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Property rights in protected areas: Obstacles to community involvement as a solution in Thailand

by Portal Web Editor last modified Jan 10, 2013 09:10 AM
Contributors: PETER VANDERGEEST

In 1996, about 20% of Thailand was classified as National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. Much of this area included land and resources claimed by rural people prior to classification. The expansion of PAs produced conflict with rural people claiming PA resources. Problems were also caused by illegal logging and agricultural encroachment organized by powerful, armed groups. PA enforcement was used primarily against resource use by local villagers. The Thai Royal Forestry Department cooperated with NGOs to provide development assistance to rural people living in PA buffer zones to mitigate threats and compensate for resource losses in PA creation. This met limited success as the main constraint was not poverty but villager's claims to land and resources located inside the PAs. A community forest approach taken by a recent draft Forest Bill recognized community property, but did not allow for commercial forest use or the household-based forest tenure. The Forestry Department resisted legislation allowing local resource use inside PAs because existing laws helped to consolidate the Department's control over territory and justify increases in budgetary allocations.The author argues that PAs areas exceed the area necessary for biological conservation. Motives for PA expansion had as much to do with Forestry Department territory and income as with conservation. The author suggests the tension between local livelihoods and biodiversity conservation would be better addressed by non-coercive measures to promote resource conservation outside PAs: Thai government should recognize community management rights in lands appropriated in PA expansion to decrease the level of antagonism toward PAs; Laws forbidding livelihood uses in remaining classified areas could be qualified by laws clearly recognizing collective property rights and the right to engage in forest farming; Forestry Department officials in charge of PAs should be made accountable to local people.

Author(s): PETER VANDERGEEST

Publication Date: 1996

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