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The value of traditional knowledge in managing parks

Topics: Conserving Nature,Human Wellbeing | Comments

Park management is a key element in maintaining parks and ensuring their longevity.

The occurrence of national parks largely arose from an “intellectual” understanding of the value of wilderness, with a science and conservation approach to management. This view largely ignored and excluded indigenous people. Historically the rights of indigenous people to use the resources of their traditional lands in national parks have been curtailed with little or no consultation. Instead the focus has been on conservation of areas of scenic or aesthetic value to non-indigenous people and the protection of endangered and vulnerable plant and animal species.[i]

Current models still place emphasis on developing acceptable patterns of use of the physical environment and not on recognition of social and spiritual values of land to indigenous people.

Management agencies seeking alternative forms of management that both reflect the growing need for ecosystem conservation and the protection of indigenous lifestyles, and conform to international standards and guidelines, need an understanding of local economies, cultures, history, political structures and the needs and aspirations of the traditional owners.[ii]

A different approach to land management

Aboriginal peoples have developed complex relationships with the lands they have occupied for countless generations.

In Canada, it’s now accepted that traditional “science-based” models of park planning and management have provided little opportunity to benefit from the traditional knowledge of Aboriginal peoples. Canadian park agencies and aboriginal communities are becoming involved in leading edge work that takes a fundamentally different approach to park planning. It recognises the significance of a landscape’s cultural resources, which serve as key reference points in the way in which these people view and associate with the land. These cultural resources are being catalogued and used as the cornerstone to park planning and management efforts.[iii]

Partnering with traditional owners

In Australia, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Indigenous partnerships director Liz Wren says the expertise of Traditional Owners had strengthened day-to-day, on-ground management of the Marine Park. [iv]

“Traditional Owners know their sea country better than anyone, and that’s why their involvement in managing this vast expanse is so important,” Ms Wren said.

“More than 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owner clan groups have customary estates that include land and sea country within the Great Barrier Reef. These connections go back tens of thousands of years, and extend as far offshore as the outer barrier reefs.

“Traditional Owners not only play an intrinsic role in protecting the park’s rich biodiversity, but have shown a strong desire to work in collaboration with the Marine Park Authority.”

Ms Wren said the agency placed a strong emphasis on partnership arrangements with Traditional Owners to ensure their direct participation.

“Each day, Traditional Owners and Indigenous rangers apply their skills to thousands of square kilometres of the Marine Park, whether it be researching and monitoring vulnerable and threatened species, spotting and reporting illegal activity, rehabilitating riparian vegetation or protecting cultural heritage sites,” she said.

“Importantly, they are using their traditional knowledge to inform on-ground management practices.”

Traditional systems may prove better for sustainability

Beyond indigenous populations, there are also opportunities to learn from more traditional land and water management practices.

For generations, traditional karez systems have provided the only source of water for irrigation and human needs in the remote, mountainous drylands of Balochistan in Pakistan. Karez systems work by tapping into naturally occurring ground water and are sustainable because they rely on the natural water flow. Communities have developed informal institutions to build, maintain and share water from karez systems.

The karez system was almost completely abandoned in favour of the tube wells, thereby losing also the traditional system, practices and knowledge. The results of groundwater mining in Balochistan are evident: the rise in the number of tube-wells over the past three decades along with their Government subsidisation for agricultural use, has led to indiscriminate extraction of groundwater resources. Consequently, there has been a steady fall in aquifer water levels and as a result many of the karez systems have dried up, clogged up or collapsed.

The consequences for the communities that depend on them have been disastrous.

Community water rights were well established and respected, and are now being revived. Water quantity and quality issues were addressed together, also taking into account gender differentiated water usage. Through the project with an investment of 2,3 million Rupees, the community has earned 14,2 million Rupees in just one year. This was achieved through improvements in water management, demonstration of more efficient water usage techniques and communities again taking up agriculture on their lands. Therefore, large contributions to food security and climate change adaptation have also been achieved.[v]

Renewing focus on this Karez system is a powerful example of how traditional knowledge can be harnessed to create better outcomes for both human health and the environment.

Indigenous populations have engaged with their lands for thousands of years, as compared to more recent science-based and modern park management. Their knowledge of their land has inherent and likely practical value, as does engaging with communities still tied to the land. Working with traditional owners ensures better outcomes for their communities, the wider parks visitors and ultimately,  for the and human health and wellbeing.







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