We are the guardians of the Selva
Paladino, Stephanie R.
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In recent decades, conservation sciences have focused more on the preservation of ecosystem processes and biodiversity than on the preservation of particular species or locations. This shift to a broader-scale, landscape perspective brings many challenges to achieving conservation across local and regional scales. These include how ecosystem perspectives can be integrated with the other frameworks and knowledge that different human populations, local and remote, have in relation to the landscapes in question; the negotiation of this integration in ways that are equitable; and the paucity of models for meshing livelihood, equity, and conservation that support this integration on a long-term basis. The collective management of large ecosystems by indigenous populations has come to be seen as one such model, gaining considerable attention because it promised to address a variety of indigenous self-determination, ecosystems conservation, and sustainable development objectives. This study explores the case of the Comunidad Lacandona, a large, indigenous communal property territory in in the Selva Lacandona, Chiapas, Mexico, part of which was declared the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in 1978. The indigenous owners of the Comunidad include Maya groups that migrated to the the rain forest mid-20 century from nearby parts of the state, as well as one group internationally known for its rain forest-compatible ecological practices. Drawing on historical, political ecological, and ethnoecological perspectives, the study looks at how this encounter of indigenous communities and protected area has worked out over nearly three decades, using one community, Nueva Palestina, as a focus. For members of this community, a historically insecure and disadvantageous political economic environment has helped cause patterns of expansive land use and efforts to find new ways of working, while current institutional investments focus on other goals. In this void, collective tenure and ownership of much of Reserve land has been used in recent years as a political means to try to leverage resources to meet these aims, rather than as a way of managing resources collectively or to achieve ecosystem conservation. There are few frameworks present to help mesh resident livelihood and conservation goals, as residents focus largely on household and small group economic endeavors.