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Challenging 'Community' Definitions in Sustainable Natural Resource Management: The Case of Wild Mushroom Harvesting in the USA

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Jones, Eric T.; McLain, Rebecca J.
Date: 1997
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/3902
Sector: Agriculture
Region: North America
Subject(s): sustainability
natural resources
resource management
Abstract: "As approaches espousing the importance of local participation in natural resource decision making have gained political ascendancy in recent years, local communities are being seen as the most appropriate managers of local natural resources. However, this overlooks the important role played by external, mobile groups who also have a stake in managing and harvesting certain natural resources. Thus, when influence and control over natural resources shift toward local communities, how local community is defined determines who will share in this power and who will benefit from natural resource management and allocation decisions. "In this paper, we weave together non-equilibrium management theories emerging from Sahelian rangeland ecology and North American fisheries with examples drawn from wild mushroom harvesting and management in the Pacific Northwest. Mobility strategies play a central role in these three resource arenas, all of which share non-equilibrium system characteristics of high variability and unpredictability in productivity. The case study of wild mushroom harvesting shows how defining local community by year-round residential proximity to forests may be socially, ecologically, and ethically unsound: 1) Narrowly conceptualised fixed-in-place communities may not be the most useful sociopolitical units for developing the economic potential of forest resources where mobility may be necessary for economic viability; 2) The notion that community residents have greater incentives to practise resource stewardship than 'outsiders' does not hold true for situations where 'outsiders' are using transhumance strategies, visiting the same forests, and more importantly, working with the same patches throughout a season, and often from year to year; 3) failure to see transhumants as an integral part of communities-of-place denies the validity of the attachments that mobile harvesters develop to the forests in which they work, and also diminishes the importance of the social connections they form with each other and residents of the places in which they work. "In conclusion, we offer a few suggestions as to how communities and policy makers alike can create an environment conducive to the sustainable and profitable harvesting of this type of natural resource. Suggestions range from improvements at a local level, to the need to re-examine concepts and decision-making processes at a policy and planning level. These include ensuring resource tenure security for both 'insiders' and 'outsiders'; creating flora to allow for the participation of mobile harvesters in developing more appropriate policies; and ensuring that definitions of 'community' do not exclude others who depend upon and manage certain natural resources. These suggestions are applicable not just to the specific case of mushroom harvesting in the USA, but also have resonance in many areas, in both the North and South, where natural resource management is being devolved to the 'community.'"

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