Tigers at your service: Why is the state valuing ecosystem services of tiger reserves?

Authors: Nitin Rai*, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Ajit Menon, Madras Institute of Development Studies
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Asia, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: Tiger conservation, Political ecology, Ecosystem services, Valuation, Neoliberal conservation,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Delaware A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Tiger reserves are state owned and managed forest areas established for the conservation of the tiger, which is globally recognized as an endangered species. Tiger reserves receive state support for their protection as conservation fortresses with resulting impacts on local communities. The control of these areas by the state is now being augmented by neoliberal practices such as the economic valuation of ecosystem services. The tiger reserves are being valued even as people living within them are being evicted and their use of the forest is being restricted. Valuation seeks to attract private funding for protection activities. We explore the social and ecological consequences of the valuation of tiger reserves. Why is the state commodifying landscapes over which they have complete control? For whom does this value accrue? How can local people who reside within and around tiger reserves benefit, if at all, from such a valuation? We answer these questions through a study of the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve. Local accounts of the dynamic, historical and contingent processes of forest change are not captured by economic valuation. And yet the state puts a price on these forests. For the valuation to lead to commodification it will necessitate the creation of fixed territories, measurable elements and marketable entities. We argue that valuation and a neoliberal logic helps the state centralize control by rendering conservation technical and legible. Tiger reserves are the most recent of many territories being targeted for appropriation by a neoliberal state.

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