaries
(Casuarius unappendiculatus), and decorative birds (primarily “Lesser bird-of-
paradise Paradisaea minor but also the “Twelve-wired bird-of-paradise” Seleucidis
melanoleucus). The community had two settlements at the time of our surveys which
were relatively close to each other and accessible, and the community still operated
as a single unit (we spent most time in Kay 1). Access to both settlements was by
boat, dependent on river conditions. Clan territories were bounded by river channels.
Metaweja: The mountainous territory reached 900m a.s.l. and was steeply incised
with an abundance of streams and rivers. Access was challenging with rivers
frequently un-navigable by boats due to rocks and low water. People often walked for
several days to and from the village. The most valued resources were wild pigs,
cassowaries, bird-of-paradise, and sago. Boundaries between clan territories follow
rivers and ridges.
Yoke: The territory comprised low-lying coastal mangrove, lakes and tidal swamps
(fresh, brackish and salt water) divided by channels with a few low scattered hills.
Access by small boat was relatively simple. Important resources included fish,
crocodile, sago and coconut (Cocos nucifera).
Access and communication
Local people sometimes walked among settlements but preferred boats when the
rivers were navigable. Outboard engines were widely used. Planes could be used to
evacuate people needing medical treatment (see later).
There was no phone coverage. Two-way radios provided regular communication
among settlements, and were used to plan local flights. Nonetheless, passing boats
remained a major source of local information. Boats could not easily pass any
settlement unobserved most stopped to exchange news and specific messages
were often passed between communities.
Language and education
Each village possessed distinct local languages (Kay has two). Most people had at
least basic Indonesian and many, including most young men, are fluent. Our surveys
indicate that most men and women in Yoke had some formal education (156 of 193
selected systematically, with 9 of 193 villagers having higher education i.e. training at
college or university) but in less accessible Metaweja (92 of 214 villagers, with 3 of
214 villagers had higher education) and Kay (no systematic data) only about half had
any schooling.
External influences
Government and church missions provide some services. School and clinic buildings
exist but staff were generally absent during our work periods. All three villages had
elementary schools but only Kay had a secondary school in the other villages many
teenagers (mostly boys) attend secondary school in other towns returning only during
school holidays. Government officials visited occasionally, e.g. with health programs
and for elections.
Church missions had invested in village buildings and maintained a regional system
of light planes and commercial flights to support church activities and evacuate
medical emergencies. Kay had a poorly maintained airstrip for small planes.
Construction of an airstrip at Metaweja began in 2011.
Interactions with other outsiders were limited. A team surveyed crocodiles and visited
many communities in the 1980s (Frazier 1988). Our own research, and the activities
of Conservation International, have involved sporadic visits over a decade. There
was no regular tourism (we encountered one independent traveler in 2013).
Metaweja villagers recalled a visit by geologists in 1985 (see discussion).
Livelihoods
Sago (Metroxylon sagu both wild and planted) was the principal staple in all three
communities. Other crops included banana (Musa sp.), coconut (Coco nucifera),
cassava (Manihot esculenta), sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) and taro (Colocasia
esculenta). Hunting and fishing provided animal fat and protein. Fishing
predominated in the dry season and hunting in wetter months, a cycle that we were
told follows animal abundance and fruit seasons. Hunting relies on traditional
methods. Though some people own air rifles we saw no evidence of more powerful
guns. Fishing involves nylon nets and boats with outboard engines. Gardens, fallows
and the areas used for gathering fuel wood tended to be close to habitation, whereas
hunting occurred over larger areas.
Aside from the village leader, secretary and some teaching, paid work in the
villages was absent. Remittances were important for some families but most
households traded products when they needed cash. The villages had kiosks selling
basic goods (matches, batteries, thread, detergent, knives, etc.); these were stocked
by traders who operated along the main rivers and also bought local products for
cash. Trade items included dried fish swim-bladders used in traditional Chinese
remedies, dried meat and bird-of-paradise (both skins and live birds). From the
1950s until 2008, when prices fell too low, crocodile skin collection was a lucrative
activity for many. Cash crops played a negligible role.
