Indigenous, First Nations, traditional, and local people, isolated from markets and politically marginalized, depend for their survival and cultural identities on the sustainable use of natural resources. That makes them our best partners and constituents for conservation.

Our Goal

Partner with indigenous and local peoples in achieving their vision for a more secure and resilient future, where wildlife remain a visible and culturally valued part of the intact wild places where they live.

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Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

How will we get there?

We believe strongly that wildlife and natural resources are most likely to be conserved when they are managed by the people whose wellbeing and sense of self are founded on them.

We look to:

  • Secure formal rights for local people who have legitimate claims over the land, waters, and resources.
  • Help local resource rights holders build the governance capacity they need to regulate who has access to their resources.
  • Use both market-based incentives (e.g. sustainable natural resource–based enterprises) and non-market based incentives (e.g., livestock insurance, health care, education scholarships) to encourage conservation practices and relieve locals from shouldering the costs of conserving global public goods.
  • Help indigenous rights holders, national protected area agencies, companies, and municipalities to manage natural resources cooperatively at an ecologically appropriate scale.

Why WCS?

Across the globe, in all our field programs, WCS partners with indigenous, First Nations, traditional and local people. Because as we say, WCS wants to save wildlife in the best wild places on earth and so do the people who live there. We successfully combine a long-term field presence and creative thinking with solid business strategies to secure livelihoods, make economies more resilient, and protect ecosystems and wildlife.

10 years

After a decade in operation, the WCS Conservation Enterprise Development Program will have helped at least 20 sustainable conservation enterprises to generate $150 million in annual sales, conserve 500,000 hectares of high conservation value lands and enhanced the wellbeing and resilience of 600,000 rural poor. Economic multipliers will extend our impact to over 1 million families.

1.4 million hectares

First developed in partnership with Bolivia’s Isoceño and Takana peoples our participatory approach to titling indigenous territories and managing them sustainably has been replicated broadly across the country, covering a total of 1.4 million hectares of land and securing indigenous rights, cultural identities, natural resource reliant economies.

50 percent

Over the last decade WCS has worked with over 60 rural communities in Makira, the largest remaining expanse of rainforest in Madagascar, to secure them rights to their land, and to ensure they gain 50 percent of all proceeds generated by the government’s sales of VCS and CCBA certified forest carbon


In Action

In Bolivia's Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape, WCS has been working with the native Tacana people to sustainably manage their forests since 2000. We have helped them to secure legal control of more than 2,400 square miles of territory, and to manage their natural resources, lowering deforestation rates along a major road.

Read More

In the Press

Pursuing a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet
Mongabay, Sept. 18, 2017
We have achieved a high-level existence for many, but we have undermined the quality of life for many others, write WCS’s Michael Painter and David Wilkie.

Conserving the World’s Remaining Intact Forests
Mongabay, July 25, 2017
We must embrace our intact landscapes for the ecosystems they conserve and the communities they sustain, write WCS’s Michael Painter and David Wilkie.

The Necessary Alliance Between Conservationists and Rights Advocates
Scientific American, April 18, 2017
The appropriation and degradation of biodiversity and natural ecosystems is a double injustice, writes WCS’s Michael Painter, impoverishing traditional peoples and contributing to insecurity of human life more generally.

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