Back to the Future: Using traditional knowledge to strengthen biodiversity conservation on Pohnpei

Raynor Bill, Mark Kostka

Abstract


Pohnpei’s traditional belief system strongly supports con-
servation, but years of foreign rule and influence, popula-
tion growth, excessive US aid, shift to a cash economy
and other factors have combined to weaken the island-
ers’ conservation ethic. The result has been a rapid de-
cline in biodiversity health, which has in turn led to a de-
crease in quality of life and increased dependence on out-
side assistance. Conventional government-led western
style approaches to resource management were clearly
failing, and in 1990, The Nature Conservancy, the local
government, and other partners embarked on a program
to involve the island’s traditional leaders and other cultural
experts in the protection of the island’s upland forest wa-
tershed. After a difficult start, the program has focused on
combining Pohnpei culture and traditional knowledge with
modern conservation planning and management prac-
tices with some success. The result has been a unique
community-based management approach that establish-
es local control over spatially discreet resources that are
legitimately considered to belong to the community and
the return of resource management and use to an auto-
nomous, consensus-based decision-making process. In a
sense, the approach is an act of reconciliation, reconfirm-
ing those aspects of both political systems that are con-
sidered legitimate. For the participants, it has been a valu-
able learning experience through which a uniquely “Pohn-
pei-style” approach - suited specifically to the island’s so-
cial and political conditions - is being developed.

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