Questioning the Credibility and Capacity of Community-Based Resource Management

Article excerpt

Introduction

Land-use planning--and, more specifically, the process by which scarce natural resources are allocated--has always been a controversial and difficult task for governments in Canada, as else where. This has become especially true of late giver the troubled existence of many resource-dependant communities as a result of market downturns, tariffs limiting market access, resource collapse, and heightened conflict among resource users. To many observers, a contributing cause of this troubled existence is the conventional system of resource management in most Western countries a system which Dryzek (1997) characterizes as 'administrative rationalism' owing to its reliance on professionals working within centralized and disaggregated agencies responsible for fish, forests or flooding, who employ systematic techniques to arrive at decisions deemed to be in the public interest. (1)

Critics of the top-down approach have increasingly called for the devolution of management responsibility for natural resources from distant-centred professionals to those people directly impacted by resource-management decisions. IN this sense, devolution implies not only a downward shift along Arnstein's (1969) ladder but also a scaling down of management responsibility from large, centralized agencies to smaller agencies and organizations at regional and even local levels. Among environmental stakeholders, support for devolution has largely been based upon the belief--or perhaps assumption--that transferring resource-management authority to local communities better ensures the sustainable use of those resources. Indeed, this opinion has increasingly been advanced in the literature, be it with respect to water, fisheries, forestry or wildlife (see, e.g., Fellizar 1993; Burda et al. 1997; Clapp 1999; Milich 1999; Newell and Ommer 1999 Serageldin 1999; Gunter and Jodway 2000; Egan et al. 2001; Martin 2001).

Such a regulatory shift would clearly represent an innovation in resource and environmental management with great potential for improving its practice. However, this desired end will not be achieved if newly empowered communities are not credible in their management of local resources or have insufficient capacity to do so. That is, communities must display a genuine desire to steward local resources in the interests of all stakeholders--including future generations and nonlocals--and have sufficient capacity to manage the resource base in order to achieve adequate and stable returns. These hypothesized contingent conditions of effective community-based resource management are the primary foci of this paper.

The larger aim of the paper is to review and critique the concept of community-based resource management, paying attention to its purported strengths and limitations as expressed in recent scholarship. Following a brief review of the current practice of and rationales for community-based resource management, the paper turns its attention to the issues of community credibility and capacity. In the two subsequent sections, these necessary conditions of effective community-based resource management are described and illustrated based on two examples in western Canada in which communities have been empowered to determine the use of local resources. The first, which highlights the issue of community credibility, centres on the 1984 siting of a hazardous-waste treatment facility near the town of Swan Hills, Alberta, while the second, which highlights the issue of community capacity, traces the development of the Community Forest Pilot Project in British Columbia. These illustrations represent an initial attempt to critique the practice of community-based resource management. The many concerns and questions that they raise, which are summarized in the paper's conclusions, suggest a need for further, in-depth investigation.

The use of the illustrations necessitates two disclaimers. First, neither provides an extreme example of devolution, given the retention of some authority by provincial agencies. …