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Holt, Flora Lu (2005). The Catch-22 of Conservation: Indigenous Peoples, Biologists and Cultural Change. Human Ecology, 33(2), 199-215.


Resurgent protectionists advocate a return to strict nature protection characterized by excluding most people from ecologically fragile areas. Certain groups of indigenous residents, namely those with low population densities, simple technologies, and subsistence economies, are seen as conservation friendly, but groups who are experiencing demographic growth, using Western technologies, and producing for the market are perceived as incompatible with biodiversity conservation. Using insights from common property theory as well as ethnographic observations of the Huaorani Indians of Ecuador, I illustrate how such assumptions constitute a ldquoconservation Catch-22rdquo in which cultural conditions deemed compatible with biodiversity conservation are precisely those from which we would not predict conservationist practices to emerge. Romanticized conditions deemed harmonious with nature lack the incentives necessary for people to develop conservationist practices. Conservation is not a state of being, but a social process inextricably linked to social and political institutions influencing resource management.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Human Ecology


Holt, Flora Lu