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By Jamie McCallum, Tanya Rosen and Maja Vasilijević
Transboundary conservation areas can enable torn communities and tribes to retain or regain their cultural integrity, especially where colonial administrators or post-conflict settlements demarcated arbitrary borders, with little regard for cultural or ecological boundaries. This can enable ancient cultural migrations and rituals to be retained as well as providing a focal point for cross-border cultural activity such as social events, celebrations and family reunions, all of which can help build trust and friendship. Enhanced communication born from this interaction between communities and park staff is important for getting acquainted with adjacent country’s culture, history, and also language, and ultimately for raising enthusiasm for cooperation, which can then benefit the region not only socio-culturally, but also economically, politically and ecologically.
However any cultural or social considerations need to be carefully balanced with ecological concerns as there remains a potential for them to be in conflict with one another, especially where new land becomes legally protected and excludes or limits human activity. However this scenario can also deliver benefits to local groups if the very establishment of the protected area enables increased community involvement. Protected areas are today promoted as ‘parks with people’ and thus any protected area, including transboundary, supports participatory approaches in planning and management (including decision-making). It also supports local communities in gaining benefits from protected area management and environmental services the area provides, although keeping in mind sustainability principles and ecological balance.
Ensuring that tangible benefits flow back to the communities is complicated: the potential for losing pre-existing rights and/or not seeing any gain remains a real threat. Many decisions about protected areas are taken far from local communities, and are often designed to make conservation initiatives fit larger political and institutional interests. Identifying and balancing sustainable resources, economic benefits to local populations and conservation goals in advance is critical.