Land ownership, access and controls
Clear ownership and rights of access and use occurred in all three territories though
there are some localized nuances and occasional ambiguities. Some boundary areas
were shared between friendly communities, for example Yoke and Subu share
fishing rights in Lake Tabaresia. Much depends on local relationships; for example at
Metaweja’s border with Gunung Surumaja incursions are not tolerated, while Tamaja,
another neighboring village, shares the river Hakwa, which marks the border
between them. Neighboring villagers are on good terms with Metaweja; they even
occasionally request and are granted permission to hunt or collect in an agreed area
within Metaweja’s territory.
Lands within each community territory were further subdivided by clans (marga).
Some older sago groves were jointly managed within clans, or occasionally at village
level (some sago groves in Yoke) but for recent plantings and all other crops, private
ownership applied (individual, family or clan). Most large rivers were accessible to
fishing by all villagers regardless of clan, but most other products were subject to
clan oversight, rights and restrictions though permission could be requested by
others. Rights to land and resources were inherited through the father’s clan line
though children could sometimes claim certain rights within their mother’s clan
territory, and we heard of a case (in Yoke) where a family had changed a child’s
recognized clan to that of the mother.
Informants generally answer questions only about areas under their own clan.
(Villagers in Kay were especially reluctant to mention clan territories to outsiders as
the village settlement lies within two clan territories, the Tebeiko and the Weriko, and
this is recognized as a potential source of conflict among the clans, though clan
boundaries are clearly recognized in the surrounding territory).
The communities recognized and enforced various rules governing access and
activities in all areas. Details varied by site but access to all areas outside of the main
river and the village required pre-existing rights or specific permission. Some areas
were strictly protected and all extractive activity prohibited: these included sacred
areas such as mountains in Metaweja, lakes and springs in Kay, and certain
channels among the mangrove in Yoke (the latter covering an estimated 5% of the
territory). Community members seldom entered such areas due to concerns about
harmful spirits. Entering them “safely” required formal rituals and visitors had to be
accompanied by a designated clan member.
Traditional beliefs were influential in preventing hunting and other exploration over
extensive sections of territory including sacred areas. People from all three villages
would behave differently when passing near or through sacred locations: becoming
silent, switching off of torches and generally avoiding activities which might draw the
attention of spirits. Sacred areas were frequently mentioned in Metaweja and Kay. In
Yoke the people were uncomfortable with this topic. We believe that this difference
reflected the customary leader in Yoke dismissing these old beliefs (he was also a
churchman).
Authority roles
Three sources of authority operate in the villages: traditional, governmental and
religious: this tripartite authority is a general feature of the region (Gibson 2007). All
formal leaders were men: though many women were highly respected and influential.
There was a traditional leader (Ondoafi) in each community along with elders for
each clan (kepala marga and kepala suku). In all three communities traditional
practices persisted such as in approving marriages. Marriages are not permitted
within clans but must take place between them. Generally the woman joins the
husband’s clan, but in Metaweja we were told that outsiders could marry a local
woman as long as they paid, provided a sister to a local man, or agreed to settle in
the village.
The government representative was the village leader or kepala desa with a village
secretary or sekretaris desa who acted as a deputy. The kepala desa is proposed by
the village elders and then has to be endorsed by the head of the Regency who also
appoints the secretary. The kepala desa would be expected to report any serious
crimes to higher authorities though such interventions were, we heard, very rare.
There were no local police or regular police activities in any village. Villagers reported
that a sustained fight in a neighboring village (Burmeso) resulted in a kepala desa
requesting and being sent a small military contingent who arrested those involved.
All villagers claimed to be Christian. The church was present through pastors
(pendeta, guru injil). Christian Missions arrived in 1953 and most villagers formally
belong to the protestant church (Gereja Kristen Indonesia) though a few are Seventh
Day Adventists. Most people regularly attended church services. The church often
encouraged discussions within each village that touched on non-religious matters
and were often called upon in resolving conflicts. These discussions typically
followed the Sunday service directed by the pastor.
In practice most misdemeanors and conflicts were, we were told, addressed by
“traditional” means – though the kepala desa and church can be influential. Such
roles vary with the leaders and by circumstances; notably Metaweja was unusual in
that the customary leader is absent and disengaged (he resided in Kasonaweja) and
the government elected leader was also the local pastor and thus held considerable
authority.
LITERATURE CITED
Frazier, S. 1988. Mamberamo River crocodile monitoring patrol in the Pagai area. FAO, Jaya
Pura.
Gibson, T. 2007. Islamic narrative and authority in Southeast Asia. Palgrave Macmillan, New
York, USA.
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