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Tokenism, Collaboration and Traditional Ecological Knowledge

For millennia humans have lived within, been a part of and influenced ecological systems (Denevan, 2011). Through our interaction with the environment many communities have accumulated a body of knowledge formed through their experiences and adaptation to the environment (Berkes, Colding, & Folke, 2000). This knowledge often referred to as traditional ecological knowledge or TEK, is being recognised as a valuable source of knowledge for environmental and conservation practices (Gomez-Baggethun et al, 2012).

However, there is concern that use of local expertise can be tokenistic or in other words TEK is “used” to give the appearance of inclusion (Pulsifer, 2011). As a result, the benefits of TEK if used in this way can be limiting. Whereas greater gains can be made if TEK is used through meaningful inclusion of both the knowledge and the people who hold it.

Why TEK is useful
TEK is a rich source of knowledge, including long term environmental patterns (Drew, 2005), conservation and resource use methods (Snively & Corglisia, 2000; Kimmerer, 2002) and specific local details of ecological systems (Drew, 2005). TEK also provides a platform for dialogue and collaboration with local communities (Huntington et al, 2011; Berkes, 2004). By incorporating TEK and the holders of this knowledge into environmental management and conservation practices it helps decrease distrust of scientists and government and increases the willingness to share knowledge (Lyver, 2002; Pierotti & Wildcat, 2000). This would be of benefit especially in areas where conservation issues and people are very much connected.

There has been an ongoing debate whether in order to protect ecosystems, people should be removed from them (Campbell, 2007; Terborgh, 2000). However, this fails to recognise that people have been part of ecological systems for millennia (Denevan, 2011; Schwartzman et al, 2000). Furthermore, environmental and social issues are complex and require a diverse and integrated approach to solving them (McNie, 2007; Berkes, 2009, Huntington, 2011). Subsequently, the incorporation of TEK and the people that hold it into collaborative relationships may add to a more diverse approach needed to solve environmental and social environmental issues (Kimmerer, 2002, Berkes, 2009; Uprety et al 2012).

Tokenistic use of TEK
TEK and the holders of this knowledge can suffer from tokenistic inclusion in conservation and environmental management. A good example of tokenistic inclusion is seen in Victoria Australia where politicians stated that they had managed to fully include Aboriginal people in the management of Victoria national parks. However, this was certainly not felt to be the case for the aboriginal people who did not feel included at all (Kingsley et al, 2009). Holders of TEK may be selectively integrated only as a means to secure political control of resources (Sylvain, 2005). In the scientific community TEK is often only used for its raw data where people, and cultural context are ignored (Agrawal, 2002; Briggs & Sharp, 2004). Furthermore, the inclusion of people in environmental management through various participatory forms is still questioned as to its benefits to the people involved and whether it is just bureaucratic tokenism (Palmer, 2006; Scott, 2011). Lastly inclusion may falsely label local communities especially indigenous, as being inherently conservationist rather than acknowledging that they use resources and may wish to develop further and improve their lives (Valdivia, 2005).

Tokenism impedes the benefits that TEK could have for decision making and local communities (Ellis, 2005). Such impediments retains distrust of government and scientists, creates assumptions over local people’s goals and hinders overarching environmental goals (Valdivia, 2007; Martinez, 1996).

A way forward
Tokenistic use of TEK and people will be met with resistance (Ross & Pickering, 2002). For a way forward there needs to be better understanding of how TEK can be used. Being able to work together and creating an environment to do so, effectively allows solutions to environmental issues to be realised (Berkes, 2007).

Some of the key ways to achieve better use of TEK is through the education of researchers (Pulsifer, 2011), the equal participation of the people whom the knowledge belongs in which they are treated as professionals and the equal use of TEK alongside more modern methods (Sutherland & Swayze, 2012; Ens, 2012). Doing so fosters can help collaborative relationships and ensures the knowledge used in decision making is not misunderstood (Stevenson, 2006, Mason et al, 2012).

TEK offers the chance of a more inclusive style of solving our environmental issues from resource use to conservation. This not only means communities become more willing to participate and to conserve but perhaps that it offers different views to the current norms (Kimmerer, 2002). The environmental issues we face are complex due to ecological and social interactions. As such, it makes sense that to solve these issues not only do we need to involve people at the local level but also to take advantage of the knowledge that they hold (Berkes, 2009).

