Date Published: April 24, 2019
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Sigrid Engen, Per Fauchald, Vera Hausner, William David Halliday.
People’s perceptions can point to reasons for conservation support or lack thereof. In this study, we surveyed the perceptions of conservation among local stakeholders who participated in protected area (PA) management following a reform towards community-based conservation in Norway. We analyzed the link between perceptions of threats to conservation values, prioritized management actions and trust in PA governance, and assessed how these perceptions aligned with the stakeholders’ preferred overarching conservation approach and their support for PAs. Conservation perceptions differed mostly between property owners and representatives of nature conservation (such as NGOs). Property owners perceived modern farming, grazing and hay making, and securing the interests of rights holders as a priority. They had a lower support for PAs and favored a conservation approach focusing on “people and nature”. Representatives from nature conservation prioritized management actions to increase biodiversity and reduce land development, had higher trust in environmental authorities and identified motorized vehicle use as a threat to conservation values. They had a high support for PAs and favored a conservation approach that mitigates threats from human activity (i.e. “nature despite people”). The nationwide reform aimed at increasing support for PAs, but 31% of the members of the stakeholder advisory councils were willing to downgrade or degazette PAs for the benefit of economic development, which is much more than general population surveys. However, the level of trust in local governance was less polarized among the members of stakeholder advisory councils compared with the former state governance, which suggests that that the community-based conservation reform has the potential to improve collaboration and conflict mitigation.
Community-based conservation that places decision-making power with lower-level authorities and involves local stakeholders in conservation management, is thought to increase support for conservation through greater sensitivity to local conditions and perceptions [1–3]. Community-based conservation is loosely defined as ‘‘natural resources or biodiversity protection by, for, and with the local community”  and includes acts of decentralization i.e., when the government grants decision making power to local governing bodies . Community-based conservation is characterized by a bottom-up process where decision making starts at the local level and involves interactions at multiple levels . Closeness to those affected by conservation is believed to increase decision makers’ understanding of local conditions and needs, which in turn can increase trust and improve perceptions of- and support for conservation [7–11].