Theme: Environment

In many ways the new economy has intensified the stresses placed on the natural environment. Modern technology has given us the means to over-fish the seas (Steele et al., 1992; Milch, 1999), over-cut the forests (Norcliffe, 1999), and degrade the soil on a massive scale (Smithers and Smit, 1995; Furuseth, 1997). In spite of the fact that most of Canada’s natural resource wealth is publicly owned, the concentration and centralization of production has meant that some of the most important assets for local development have been removed from local control (Hamilton and Seyfrit, 1994; Ramsey and Everitt, 2001; Ramp and Koc, 2001). If we are to build local capacity, therefore, it is necessary to explore options for reversing some of these trends, develop alternatives to them, or take advantages of new opportunities (Sinclair and Smith, 1999; Beckley and Reimer, 1999; Russell and Harris, 2001).

The degree to which local communities benefit from the resource wealth that surrounds them varies dramatically. In some cases, communities have added value to traditional commodity production. Some have found new uses for the resources by emphasizing their amenity or service uses (e.g tourism, pollution control, pharmaceutical uses). Others have managed to reorganize property rights to be more beneficial for their communities, through local ownership, community control of natural resources, or co-management of those resources (Beckley, 1998). Still others involve the discovery and mobilization of previously unexploited natural assets to produce desired outcomes.

Using this variation, the environment team compared resource management organization within and near our field sites to explore how they have changed, how competitive or cooperative approaches develop, how they define and achieve goals, what are the challenges they face, what types of capacity they use, and what their outcomes are for resource development, environmental sustainability, and quality of life. This included comparing sites with respect to local ownership, community control of natural resources, co-management of natural resources, the role of social movements, and other issues related to management, allocation and distribution of natural resources.

These issues were addressed in two ways. The first was to describe recent and current conditions, along with the processes contributing to them. This description included an analysis of the literature as well as existing NRE and other data, the collection of selected information regarding natural resource stocks for each of the NRE sites, as well as the extent of their use by local, national, and international organizations. This information was then used to answer questions such as: How has the reorganization of commodity production affected the capacity of local communities and regions? Which types of land and natural resource entitlements contribute most to increased local capacity? and How are natural resource conflicts manifested and dealt with in various types of rural locations?

The second approach was to focus on innovation in natural resource production, value extraction, and resource management. Examples were selected from among our field sites and detailed analysis of the conditions, processes, challenges, strategies, and outcomes were conducted to understand the role of capacity in the emergence and outcomes of these innovations. The examples were selected for their innovation in natural resource production or management so that both successful and unsuccessful innovations are included.

Tom Beckley Tom Beckley

Team Leader: Tom Beckley
Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management University of New Brunswick

Examples of projects undertaken (to Sept 2003)

Natural Capital
A summer student produced a report on an approach for gather data on natural capital to be included in the community capacity model.

Rural / Urban Values
A master's student completed a literature review (1st draft) on previous approaches to measuring and reporting environmental values. The work identifies key variables that should be included in surveys, as well as theoretical approaches to the categorization of values.

Governance of natural resources
Two students worked on this theme. They have conducted initial interviews with potential case study sites. Both projects take a case study approach to addressing the issue. Proposals were to be prepared before Christmas.


The NRE project was organized into four major themes—with teams of researchers who specialized in each topic. A Central Team, working out of NRE Headquarters located at Concordia University in Montréal, coordinated the activities of the entire project, as well as conducted research of a broader nature. 

Explore the four major themes relevant to rual society:

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