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Australian National University (1994)

Grass-roots and green-tape : community-based environmental management in Australia

Carr, Anna

Titre : Grass-roots and green-tape : community-based environmental management in Australia

Auteur : Carr, Anna

Université de soutenance : Australian National University

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 1994

This thesis examines the role of community groups in environmental management. It is recognised that governments have a responsibility to intervene at the local scale to ensure sustainable management of the environment. Increasingly, there are also community groups wishing to manage local environments. This study argues that neither approach — top-down or bottom-up — is sufficient, but that they must combine to create middle-ground approaches which encourage a plurality of stakeholders to take environmental responsibility. In Australia there is widespread agreement on the serious nature of environmental degradation. Rural Australia now comprehends the damage done to the land by erosion, vegetation decline, salinity and invasion by exotic species. Now that the effects of these problems on biophysical and socioeconomic systems are at least partially understood, people want action. This call for action has led to the formation of local community organisations to act on water quality, weed control, vertebrate pest management, dryland salinity, heritage conservation, forest protection and many other environmental issues. Proponents of community-based environmental management believe that bottom-up approaches will change the face of Australian environments through participatory processes and bioregional principles. On the other hand, critics of this approach believe that community-based environmental management is a naive tool of the state. This study concludes that community-based environmental management can occur along any point of the community-government continuum and is presented as an heuristic model. While the extremes are useful, there is an emerging consensus that middle-ground approaches require cooperative environmental management. Substantive findings of this research support both ends and the middle of the continuum. Principles underlying government involvement in community-based environmental management include a range of policy options, such as providing seeding finance or in kind resources ; providing opportunities for group facilitation or human resources ; establishing the basis for local consultation and participation ; furnishing advice and information ; and establishing the political, regulatory and institutional arrangements within which local group action can flourish. Principles behind community-based environmental management include a strong sense of community ; an attachment to place ; extensive local knowledge ; empowerment through building relationships within the locality ; and the strengthening of extracommunity relations with government agencies and resource management institutions. This study uses a case-study approach to investigate three rural community groups — Water Watchers in Western Australia, the Downside Landcare Group in New South Wales and the Mitchell River Watershed Management Working Group in Queensland. The research is exploratory, collaborative, reflective, experiential and pragmatic. It borrows methodological procedures from a variety of research paradigms in order to establish the profile of community-based environmental management, the process by which it works and the principles underlying both group and government approaches to local environmental management. The three case studies reflect the diversity of community groups, but were not chosen using statistical sampling techniques. Rather, the research design was replicated in three case studies to make the findings generated more robust. The study uses grounded theory to explore the principles of community-based environmental management and links these with a range of disciplinary perspectives to generalise these findings in the literature, not to other populations of community groups. Although the research is interdisciplinary, it is largely based in the social sciences and explores theory from community psychology, human ecology, rural sociology, adult education, cultural geography and environmental policy. It does not examine economic theory, but investigates emerging themes in the literature such as public participation, cooperative management and environmental stewardship. Communitybased environmental management is complex, uncertain and turbulent — requiring an approach to the research which borrows from post-modernist thinking in recognising diversity and celebrating individual difference.


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