Forest governance in a frontier: An analysis of the dynamic interplay between property rights, land -use norms, and agricultural expansion in the Mosquitia Forest corridor of Honduras and Nicaragua
Government legislation of protected areas is frequently prescribed as a means to protect forest lands. The effectiveness of protected areas is, however, highly questionable as protected areas have been found to fail as often as they succeed. This dissertation takes a nuanced approach to forest policy analysis by examining how specific property rights interact with resource users' institutions to either promote or thwart frontier forest conservation.
Frontier forests represent the last remaining swaths of tropical forest. They are also the homelands of indigenous peoples who have lived in these remote regions for centuries. A principal threat to frontier forests, and the people living within them, is agricultural expansion caused by mestizo (non-indigenous) migration.
This study integrates methods that include institutional analysis, ethnographic fieldwork, and land-cover analysis to examine how property-rights policies influence agricultural expansion in the Mosquitia Forest Corridor, a biological corridor that runs from eastern Honduras into northern Nicaragua. I compare the ability to stop mestizo expansion in two protected areas in the Mosquitia: one reserve under government management and the other governed by native residents who hold common-property rights to their lands. The variation between sites creates opportune conditions to investigate whether property rights are a determining factor in preventing mestizo encroachment, and the impact that different property-rights policies have on residents' resource institutions and the broader resilience of the social and ecological systems.
The study findings are that public policies that recognize local governance institutions promote resilient forest management systems. I find that native residents who hold common-property rights are better able to stop agricultural expansion than are public managers. Forests under indigenous territorial management are better conserved than those under public management. Furthermore, the analysis of institutional change finds that native residents are better able to address market and demographic pressures introduced by mestizo settlers when they are supported by public policies that recognize their common-property claims.
0615: Political science