Agrawal, A. (2002). Indigenous knowledge and the politics of classification. International Social Science Journal, 54(173), 287-297.

Briggs, J., & Sharp, J. (2004).’Indigenous Knowledge’s and Development: a postcolonial caution’: Third World Quarterly, 25, 4,661— 676.

Berkes, F., Colding, J., & Folke, C. (2000). Rediscovery of traditional ecological knowledge as adaptive management. Ecological applications, 10(5), 1251-1262.

Berkes, F. (2004). Rethinking community‐based conservation. Conservation biology, 18(3), 621-630.

Berkes, F., Berkes, M. K., & Fast, H. (2007). Collaborative integrated management in Canada’s north: The role of local and traditional knowledge and community-based monitoring. Coastal management, 35(1), 143-162.

Berkes, F. (2009). Evolution of co-management: role of knowledge generation, bridging organizations and social learning. Journal of environmental management, 90(5), 1692-1702.

Campbell, L. M. (2007). Local conservation practice and global discourse: a political ecology of sea turtle conservation. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 97(2), 313-334.

Denevan, W. M. (2011). The “pristine myth” revisited. Geographical Review,101(4), 576-591.

Drew, J. A. (2005). Use of traditional ecological knowledge in marine conservation. Conservation Biology, 19(4), 1286-1293.

Ellis, S.C. (2005).Meaningful Consideration? A Review of Traditional Knowledge in Environmental Decision Making: Arctic, 58, 1, 66–77.

Ens, E. (2012). Conducting two-way ecological research. People on Country: Vital Landscapes, Indigenous Futures’. (Eds J. Altman and S. Kerins.) pp, 45-64.

Gómez-Baggethun, E., Reyes-García, V., Olsson, P., & Montes, C. (2012). Traditional ecological knowledge and community resilience to environmental extremes: A case study in Doñana, SW Spain. Global Environmental Change, 22(3), 640-650.

Huntington, H. P., Gearheard, S., Mahoney, A. R., & Salomon, A. K. (2011). Integrating traditional and scientific knowledge through collaborative natural science field research: Identifying elements for success. Arctic, 437-445.

Kimmerer, R.W. (2002).Weaving Traditional Ecological Knowledge into Biological Education: A Call to Action. BioScience, 52, 5.

Kingsley, J., Townsend, M., Henderson-Wilson, C., & Bolam, B. (2013). Developing an exploratory framework linking Australian Aboriginal peoples’ connection to country and concepts of wellbeing. International journal of environmental research and public health, 10(2), 678-698.

LYVER, P.O.B. (2005). Co-managing environmental research: Lessons from two cross-cultural research partnerships in New Zealand. Environmental Conservation, 32, 4.

Martinez, D. (1996). First people, first-hand knowledge. Sierra, 81: 50–51

Mason, L., White, G., Morishima, G., Alvarado, E., Andrew, L., Clark, F., & Wilder, S. (2012). Listening and learning from traditional knowledge and Western science: a dialogue on contemporary challenges of forest health and wildfire. Journal of Forestry, 110(4), 187-193.

McNie, E. C. (2007). Reconciling the supply of scientific information with user demands: an analysis of the problem and review of the literature. Environmental Science & Policy, 10(1), 17-38.Palmer, L. (2006).Nature place and the Recognition of Indigenous Polities. Australian Geographer, 37, 1, 33-43.

Pierotti, R. & Wildcat, D. (2000).Traditional Ecological Knowledge: The third Alternative Commentary. Ecological Applications, 10, 5, 1333–1340.

Pulsifer, P. L., Laidler, G. J., Taylor, D. R., & Hayes, A. (2011). Towards an Indigenist data management program: Reflections on experiences developing an atlas of sea ice knowledge and use. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe canadien, 55(1), 108-124.

Ross, A. & Pickering, K. (2002).The Politics of Reintegrating Australian Aboriginal and American Indian Indigenous Knowledge into Resource Management: The Dynamics of Resource Appropriation and Cultural Revival. Human Ecology, 30, 2.

