Challenging 'Community' Definitions in Sustainable Natural Resource Management: The case of wild mushroom harvesting in the USA
As approaches espousing the importance of local participation in natural resource decision-making have gained political ascendancy in recent years, local communities are being seen as the most appropriate managers of local natural resources. However, this overlooks the important role played by external, mobile groups who also have a stake in managing and harvesting certain natural resources. In this paper, the authors weave together non-equilibrium management theories emerging from Sahelian rangeland ecology and North American fisheries with examples drawn from wild mushroom harvesting and management in the Pacific Northwest. In all these cases, the high variability and unpredictability in productivity of the harvested resources show how defining local community by year-round residential proximity to resource-harvesting areas may be socially, ecologically, and ethically unsound. In conclusion, the authors offer a few suggestions as to how communities and policy makers alike can create an environment conducive to the sustainable and profitable harvesting of this type of natural resource. These include ensuring resource tenure security for both `insiders' and 'outsiders'; creating fora to allow for the participation of mobile harvesters in developing more appropriate policies; and ensuring that definitions of `community' do not exclude others who depend upon and manage certain natural resources. These suggestions have resonance in many areas, in both the North and South, where natural resource management is being devolved to the 'community'.