Walker DePuy

Walker DePuy is a Ph.D. student in Integrative Conservation (ICON) and Anthropology.  From earlier graduate work to today, his research centers on the politics of conservation in human-inclusive landscapes.  More broadly, he is interested in the role anthropology can play in bridging issues of sustainable resource management and conservation justice.

From timber extraction to biodiversity conservation to the pursuit of explicitly multiple-use landscapes, environmental governance in recent decades has gone global, linking local, national, and international actors and governance scales.  Political ecologists have long recognized landscapes – whether resource concessions, protected areas, or indigenous territories – as both materially and culturally created and argue for attention in their governance to synergies between social and ecological systems.  The need to untangle these complexities is arguably becoming only more important as landscapes are increasingly tied to efforts to address global climate change.

One policy trying to unite the goals of biodiversity conservation, sustainable development, and forest carbon sequestration is the United Nations’ policy of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).  With at least 40 participating countries and billions in funds circulating around the world, REDD+ has in many ways become the dominant forest conservation paradigm.  How its multiple conservation, development, and climate change mitigation goals will be defined and prioritized across local, national, and international actor groups makes it both highly controversial and an ideal site for integrative conservation research.

In addition to reorienting forest conservation around carbon sequestration, REDD+ policy is also advancing novel mechanisms to protect relevant actors’ human rights known as “social safeguards.”  First introduced in 2010, and grounded in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), social safeguards aim to ameliorate tensions between REDD+ carbon mitigation goals and the social justice concerns of local communities.  Critically, however, safeguard language remains broad, leaving driving safeguard concepts like stakeholder participation, local knowledge, and indigenous rights open to the interpretation of the actors invested in REDD+ landscapes, whether local communities, national governments, or international corporations and conservation NGOs.

Walker’s research seeks to build off a seven-month consultancy in 2013 with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) where he investigated enabling conditions for participatory forest carbon accounting across forested landscapes in Indonesia.  Indonesia, with the world’s highest rate of deforestation and fourth-largest forest carbon stocks, is an international leader in the pursuit of REDD+ policy.  Fieldwork with CIFOR in north-central Papua province, however, raised a striking question amidst the codification of rights in REDD+ safeguards and concerns over benefit sharing and carbon measurement protocols: how do you effectively enact rights-based concepts, such as forest tenure, across governance scales and cultural difference?  As rights-based approaches are scaled up and standardized across realms of conservation and development, what is excluded, constructed, modified, or obscured in the process?

To address these questions, Walker plans to continue working in Indonesia.  Specifically, he seeks to understand how REDD+ social safeguard concepts, such as local knowledge and rights, are produced, translated, and enacted across actor groups in an international forest carbon project in East Kalimantan province.  Using multi-sited ethnography, Walker will work across one project’s international, national, and local governance scales to trace the science-policy-practice interface of REDD+ social safeguards.  Through participant-observation and semi-structured interviews with scientists and practitioners in NGO offices in Washington, D.C. and Jakarta to community-based ethnography in an East Kalimantan REDD+ project village, he hopes this work will enable him to understand how different REDD+ community and conservationist actor groups interpret safeguard concepts and how translations of such concepts shape rights-based policies and governance regimes.  With Indonesia emerging as a critical actor in global environmental governance, this research will hopefully provide a valuable case study not only for gauging REDD+’s future success, but also for how the enactment of rights-based mechanisms might influence attention to human rights and cultural difference in conservation science and practice.