Scott, A. (2011). Focussing in on focus groups: Effective participative tools or cheap fixes for land use policy? Land Use Policy, 28(4), 684-694.

Schwartzman, S., Moreira, A., & Nepstad, D. (2000). Rethinking tropical forest conservation: perils in parks. Conservation Biology, 14(5), 1351-1357.

Snively, G. & Corsiglia, J. (2000).Discovering Indigenous Science: Implications for Science Education. Science Education, 85, 1, 6-34.

Stevenson, M.G. (2006).The Possibility of Difference: Rethinking Co-Management. Human Organization, 65, 2.

Sutherland, D., & Swayze, N. (2012). Including Indigenous knowledges and pedagogies in science-based environmental education programs. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education (CJEE), 17, 80-96.

Sylvain, R. (2005). Disorderly development: globalization and the idea of “culture” in the Kalahari. American Ethnologist, 32(3), 354-370.

Terborgh, J. (2000).The fate of tropical forests: A matter of Stewardship. Conservation Biology, 14, 5, 1358–61.

Uprety, Y., Asselin, H., Bergeron, Y., Doyon, F., & Boucher, J. F. (2012). Contribution of traditional knowledge to ecological restoration: practices and applications. Ecoscience, 19(3), 225-237.

Valdivia, G. (2005). On indigeneity, change, and representation in the northeastern Ecuadorian Amazon. Environment and Planning A, 37(2), 285-303.


Catastrophic regime shifts in ecosystems: linking theory to observation

Paper by Scheffer, M. and Carpenter, S.R. (2003)

Synopsis by Hannes Öckerman

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Great Apes and Biodiversity Offset Projects in Africa

ERES525 SPS - Offsetting

Moving Towards an Inclusive Restoration Model: The Crumbling of a Paradox

By Jake Tessler

Wilderness is untouched and untamed.  Wilderness is romantic and remote.   Wilderness exists outside of our sphere of influence, and must continue to do so in order to thrive.  These sentiments are commonly held notions of nature in its purest, “wildest” form.  But how do we reconcile these conceptualizations of nature with an environment that sees an increasing need for human intervention to countermand a mounting number of detrimental anthropogenic effects?  This conflicting dichotomy forms the basis for what Throop and Purdom (2006) have termed the “participation paradox”.  One of the key distinctions they have made is that participatory restoration tends to focus on integrating people into natural surroundings, not mitigating the impacts of human development.  This, necessarily, puts participatory conservation efforts at odds with wilderness preservation.  Their examination led to the conclusion that participatory conservation efforts should be isolated and limited to human-dominated landscapes to the extent possible.

However, recent emphasis on the integration of human experiences and activities into restoration and conservation projects represent an engagement-based paradigm shift, seeking to demystify “wilderness” and expand perceptions of nature (see Marris 2011).  Specifically, aligning the process of restoration ecology with site-specific social and cultural importance can facilitate a bond between people and their natural surroundings.  This form of participation-based ‘focal restoration’ requires that inclusive restoration practices concentrate less on the “wildness” of an area and instead emphasise the inherent social, cultural and ecological values (Higgs 2003).

Public engagement in restoration efforts has been described as critical to successfully navigate the complex and often controversy-laden landscape surrounding the politics associated with ecological restorations (Gobster 2000).  Recent studies have sought to emphasize the importance and similarly controversial nature of moving public engagement out of town halls and community forums and into the field through volunteerism and citizen scientist-based project direction (Buzier et al. 2012; Theobald et al. 2015).

There are generally combinations of factors that motivate individuals towards environmental volunteering.  Some of the most powerful have been found to be a sense of general environmental stewardship and location-specific attachment (Measham & Barnett 2008), as well as “atonement” for either past or present environmental damage (Clewell & Aronson 2006).  Famed American biologist E.O. Wilson explores the evolutionary and philosophical aspects of such attachments in his 1984 book Biophilia.  In the three decades following, a variety of interpretations and emphases on this subject have been discussed (see Nisbet et al. 2009).

