Introduction: Innovation and Appraisal of Sustainability Efforts in La Amistad, Bocas del Toro, Panama and Talamanca, Costa Rica Regions

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... In community based natural resource management, obvious technical problems (e.g., unregulated development, species decline) often receive more focus than more subtle, complex problems (e.g., insufficient and inaccurate information, cultural friction, non-inclusiveness). Yet these subtle processes underpin the more visible, technical problems (Clark et al., 2006). Understanding the subtleties is critical for creating effective, sustainable alternatives. ...
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Private lands surround and span gaps between all protected areas in Costa Rica. Natural resource management practices in these critical buffer and corridor areas will directly shape the character and outcome of conservation in one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. This article examines the decision making process of landowners in response to recent real estate development in Costa Rica"s Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor region. Interviews with landowners and key informants shed light on common values and weaknesses in the decision making process. We investigated the effects of decision process strengths and weaknesses on trust building and landowners" abilities to pursue their common interests. The article concludes by evaluating several alternatives through which decision processes and trust networks could be strengthened.
Rapid assessment is a tool to understand and address complex sustainability problems as well as a learning device for education of future professionals who need opportunity to develop their skills. Professionalism involves a four-part skill setcritical thinking, observation, management, and technical concerns-which can be taught in rapid assessment field trips. Our course teaches this four-part skill set through pre-field trip activities (lectures, readings, discussion, exercises, and presentations), the field trip (about 14-days in country) to Central or South America (and elsewhere), and in post-field trip analysis and report preparation. The basic interdisciplinary educational approach is introduced, a list of basic questions to be researched and worksheets are provided, and an outline for writing reports is offered. Readings give explanation of the interdisciplinary approach and illustrate its use worldwide. Reports based on the field trip are published and circulated widely. At the invitation of The Nature Conservancy in Quito, the 2001 course assessed the Condor Bioreserve in Ecuador. Both students and instructors evaluated the interdisciplinary rapid assessment field trip as highly successful. Our problem solving and educational approach has been used in our classroom and in the field, as well as by other people in diverse contexts, to improve both substantive and process outcomes in sustainable natural resources policy and management.
Field trips are vital components of professional education. The goal of field trips is to prepare graduates to be broad-based problem-solvers for sustainable management of natural resources in the common interest. Field trips are ideal vehicles to aid development of the kind of professional needed in today's complex and dynamic natural resources environment. For field trips to be successful, students must actively exercise their skills in thinking, observation, management, and technical subjects, in integration of diverse knowledge and experience, and in applying their judgments in applied contexts. We describe a 10 day field trip to the Panama Canal Watershed in March, 1998, to assist policymakers and managers administer natural resources. The 17 students on the field trip came from diverse backgrounds including from countries in Central America and Indonesia, Peace Corps experience, and other practical experiences. The Canal Watershed supplies all water for canal operations and drinking water for many Panamanians. The Watershed shows all resource conflicts that characterized upland forested watersheds in many countries. Pre-trip preparations are described, as is the field trip itself to numerous sites involving many discussions, to post-trip activities and reports. A basic analytic framework was used to investigate each resource case students studied (e.g., biodiversity conservation, park management, watershed planning). The framework is comprised of a comprehensive set of conceptual categories dealing with people involved in each case, their perspectives, the situation (including biogeographic and ecological features), values, strategies, outcomes, and effects. This framework is described and illustrated in an Appendix. Five recommendations are made to facilitate successful field trips.