Understanding Multi-level Governance in the Context of Natural Resource Management

Dr. Andrew Wardell of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) spoke to our class about multi-level governance (MLG) of forest resources. He defined newer factors in MLG broadly as the vertical and horizontal linkages involved in environmental management according to four key features. These include the ever-increasing involvement of non-state actors like big NGOs and consulting companies, the complex overlap of decision-making agents not strictly limited by spatial boundaries, the continual transformation of the role of the state, and the challenging of conventional notions of democratic accountability.
Understanding the current balance of power between numerous state and non-state actors and the role each plays in the management of forest resources is essential. For example, in terms of decision-making processes, ensuring all the players are at the table regarding the allocation of forest concessions to multi-national corporations is important for safeguarding the rights of marginalized indigenous populations. To date, land-claim conflicts continue between indigenous peoples and the central government, despite the recent judicial ruling denying the central government’s assertions of land ownership over indigenous peoples’ forest estate.
Management of forest resources by local communities has proven often to involve best practices that more sustainably utilize a given resource than the historical assignment of forest land use by the central government. This is the area where MLG as an analytical tool helps us understand how best to achieve emissions reductions from deforestation and land use conversion.
Similar applications of the MLG model to forest resources in Indonesia can be seen in the US with the multitude of both state and non-state actors involved in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, which is the largest estuary in the continental US. Regulating the cleanup of the degraded waterway has proven to be an enormous task that has historically failed to reverse the polluted status of the estuary. MLG comes into play because coordinating efforts to cleanup the watershed of the Bay necessarily requires actors across territorial boundaries of six states and the District of Columbia. Many levels of governance, from federal agencies and the Chesapeake Bay Program, to state natural resource agencies, and local watershed alliances all take part in working towards this greater goal. Local non-profits are more in touch with their members who participate voluntarily and can organize their concerns and take them to higher level authorities where policies can be altered or created. The federal level of government also mandates certain pollution reductions by the states, but leaves the decisions on the mechanisms by which to meet the reductions up to the state governments.
State governments can also engage locals in helping to restore waterways through citizen-based science that can help create an intricate map of the health of the tributary waterways that empty into the Bay. The state of Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources runs a volunteer program that creates this type of map each year, which highlights areas of degraded streams that need mitigation activities to reduce the local pollutant load. All the changes upstream are needed to effect change downstream as the Bay captures the sediment and nutrients that wash off the land. Through this embodiment of MLG, actors who are a part of the formal government system and those outside the official structure of government both have important roles to play in the coordination and actions needed to meet the collective goal of reducing pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay.
-Maria Harwood
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