Regardless of the impetus that compels an individual to volunteer time and effort, the will to do so is predicated upon a bond one feels, or desires to feel, with the natural world.   However, capitalizing on the availability of volunteer labor is often met with hesitation from land managers helming restoration projects.  A 2014 survey of land manager opinions towards to use of volunteer labor in their projects over the next 12 months showed that while respondents were evenly split as to their intentions, the largest block of respondents (nearly 25%) claimed to be undecided as to their inclusion of volunteer labor (Bruce et al. 2014).  Commonly expressed reasons for this ambivalence included the lack of access to experienced and properly trained volunteers.  This carries with it increased safety concerns as well as increased financial liabilities.

The key to surmounting these difficulties may lie in comprehensive youth engagement.  Familiarizing young people with field-based, environmental restorations has the potential to not only impart valuable technical skills and help develop the natural bond required for life-long stewardship but contains intrinsic social and psychological value (Grese et al. 2000).  Unfortunately, some researchers believe that we are currently witnessing the creation of an ecological generational gap.  Defined by the lack of a personally developed, human-nature relationship fostered through a technology-based, recreationally insular worldview (Kareiva & Marvier 2012; Miller 2005; Pergams & Zaradic 2008), this gap has wide-ranging implications for active management restorations.

Student-based restoration projects, while usually not cost effective, have been shown to help create awareness and increase the appreciation of participants to their local surroundings (Evans et al. 2012).  It is imperative to foster these lifelong human-nature relationships in young people and to do so through public education campaigns and early volunteer engagement.  The continued and concerted implementation of a participatory, youth-based model should be considered paramount for the long-term success of future ecological restoration practice.  Although incursions into established wilderness areas should be done so with care, we must accept that delineations which separate humans from wilderness are inherently, and subjectively, value-based.  As such, it is imperative that these values are allowed not only to persevere, but evolve in order to retain relevancy.


Bruce MC, Newingham BA, Harris CC, Krumpe EE 2014. Opinions toward using volunteers in ecological restoration: a survey of federal land managers. Restoration Ecology 22: 5-12.

Buzier M, Kurz T, Ruthrof K 2012. Understanding restoration volunteering in a context of environmental change: in pursuit of novel ecosystems or historical analogues? Human Ecology 40: 153-160.

Clewell AF, Aronson J 2006. Motivations for the restorations of ecosystems.  Conservation Biology 20: 420-428.

Evans E, Ching CC, Ballard HL 2012. Volunteer guides in nature reserves: exploring environmental educators perceptions of teaching, learning, place and self. Environmental Education Research 18: 391-402.

Gobster PH 2000. Restoring nature: human actions, interactions, and reactions.  In: Gobster PH, Hull B eds.  Restoring nature: perspectives from the social sciences and humanities.  Washington, D.C., Island Press.

Grese RE, Kaplan R, Ryan RL, Buxton R 2000. Psychological benefits of volunteering in stewardship programs.  In: Gobster PH, Hull B eds.  Restoring nature: perspectives from the social sciences and humanities.  Washington, D.C., Island Press.

Higgs E 2003. Nature by design: people, processes, and ecological restoration. Cambridge, MIT Press.

Kareiva P, Marvier M 2012. What is Conservation Science? BioScience 62: 962-969.

Marris E 2011. Rambunctious garden: saving nature in a post-wild world. New York, Bloomsbury USA.

Measham TG, Barnett GB 2008. Environmental volunteering: motivations, modes and outcomes. Australian Geographer 39: 537-552.

Miller JR 2005. Biodiversity conservation and the extinction of experience. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20: 430–434.

Nisbet EK, Zelenski JM, Murphy SA 2009. The Nature Relatedness Scale: Linking individuals’ connection with nature to environmental concern and behavior. Environment and Behavior 41: 715-740.

Pergams ORW, Zaradic PA 2008. Evidence for a fundamental and pervasive shift away from nature-based recreation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105: 2295–2300.

Theobald EJ, Ettinger AK, Burgess HK, DeBey LB, Schmidt NR, Froelich HE, Wagner C, HilleRisLambers J, Tewksbury J, Harsch MA, Parrish JK 2015. Global change and local solutions: tapping the unrealized potential of citizen science for biodiversity research.  Biological Conservation 181: 236-244.

Throop W, Purdom R 2006. Wilderness restoration: the paradox of public participation. Restoration Ecology 14: 493-499.

