Conflicts between national parks and their surrounding human communities are apparently disfunctional for both. Both groups would appear to have incentives to resolve or at least reduce these conflicts. A major difficulty is the achievement of ready communication and trust between the powerful urban-based park authorities and the rural, possibly illiterate, local human populations who may have suffered at the hands of the park authorities in the past. Because of their greater power, the national park authorities are in the best position to take the first steps towards establishing trust—by making some positive concessions, and binding themselves in some way to real, rather than token, local participation in decision-making.
Local elected officials with responsibilities both to their local electorate and to the objectives of central government, might be suitable agents for bringing the various parties together. When once effective communication is established, the early identification of areas of common interest, and positive actions to promote these, will continue the trust-building process and enable more difficult issues to be addressed. The identification, in advance, of options or alternatives that appear to be mutually beneficial, ‘positive sum’ solutions, will facilitate this and provide incentives for the initial participation of all parties.
This approach to protected areas management will require new skills and training for park staff—in social and political as well as biological skills. It will also require a shift in the ruling paradigm of protected areas. The concept of national parks as inviolate havens of untouched Nature, controlled by an all-powerful central government agency, will have to give way to concepts of conservation through careful manipulation to achieve both conservation and local human development objectives. Although this approach is being hailed by conservation leaders through such worthy devices as Biosphere Reserves (Batisse, 1982), these concepts do not yet seem to have the international status that is required for their extensive adoption, nor do they necessarily build conflict-management processes into the management regime.
The approach suggested above is not without risk both to park authorities and to the local human communities; but clarification of both conservation and development objectives should reduce such a risk and help to identify the information and analytical needs for working towards a mutually beneficial solution.