Academic journal article Human Ecology

Land Cover Assessment of Indigenous Communities in the BOSAWAS Region of Nicaragua [1]

Academic journal article Human Ecology

Land Cover Assessment of Indigenous Communities in the BOSAWAS Region of Nicaragua [1]

Article excerpt

Jonathan H. Smith [2]


In some regions of the world, indigenous peoples still retain control over the lands and resources they and their ancestors have utilized for centuries. However, such control is becoming increasingly rare, as these lands are often coveted by outsiders because of their rich biodiversity and valuable natural resources (Dasmann, 1991; Stevens, 1997). Conservationists are interested in establishing parks and reserves for conservation, timber interests want to harvest trees, and nonindigenous settlers seek to claim seemingly underutilized lands. In response to such pressures, the territories utilized by indigenous peoples have often been designated as national parks or other protected areas. The new management paradigm for these conservation areas calls for the incorporation of the indigenous peoples into the management process (Stevens, 1997). A critical component of such management systems are land cover data that reveal the land covers present and the processes incurring land cover change. Land cover changes re veal the environmental conditions and human actions that have shaped the landscape, including ecological succession, timber removal, and natural disturbances such as hurricanes.

This study utilizes remotely sensed images to conduct a land cover analysis of three indigenous communities in Nicaragua that are attempting to develop comprehensive land use management plans compatible with the goals of the government-created BOSAWAS Natural Resource Reserve (Fig. 1). Encompassing 7,300 sq kin, the goals of the Reserve are to conserve a portion of the largest remaining stand of tropical rain forest north of the Amazon Basin, while promoting the sustainable use of its resources (Stocks, 1994). To facilitate the entry of the indigenous communities into the management process, the communities have been working with two nongovernmental organizations (NGO), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Alistar Foundation. These NGOs have provided technical and legal assistance to the communities as well as training to the indigenous forest rangers to monitor the communities' territories. The goal of this study is to provide land cover data to the communities so that they will be able to work with the Nica raguan Government on planning the sustainable use of the Reserve's resources.

Two of the three communities under study are made up of Mayangna (Sumu) peoples (Mayangna Sauni As and Mayangna Sauni Bas), while the other community is made up of Miskitu, Kipla Sait Tasbaika. The Mayangna inhabit the interior valleys of north-central Nicaragua, while the Miskitu are found along the Caribbean coast and the Coco River valley (Sollis, 1989). Approximate 1995 populations of the communities were 500 for Mayangna Sauni Bas and 3,400 for both Mayangna Sauni As and Kipla Sait Tasbaika (Stocks, 1998; Stocks et at., 1998). The three communities are similar in that settlements occur along rivers that provide transportation to agricultural lands, as well as hunting and gathering areas. All three practice subsistence slash-and-burn (swidden) agriculture, clearing plots of primary and secondary forest along the river valleys. Each clearing is used for two or three cropping cycles and then abandoned for new areas. Major crops include maize, rice, beans, bananas, and yucca. As the lands lie fallow, fertili ty regenerates allowing them to be reused in the future. Meat is provided through hunting and fishing, as well as raising chickens, pigs, and in a few circumstances, cattle. All three communities are relatively isolated, with no roads. However both Mayangna communities are located near mestizo mining towns that serve as markets for indigenous goods as well as points of embarkation for settlers seeking land.


Information required to conduct a land cover analysis of the three indigenous communities includes their territorial claims, the current extent of land covers, and recent land cover changes. …

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