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Issue 11.1 Abstracts

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Access to Power or Genuine Empowerment? An Analysis of Three Community Forest Groups in Nepal

By Paul R. Lachapelle, Patrick D. Smith and Stephen F. McCool

The introduction of community forestry in Nepal represents an attempt to decentralize control and instill democratic reform in the management of forest resources through the direct involvement of individuals in decision making and benefit sharing. Yet d etailed analyses of community forest outcomes, specifically an understanding of the process of self-governance and the exercise of power, remains a critical gap. Using a purposive sampling methodology, we identified 38 forest users representing a diversity of interests in three communities of the middle hills of Nepal and conducted in-depth interviews focusing on perceptions of an ability to exercise power in forest management. Power in this context is defined as the ability to create rules, make decisions, enforce compliance and adjudicate disputes. Our results identify inferiority, vulnerability, and a lack of transparency as factors that keep forest users from exercising power. We conclude that while community forestry offers tremendous potential to practice self-governance, the behavior of individuals based on complex informal institutional arrangements, such as caste and gender, must be accounted for in such formalized policy initiatives. Opportunities to iail to fully explain or affect the potential for community forestry. Instead, we note that genuine empowerment is related to capacities involving the skills and confidence necessary to exercise power.

Keywords: community forestry, governance, empowerment, democracy, transparency

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A Qualitative Examination of Value Orientations Toward Wildlife and Biodiversity by Rural Residents of the Intermountain Region

By Lori M. Hunter and Joan M. Brehm

The values that individuals associate with wildlife and biodiversity are many. This study explores the values associated with wildlife and biodiversity by residents of a small, rural community in the Intermountain West region of the United States. The community is located within an area rich in wildlife and, in general, the research aims to examine how these individuals define their own value orientations toward wildlife and biodiversity, how these value systems have been shaped by regular interaction with nature within a rural setting, and whether these rural residents view their value systems as distinct from other population groups. Overall, the results demonstrate the fallacy of assuming constant value orientations within rural population groups, the importance of local context within value formation, and the myriad ways in which individuals define “environmental value.”

Keywords : American West, biodiversity, environmental values, rural communities, wildlife

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Boon or Bane? The Environmental and Health Impacts of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

By Francis O. Adeola

This article examines the relationship between environmental pollution and health problems affecting human and non-human species. Specifically, it reviews existing evidence on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) – a class of synthetic organo-chlorine chemicals and products introduced after World War II – and their adverse health effects on society and wildlife. Their fundamental characteristics, including toxicity, persistence, ability to migrate long distances, and bioaccumulation within the food chain, are presented. The reactions of international community, especially the U.N. Stockholm Convention on POPs recently signed by 122 countries, are discussed. The future needs of substitutes to harmful chemicals and mitigation of health problems already caused are discussed as well. The use of precautionary principles as a guide to public health and environmental policies is emphasized.

Keywords : bioaccumulation, environment, grasshoppers effect, human health, organochlorines, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), precautionary principle, toxic chemicals, risks

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Reciprocity as Principled Argument: The Ethics of Human-Nature Interactions for the Letuama

By Sergio Cristancho and Joanne Vining

Every culture has a system of beliefs that guides their interaction with nature. The literature suggests that indigenous communities rely heavily on the pursuance of an ideal of natural justice, which leads them to have a balanced relationship with nature. In this paper we seek to deepen the understanding of indigenous people's concept of natural justice and morality systems guiding their interaction with nature. An exploratory case study was conducted in which we gathered qualitative data through in-depth interviews and participant observation in a Letuama village from the Colombian Amazon. We conducted a grounded analysis of the data in search for subjective moral norms guiding environmental behavior. The six basic principles that emerged recurrently were: Economy, Reciprocity, Antagonism, Cleverness, Parallelism, and Tradition, with Reciprocity being common across all other categories. We found enough evidence to suggest that among the Letuama, Reciprocity is a culturally rooted moral principle acquired through the socialization process that strongly drives their human-nature as well as their social relationships. Some implications for future research and current theories are discussed.

Keywords: morality towards nature, indigenous communities, Amazon region, Columbia, Letuama people, natural justice, justice conceptions, reciprocity, ethics

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The Major Transitions in the History of Human Transformation of the Biosphere

By András Takács-Sánta

The aim of this interdisciplinary review is to provide a new framework for the research in the history of human transformation of the biosphere. It focuses on the major transitions, which resulted in a considerable increase in our species' impact on the biosphere (in relation to the state before the transition). Six such transitions are identified, in chronological order these are: 1) the use of fire, 2) language, 3) agriculture, 4) civilization (states), 5) European conquests and 6) the technological-scientific (r)evolution and the dominance of fossil fuels as primary energy sources. Such an inquiry of our biosphere transforming activities may be of great importance in establishing ecologically sustainable societies.

Keywords: human transformation of the biosphere, human evolution, environmental history, global change, sustainability

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© 2004 Society for Human Ecology