Examining Place-based Governance Principles in Two Atlantic Canada Protected Areas
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A historical approach to preserving biodiversity throughout the world is the establishment of protected areas, with the underlying philosophy that the greatest public benefit is achieved by protecting natural resources, despite exclusion of affected human communities. Consequently, protected areas can become arenas of struggle between local communities and state conservation agendas. Some suggest socio-ecological sustainability is gained by shifting to decentralized governance structures and interjurisdictional arrangements. Biosphere reserves allow for policies, management and institutional arrangements that integrate social, economic, political and environmental issues and better aligns them with decision-making processes, place-based governance and dynamic socio-ecological systems. This research project explores the real-life experiences and unanticipated outcomes of public participation in conservation projects and compares them against the scholarly discourse to examine our understanding of public participation and place-based governance in two Atlantic Canada protected areas. Using case studies of South West Nova Biosphere Region, Nova Scotia and Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve region, Newfoundland and Labrador, this study assesses levels of public participation by various stakeholder groups within the two case studies, examines the credibility of the public participation criteria and explores the challenges and opportunities of implementing community-based conservation projects. The case studies were assessed against eight criteria for effective public participation, focusing on public engagement (strategic, inclusive, transparent), the decision-making process (enabling, respectful, constructive) and desired outcomes (instrumental and meaningful). Based on semi-structured interviews, participant observation and a literature review, results suggest that open and public deliberative activities seeking and incorporating public interests into decision-making processes throughout an initiative contributes to local legitimacy, credibility and fairness. The case studies provide insight into the value of the public participation criteria, the long-term regional commitment required, the complexity in shifting to place-based governance arrangements and the importance of linking individual and collective identity with public participation. The primary research findings advocate a comprehensive, flexible, pluralistic, bioregional and contextually responsive approach to public participation and place-based governance.