World Rainforest Movement

Chile: Private conservation and communities

Over the past few years, private conservation has covered close to a million hectares in the South of Chile, surpassing the forest areas under regulated community land tenure, and making it comparable to the previous expansion of pine and eucalyptus plantation companies, today exceeding 2 million hectares.

Unexpectedly, as an explosive phenomenon led by corporate executives and organizations mainly originating from the United States, Chilean society has witnessed the appearance of a private land conservation movement that has spread to large national companies and other groups of Chilean society.

In the surroundings of this land recently acquired for conservation, the communities observe their new neighbours without knowing what to expect. Previous waves of change in land tenure have made them understandably mistrustful.

The challenges for the forest newcomers include overcoming the category of enclaves or conservation strongholds that protected forest areas established by the Chilean State are considered to be. It has taken the National Forestry Corporation a long time to change its image vis-à-vis the neighbouring communities, but it has eventually come to recognize that national parks are not viable if they have neighbouring communities as their enemies, or if they exclude them from conservation plans.

Beyond national parks, from the standpoint of conservation at a landscape scale promoted by international organizations, a set of protected areas, like islands in the sea shared with tree plantations and communities with degraded forests, is not a viable proposal.

According to a report commissioned by WWF on community forest management, conservation without people has shown itself to be unsustainable. This is the situation in wide zones of inhabited forests in the South of Chile and is in no way any exception in the Latin American context. The slogan at the recent World Parks Congress held in South Africa was that benefits must go beyond the limits of protected areas. The active involvement of local and indigenous communities in planning, implementing and managing protected areas must be ensured and the benefits generated by these areas must be shared.

Now, this seems clear, but how is it implemented? What mechanisms should be put in place to make conservation effectively benefit communities that depend on forests? And what incentives are effective to encourage communities to join conservation efforts?

Probably single and simplistic formulas are not the solution; usually a problem as complex as this has many solutions. The way to find them starts by informing and strengthening the communities and their organizations, generating conditions for the establishment of real negotiation, both at local level and at national level, involving community representatives, private conservation promoters and the governments.

Support to communities in these negotiation processes cannot be given from the perspective of the myth of the “good savage” defending the intrinsic conservationist role of forest inhabitants, but rather from the perspective of backing organizations defending the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities and their essential role in the implementation of conservation strategies.

A point that requires special attention in this process is that of the different perceptions of conservation, from the standpoint of the communities and from the standpoint of private conservationists. It is probable that for the inhabitants of forests and forest zones, conservation would appear to be difficult to detach from sustainable use, materialized in community forest management.

Where should private conservation meet community forest management? In conservation landscapes in which community rights are respected and where these communities share forest-generated benefits.

By: Rodrigo Catalán, e.mail: catalan@terra.cl

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