Sunday, 20 October 2013

Guest Post: Conservation Policy and Rights to Hunt in the Bribri Indigenous Territory, Costa Rica

In response to my last post on Bribri Hunting Rights in Costa Rica my colleague, Jacy Bernath-Plaisted, wrote a thoughful response: 

Costa Rica’s national parks system is frequently cited as a great success story in the struggle for conservation in developing nations. However, the development of these preserves has brought conservation into conflict with Costa Rica’s Indigenous peoples. One recent instance of this has been the institution of a national hunting ban on the ancestral lands of the Bribri people. While this may be a well-intended attempt to promote conservation, it is a mistake to enforce blanket national policies on land belonging native peoples. Instead, I argue that a more multi-faceted, context specific kind of management is required both to preserve biodiversity and the rights of Costa Rica’s Indigenous peoples.

A - The Bribri Talamanca Territory
The implementation of the national hunting ban on Bribri lands is problematic for two reasons.  The first is quite straightforward: Costa Rica has ratified C169, a legally binding international document that guarantees Indigenous peoples the right to utilize natural resources on their own lands, as well as participate in management decisions regarding those resources. Therefore, by enforcing the hunting ban on Bribri land, the Costa Rican government has acted contrary to laws of its own making. The problem is further compounded when one considers that land ownership and use are often essential in the self-identification of Indigenous peoples, and that hunting plays an integral role in traditional Bribri culture and spirituality. It is neither ethical nor likely to foster good relations to disregard these

Still, this is not to say that the idea of restricting hunting is wholly inappropriate. Generally speaking, the national hunting ban can be viewed as a positive venture. For example, Costa Rica’s protective environmental policies have already contributed to the recovery of endangered species such as the Green turtle. A hunting ban is an appropriate policy on land owned by the Costa Rican government where populations are higher, cultural norms are different, and presumably, there is an overhunting problem. Yet, it is not clear that Bribri land fits any of these criteria. In fact, there does not appear to be research available on whether or not biodiversity is in jeopardy on these lands at all. A more fruitful, multi-management, approach to conservation on indigenous lands might look like this: 1) prevent outsiders from hunting on Bribri land, 2) allow the Bribri to continue traditional hunting of non-threatened species on their lands, and 3) determine which species on Bribri land may be at risk and engage the community in a dialogue regarding the voluntary cessation of hunting on those species. This approach would not only preserve the rights and dignity of the Bribri, but would also likely prove more effective in preserving biodiversity. Schelhas and Pfeffer (2005) found that engaging Indigenous and rural peoples in a discourse about environmental issues changed their beliefs and left them more willing to cooperate with conservation efforts.

Regardless, those who are deeply concerned about conservation may find this process too slow, and perhaps too lenient with respect to the hunting of endangered species; it could be argued that hunting these species for recreational purposes is never acceptable. This point of view is not unreasonable. However, the reality is, the hunting ban is nearly impossible to enforce on native lands, both because of the rugged nature of the land, and lack of manpower. Presently, the hunting ban has not stopped hunting on Bribri land.          

Though there is good reason to enforce strong national polices with respect to conservation, it must be recognized that national policies are not always optimal at the local level. In such cases, more specific policies built on cooperation and mutual respect between government and communities are essential to a positive outcome.      

My name is Jacy Bernath-Plaisted, and I’m currently studying for my masters in natural resource management at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Though my undergraduate background is in creative writing and philosophy, I am primarily an avian ecologist and my present research focuses on the effects of energy development on nest survival in prairie songbirds. Broadly speaking, I feel that the most important applications of ecology are conservation and sustainable development. The need to balance human interests with those of non-human species is a persistent problem both in natural resource management and in my personal life, and I believe that conservation will only succeed as an inclusive process where stakeholders are given proper incentives.