Translocations of eight species of burrow-nesting seabirds

SPS Seabird Translocations 2.0

Kama’āina for Conservation: Hawaiian Biodiversity Surveys and Citizen Science

By Jason Preble

The Hawaiian archipelago is home to some 1,400 native vascular plant species, nearly 90% of which are endemic and half of which are threatened (Wagner 1999, Imada 2012). Though extensive work by numerous botanists has been conducted and a fairly thorough Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawaii exists, regular revisions illustrate that there are missing pieces to be discovered (Wagner 1999, 2003, and 2012). One might think that with such a small land area and so much attention from naturalists, the Hawaiian Islands would have been completely picked over. However, that is not the case. Plants represent one of the largest groups, but rugged terrain, natural rarity, and declining ranges and populations make finding all Hawaiian taxa a continuing process. Monitoring efforts inform local conservation but are limited by resources. By lending their senses, skills, and smartphones, citizen scientists can be part of the answer to improving Hawaiian biodiversity censuses.

Extensive surveys conduCyaneacted by government agencies and NGO’s have made important discoveries and informed management programs, (Douglas & Shaw 1989, Motley 1995, Wood 2012, Wood & Kirkpatrick 2014) but are by no means comprehensive. The regularity of discoveries and myriad of unknowns demonstrate the need for greater monitoring. In recent years, several plant species have been rediscovered (Wagner 2012, Wood 2012). In the last year alone, 2 morphologically striking species new to science have been described: Hibiscadelphus stellatus and Cyanea konahuanuiensis (Oppenheimer et al. 2014, Sporck-Koehler et al. 2015). Both plants have less than 100 known individuals. Even with only 33 native bird species remaining, nearly half have unknown population sizes or trends and 9 are possibly extinct (Reed et al. 2012). Expanding surveys would undoubtedly uncover more species in need of protection, other populations of endangered species, and improve our understanding of habitat requirements, ecology, and changes over time.

The main challenge is a shortage of resources: funding, taxonomic knowledge, and public interest. Crowdsourcing of citizen scientists offers a solution to these deficiencies—a unique capacity to survey large geographic and temporal scales (beyond the scope of traditional ecological research methods) for little cost (Dickinson et al. 2010). The enthusiasm and knowledge of citizen scientists has already contributed greatly to biodiversity mapping research worldwide (Silverton 2009). Citizen science not only directly assists conservation projects but also promotes public involvement, trust in science, education, interest, and support for local conservation (Bäckstrand 2003, Wiggins & Crowston 2011). In Hawai’i, citizen scientists have been used to locate invasive trees (Feldkamp 2014) and monitor the Kamehameha butterfly (Pulelehua Project) but their potential remains underutilized.Pulelehua

In conjunction with the reach of social media and accessibility of smartphones, an online database should be created for Hawai’i where citizens and partner organizations can post and view species observations. This database would improve native and non-native species monitoring as well as provide a powerful educational tool. Several online platforms, guides, and mobile tools exist to support such citizen science projects (Silverton 2009, Teacher 2013). A partner smartphone application would allow for easy recording of observation location, time, and images. The inclusion of species information and identification guides would enrich user interactions and increase data quality. Results should generally be public but for sensitive species, access could be limited to those involved in management.

Data quality is a major concern in citizen science projects and can be further improved using user quizzes and by crosschecking with peers, researchers, and past survey results (Riesch & Potter 2013). Data collected opportunistically by recreationists are also likely to be biased towards popular areas and charismatic species. Campaigns could request particular data and some projects have used directed volunteer surveys successfully (Silverton 2009). Although there are statistical methods to deal with the unique challenges of citizen science data (Bird 2014), designing simple but rigorous sampling instructions is important. Any citizen effort will also free up resources for professional surveys to expand and prioritize less accessed areas and specific taxa data deficiencies.

If knowing really is half the battle, then the first half of the battle has yet to be won in Hawai’i and we will need a bigger army. There are still habitats to be scoured for species and populations as part of the larger movement to save Hawai’i’s amazing biodiversity.

‘A`ohe hua o ka mai`a i ka lā ho’okaāhi – No Task is Too Big When Done Together


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Long-Term Persistence of Hawaii’s Endangered Avifauna through Conservation-Reliant Management



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