Creating protected areas has been a central strategy of national governments to achieve environmental conservation.  Few documented cases exist of local communities that voluntarily create strictly protected areas, which prohibit human use to achieve conservation.  Instead, strictly protected areas usually face opposition from local populations, and suffer degradation. Opposition becomes especially fierce when people are required to relocate, or prevented from using resources on which they depend for their livelihoods.  Although common property research has found numerous cases of successful communal natural resource management, such cases typically allow use of natural resources while limiting exploitation. 

            This study explores the emergence and management of the Montaña Camapara Reserve, a communally-owned, strictly protected area created to conserve a locally important watershed in western Honduras. The reserve was formed cooperatively by three municipios (counties) whose borders meet on the summit of Montaña Camapara.  The research aims to understand the sociocultural, political, economic and institutional factors that contributed to successful reserve creation and maintenance despite contexts typically seen as unfavorable to conservation.

            The reserve’s existence appears to contradict several well-established tenets of successful common property regimes. First, shared trust and confidence appear to be integral, but these municipios have ongoing boundary disputes. Shared trust seems unlikely with disputed borders.  Second, clearly defined boundaries are associated with well-maintained resources, but this is not the case given the border disputes.  Third, rapid change typically results in the weakening of local institutions for community resource management.  The municipios have been experiencing rapid change with expansion of export coffee production, increased access to education, and improved transportation and communications networks.  Fourth, the movement to create the reserve occurred after a number of families had already converted much of the current reserve area to privately held agricultural fields and coffee plantations. In addition, coffee production is associated with deforestation, and once people have established private holdings, it is generally difficult to convince them to surrender land to allow reserve. In these challenging contexts, the reserve’s existence seems improbable.  But in contrast to theoretical predictions, many landowners on the mountain agreed to locally negotiated relocation and left peacefully. Preliminary fieldwork and analysis reveal processes of reforestation, well-maintained fences, and widespread support for the reserve. 

Forest research in Camapara