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Seattle University


Sustainability and Sustenance

Written by Laura Paskin, College of Arts and Sciences
August 13, 2012

Tanya Hayes, assistant professor of environmental studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, has received a three-year National Science Foundation Research Grant to expand her research on community forestry in Ecuador. With this funding Hayes will continue her study of how to best balance preservation of forests with the economic needs of indigenous and peasant communities. 

It is well established that deforestation accelerates climate change and renders tracts of land infertile. Policy makers throughout the world have explored new approaches to conserving forests. In one case, the Ecuadorian government provided financial incentives for local groups to plant pine forests in the Andes.  

But was it working? That was the question that Hayes and her students set out to explore in previous research. Working with Sarah McHugh, environmental studies major, and David Salmeron, public affairs major, Hayes researched the ecological impacts of pine trees on soil and water supply, the economic viability of pine plantations and the financial incentives involved. They also examined the social impacts of the long-term contracts with the government to maintain the pine plantations. 

Their initial results indicated that the plantations were not economically viable. The pine trees did not grow well, and the farmers had minimal access to markets for the lumber.

With the NSF grant, Hayes and colleagues will turn their attention to a new incentive program. This time, the Ecuadorian government is paying peasant and indigenous community to not clear the land while also creating incentives aimed at improving communities, such as investing in new schools. 

"We understand the reasons why rural peoples deforest their land, but we don't understand how to change this behavior," Hayes said. "We will examine the degree to which financial incentives can move people to change and critically assess the impact of such payments on individuals and their communities." 

Joining Hayes as principal investigators are Arts and Sciences Professor Felipe Murtinho and Hendrik Wolff of the University of Washington. Beginning this summer, Hayes, Murtinho and Wolff will spend at least two months each year in Ecuador. Their research, titled "Influence of Economic Incentives on Common-Property Forest Management," will determine who participates in the incentive program and will assess the impacts on individual behavior, livelihoods and community governance. 

Hayes and her colleagues are collaborating with Condesan, a consortium that focuses on natural resource management and consists of 50 organizations working in the Andes of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. She notes that the Ecuadorian government has been supportive of the independent review, as it was of the pine plantation policy.