Communities, co-management and world heritage : the case of Kokoda

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This thesis examines co-management as a tool for exploring collaboration between stakeholders in the environmental management of natural resources. In particular, it explores how traditional landownership practices in Papua New Guinea (PNG) influence stakeholder collaboration. The research considers how co-management contributes to the development of tourism and the process of developing a protection policy required for the nomination of a World Heritage Area (WHA). The potential WHA used for this research is the Kokoda Track and Owen Stanley Ranges, PNG. There is existing research on the changing role and legitimisation of local residents and resource users as key stakeholders in protected area management. This change can be seen in the shifting focus of international conventions and treaties, such as the World Heritage Convention (the Convention). The Convention has evolved since its inception and now recognises the need to understand the relationship between nature and culture and consequently seeks ways to create a space for the voice of the local. As a consequence, participatory approaches to conservation are reforming global protected area management. However, the research and literature reviewed in this thesis identifies that the process of engaging these key stakeholders meaningfully remains a challenge for those engaged in the management of natural resources. This appears to be particularly true where there are issues related to community-based property rights and common-pool resource use which do not fit into the pre-determined legislative frameworks of global protected area management such as World Heritage listing. Here the theory of co-management is applied to the case of the Kokoda Track WHA listing process in an effort to understand the interplay between traditional landownership practices and decentralised approaches to environmental management. A qualitative research design was employed in this thesis incorporating informal interviews, document evidence and a focus group. The approach employed in the research considers that co-management is a process of managing relationships as much as managing resources. Therefore, an in-depth understanding of stakeholders and their relationships is pursued. The participants in this research included customary landowners of the Kokoda Track, as well as government and non-government participants, the local management authority and tourism operators. The research findings suggest that the process of co-managing natural resources for subsistence livelihoods and tourism is a highly social and political process. It appears the success of tourism development on the Kokoda Track has been in most part due to the management of relationships between customary landowners and other stakeholders. The continuation of customary landownership, as a community-based legal system that is central to tourism, has ensured the voice of the local plays a part in ongoing management of the trekking industry. Based on case study findings, a framework for exploring stakeholder collaboration in complex arenas was devised using Berkes’ (2008) conceptualisations of co-management. This was then used to explore if customary landownership has contributed to enabling the voice of the local in the process of developing a nomination for WHA listing. The framework allows an exploration of both the what (the ends) and the how (the means) of co-management within the context of the Kokoda Track as a dynamic social-ecological arena. This process has revealed how social processes of managing the Kokoda Track for subsistence livelihoods and tourism sit within local level social structures which appear to emerge from tradition and custom. Hence, the case study provides insight into the complexities of negotiating development and conservation activities on land that is held constitutionally through customary landownership. This thesis contributes evidence of how an understanding of the complexities of property rights, specifically community-based legal systems in countries like PNG, can contribute to decentralised approaches to working with local level stakeholders. This coincides with a current push for the inclusion of rights-based approaches to environmental management and conservation, ensuring social justice becomes a fundamental element in the process of establishing WHAs. With the movement towards elevating the rights of humans to the same level as that of nature protection, this thesis contributes specifically to how co-management might be used in the listing process of World Heritage and more broadly to the emerging dialogue of international biodiversity conservation and community values.
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