In Central Arizona, the Natural Resource Conservation Districts (NRCDs) are tasked with decentralizing, promoting meaningful participation, and conserving natural resources. However, this decentralization has not been equally empowering for all citizens, as evidenced by the gender inequality in the management of the Maladino Reserve. To better understand the effects of decentralization and democratization on natural resource management (NRM) and democracy at the local level, a forum was held to examine the results of several studies from the IRG series of working papers. The traditional view of development saw communities as an obstacle to progressive social change. However, current writings defend the role of communities in achieving decentralization, meaningful participation, and conservation.
Margaret Wilder, professor of human and environmental geography at the University of Arizona, warns that large-scale desalination projects could be used by the real estate industry to justify “much more unsustainable development in the desert” in the future. The Maladino Reserve case study revealed that women in on-paper positions often do not participate in reserve management and, in some cases, are not even aware that they are in those positions. Donors need projects to achieve a certain level of gender equality, but this is not always achieved. The forum sought to determine how decentralization and democratization efforts have impacted NRM and democracy at the local level. It is essential to understand how these efforts have affected natural resource management and conservation in Central Arizona so that all citizens can be empowered equally. The forum concluded that decentralization and democratization have had a positive effect on NRM and democracy at the local level. Decentralization has allowed for more meaningful participation from citizens, while democratization has increased transparency and accountability.
However, there are still challenges to be addressed, such as gender inequality in NRM. To ensure that all citizens are empowered equally, it is important to continue to monitor and evaluate decentralization and democratization efforts.