Countering with a Conservation Frame

Recognizing the market frame’s failure, many IWM coalitions adapted their counter-framing strategy to emphasize an alternative conservation frame. The conservation frame stressed the inherent value of watershed ecosystems, which deserve protection in their own right. In this narrative, environmental problems arose because people individually and societies collectively did not value environmental protection. The solution was for people to better appreciate the value of watershed ecosystems, including the provision of clean water. Watersheds must be restored and protected to ensure the future existence of valuable resources like water, forests, and biodiversity. The frame called on people to consider the need for future access to these resources as an incentive to stop environmentally harmful activities. Watersheds were framed as “water factories” to emphasize their value in sustaining life (see Fig. 6.2). Slogans like “water is life” (agua es vida) appealed for people to consider a future without water and bear this in mind when deciding whether to engage in destructive behavior. Slogans like “together for water” (juntos por el agua) framed the degradation and

Countering with a Conservation Frame. Image source

Figure 6.2 Countering with a Conservation Frame. Image source: author’s photograph of a campaign poster publicly displayed in Zamora. English translation by author.

contamination of water resources as a collective problem requiring a collective solution. The challenge became delimiting strategic areas for conservation and protecting them from human intervention, or at least from damaging activities related to economic production.

Interestingly, coalitions did not initially adapt their policy proposals to omit market mechanisms (i.e., transfers of payments from water users to landowners). Rather, they found creative ways to de-emphasize the idea of markets and emphasize conservation to protect against future losses. CEDERENAs efforts to create a Pimampiro-style payment for ecosystem services program in Celica are illustrative. While CEDERENAs earlier programs in Pimampiro and El Chaco were labeled payment for ecosystem services programs, Celica’s program was renamed Protection of the Quantity and Quality of Water. To emphasize voluntary social cooperation, the money paid by water users was called a "contribution,” "collaboration,” or "donation,” even though CEDERENA proposed making such payments obligatory through municipal ordinances (EcoCiencia 2009). Talk of "payments” to "owners,” was replaced by "compensation” and "retribution” to "families” for protecting the forests that provide water for the social good.

Instead of technical descriptions of ecosystem services, Celica’s campaign posters talked of "nature offering everything needed for our well-being,” including "water for consumption, clean air, [and] medicinal plants.” Rather than emphasizing water’s economic value, Celica’s campaign emphasized water’s noneconomic values as the basis for human needs like “food,” “health,” and “purification” (Cuenca 2008). The main document publicizing Celica’s reforms illustrates the coalition’s use of a conservation frame:

Over time human beings have neglected and failed to respect or value water. They believe it is a resource available for their use without any type of restriction, without considering it a recyclable resource. In this process they suffer changes due to the poor use and contamination of water, causing severe damage to people’s health. ... The Program for the Protection of the Quantity and Quality of Water grew out of the need to improve this resource for Celica. (Cuenca 2008, 7)

Conservation frames often utilized highly emotional messages using dramatic imagery and making simple connections between watershed degradation and human suffering. Figure 6.3 shows two typical images that circulated among coalitions. One shows an African boy bathing in cow urine due to water scarcity. The second shows a starving child with the prayer “I promise to do everything possible to not waste water. We pray that this small child will be relieved of his suffering.” The implicit message to community members was that they and their children could experience similar suffering unless they mobilized to preserve their water sources.

Unlike the market frame, interview and survey data suggest that the conservation frame did resonate culturally. Surveys conducted by IWM coalitions show that a majority of local populations acknowledged the importance of

Campaign Posters Linking Watershed Degradation to Human Suffering

Figure 6.3 Campaign Posters Linking Watershed Degradation to Human Suffering.

Image sources: author’s photographs of campaign posters publicly displayed in Celica. English translation by author.

conserving watershed resources to ensure future access. The need to conserve water resources resonated strongly in the Sierra region, where water shortages were frequent. Even in the Amazon, where water was abundant, people generally appreciated the value of protecting fragile ecosystems. This was particularly true in communities that bordered national parks that were important community symbols.

Nevertheless, recognizing the value of watershed resources and the need to protect them to ensure future access was not enough to motivate people to change their behavior. This was particularly true for landowners, who resisted limiting their production to support conservation and restoration efforts. While the counter-framing strategy proved useful for agenda setting, and in some cases motivating people to participate in rule-making, it failed to motivate changes in land use practices needed to implement conservation and restoration projects.

One likely problem for the conservation frame is that poverty drives people to discount the future. This would explain why surveys showed a majority of people accepted the idea that “water is life,” yet failed to change their behaviors. For many people, agricultural production also represented life. Future water problems, while important, were secondary to the immediate need for economic production. A counter-framing strategy forced people to choose between these two “sources of life,” and people typically chose production over conservation.

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