Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 8482
Title: Natural Resource Access Rights and Wrongs: Nontimber Forest Products Gathering in Urban Environments
Author: S. Charnley, Rebecca McLain, Melissa R. Poe
Publication Year: In press
Journal: Society & Natural Resources
Keywords: tenure, non-timber forest products, urban forestry, foraging, United States ,

This article uses research about non-timber forest products (NTFP) gathering in Seattle, Washington, USA to examine how people gain access to natural resources in urban environments. It offers a conceptual framework for analyzing access that distinguishes dimensions of access and mechanisms of access, and highlights the cognitive dimension associated with internal moral judgments. Our analysis focuses on gathering in three spaces: parks, yards, and public rights of way. Although mechanisms of access varied between them, moral calculations by foragers about whether it was right or wrong to gather NTFPs there, and how to do so, emerged as an important access mechanism in all three spaces. Foragers┬┐ ethical judgments about access rights and wrongs revolved around whether they perceived a product as being wasted or cared for, the quantity available, respect for private property, attitudes about permission, and the likelihood of causing ecological harm. We compare environmental and social conditions of access to NTFPs in urban and rural areas of the USA and posit that the importance of these ethical judgments in urban areas results from the highly heterogeneous nature of land ownership and resource tenure at small scales, a lack of explicit tenure rules, weak social relationships between harvesters and landowners/managers, and weak customary systems of access. We further posit that internal moral calculations by foragers serve to self-regulate harvest behavior, counteracting what might become an open access situation and promoting future access to NTFPs both socially and ecologically. We suggest some policy implications of these findings.