Watershed Management on Pohnpei

In the mountain forest of Pohnpei


The research question is closely related to my own interests and experience. I worked on the island of Pohnpei for about five years as an Extension Agent for the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Extension Service. Through my work I became involved in an ongoing effort by the state Division of Forestry to implement watershed protection legislation . It empowered the Division of Forestry to regulate access to and use of resources in upland forest and mangrove forest areas; both designated as public lands since colonial occupation of the island by the Japanese (1916-1945). The law, passed in 1987 by the State Legislature, proved difficult to implement because of resistance by community members and resource users. They felt that the state had no legitimate right to regulate their activities in areas that they had long been using. I began meeting informally with various people from state government agencies to discuss ways to implement the law; the group evolved into a self-described " Watershed Steering Committee. " Through discussion, it became clear that greater effort would have to be made to involve community members in the management process. Because of my own interest in common property resource management issues, stemming from work done for my Master's degree, I encouraged a participatory approach.

With support from the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service a public education program began in 1992 which did much to garner support for watershed management. This process, in which representatives from state government natural resource management agencies visited every community on the island, also stimulated much discussion about how community members and traditional chiefs might play a role in management. The education program finished in late 1993 and since that time the Forestry Division has continued efforts to determine how communities should participate in decision making. In the summer of 1994 I spent six weeks in Pohnpei to work on these issues and also to help organize and run a two week workshop on 'participatory rural appraisal' as a methodology for facilitating community-based planning efforts. Based on this workshop Forestry Division extension personnel and community members have begun developing a methodology to help communities identify critical natural resource related issues and determine how to better manage local resources. Participants in the watershedd conservation project are now realizing that the original legislation will probably have to be revised to create a stronger legal basis for community leaders to have a role in decision making over forest resource use on public lands.

A number of external organizations have also become interested in the watershed conservation program. In 1992 the Nature Conservancy, a U.S. non-profit conservation organization, hired a field representative for Pohnpei to devote time to watershed conservation. The Asian Development Bank, which the Federated States of Micronesia recently joined, encouraged development of a project proposal to support some components of the conservation program. This grant was received in 1994 with the Nature Conservancy acting as project consultant. This funding has been directed primarily towards provision of technical assistance through the project consultancy, provision of a project vehicle, office equipment, and development of a geographic information system to aid in land suitability analysis for future development and resource management. A comprehensive watershed management plan is to be formulated as a product from this assistance.

More recently, SPREP has initiated a South Pacific Biodiversity Conservation Program (SPBCP) with funding from the Global Environment Facility with a mission to support community-based biodiversity conservation efforts in the region. The SPBCP has provided continuing support for community planning efforts, including my own involvement. A longer term project document is currently under development for SPBCP which will lay out funding for the Pohnpei watershed conservation program for the next four years.

Throughout my experience with this conservation program (and my years in Pohnpei previous to involvement in that effort) I have been struck by the divide between an elaborate 'traditional' or indigenous socio-political hierarchy and the post-colonial apparatus of the state government. It also has become clear, both from these experiences along with my own research and applied work on other common property resources issues, that land tenure, broadly defined, is a key to many natural resource management issues. While common property resources are a focus of attention, both in the literature and in applied work, I don't think that activities in these areas can be separated from the larger fabric of resource use across a variety of spaces that are defined by environmental and social characteristics.

In concert with the duality of Pohnpei's socio-political systems, there appear to be different meanings attached to land and the use of resources from it. The watershed conservation program briefly described here may be an attempt to reconcile the roles of the state government and the indigenous political hierarchy. It seeks to give village chiefs a visible role in regulating common property resource use under the auspices of a state government constituted regulatory framework. Progress in developing this conservation program and speculation about the likelihood of its success raise many questions about the relation between what seem to be two competing institutions within one small society.

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