Factors Influencing Community Development in Protected Areas of the New Tropics: A Political Ecology of Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Ecuador

EPA Grant Number: U914969
Title: Factors Influencing Community Development in Protected Areas of the New Tropics: A Political Ecology of Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Ecuador
Investigators: Erazo, Juliet S.
Institution: University of Washington
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: January 1, 1996 through January 1, 1999
Project Amount: $68,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (1996) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Forestry , Academic Fellowships , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Biology/Life Sciences


The objective of this research project is to analyze the political ecology of protected areas and their environs in the Ecuadorian Amazon, with the aim of identifying the government policies and local conditions that lead to management schemes supporting dual goals—improved living conditions for rainforest peoples and maintenance of rainforest ecosystem integrity.


Ecotourism in small-scale indigenous communities has the potential to lead to cultural reinvigoration, income opportunities, community cohesion, increased access to goods and services, variety in diet, educational opportunities, and resource-protection ideology among community members. In other situations, it has the potential to encourage commercialization and the degradation of culture, low-level employment, societal stratification, colonization by outside groups, the loss of local protein sources, outmigration of younger generations, and environmental degradation. The brokers who connect tourists to local communities, regulate tourism activity, and manage multicommunity tourism initiatives play important roles in determining which of these benefits and costs will accrue to a local community. In the best situations, brokers play important roles in organizing the community participation in tourism, educating local people on tourists’ needs, finding or providing start-up funding, and publicizing the tourism product, while giving local people the autonomy to increase or decrease their level of involvement in the tourism activity.

Research conducted in 1994-1995 and during the winter of 1997 revealed that communities sharing the same ecosystem have radically different experiences with ecotourism and other development projects favored by those interested in conserving natural areas. This research hypothesizes that these differences are because of differences in cultural traditions rather than governmental policies, but that governmental policies can be used to balance community tendencies towards nepotism and resource exploitation, which threaten environmental conservation. During the months of January, February, and March 1998, interviews were conducted with community members living in and near the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, located in northeastern Ecuador. Numerous interviews also were conducted with personnel from government agencies, development organizations, environmental groups, and tour operators working in the Reserve. Finally, ethnographic information on the communities was gathered from studies conducted during the last 20 years.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, ecotourism, Amazon, small-scale societies, brokers, locals., RFA, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Scientific Discipline, ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT, POLLUTION PREVENTION, sustainable development, Resources Management, Forestry, decision-making, Ecological Risk Assessment, Ecology and Ecosystems, Economics & Decision Making, ecosystem valuation, community involvement, assessing ecosystem vulnerability, decision making, forest conservation decisions, Amazon, conservation, forest reources, community based environmental planning, ecotourism, Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, environmental policy, forestry conservation, culture and social practices, land cover changes, environmental protection, rainforest ecosystem, political ecology, deforestation, land use

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1996
  • 1997
  • Final