WCS Global Initiatives

Conservation and Communities

WCS wants to save the best wild places on earth, and so do the people who live there.

Why does WCS a conservation organization work so closely with local people? The answer is simple. The communities we partner with care about the lands, waters and wildlife in their neighborhoods as much as we do. Local people are our most effective partners and most vocal constituents for conservation. They are vital to the success of all our conservation efforts.

Local people are our best partners for conservation

The indigenous, first nations, tribal, traditional, and local people who live in the best wild places where WCS works are some of the most isolated from markets, and politically marginalized. They are the last to receive government social services and development assistance, and are some of the poorest people on the planet – a true “bottom billion.”

These best wild places are of enormous importance to the local people who live within them. First because their well-being is based almost exclusively on the sustainable use of wildlife and other natural resources and second their cultural identities are dependent on the existence of, and their connection to, these best wild places. For these two reasons local women and men are both our strongest advocates for conservation and the most motivated stewards of wildlife in the best wild places where we work.

Failure to save the best of the wild not only risks extinction of many of the planet’s most iconic species and loss of our only remaining intact manuals for how nature works, it will jeopardize the very existence of the most imperiled cultures on earth, all of whom call these wild places home.

Poverty forces people to damage nature

At WCS, our interest in the livelihoods and well-being of local communities has both practical and moral dimensions.

Poverty forces people to adopt a short-term view in which the future is discounted because any given child’s, or parent's, survival is so uncertain. At WCS we understand this and look for ways to help families make the present more secure while constructing a pathway to a safer, healthier and more prosperous future. To this end, WCS acknowledges that livelihood security and resilience is essential in taking a long view on the environment, and local and indigenous knowledge is one important path to identify solutions that both meet peoples’ needs and save wildlife in wild places.

At WCS we view people’s wellbeing through three frames.

  • First and most importantly, we see secure and resilient livelihoods as a means to a conservation end. Providing valued incentives for families to engage in conservation practices is a purposeful strategy;
  • Second, more secure livelihoods and resilient communities are desired outcomes of the conservation of wildlife and wild places that are the foundation of the economies and cultural identities of local families and communities; and
  • Third, conservationists share with doctors an obligation to "first, do no harm," and we must ensure that local people do not unjustly shoulder the costs of conservation of global public goods.

Our Conservation and Communities program at WCS focuses on strengthening rights, livelihoods, governance and the role of women in conservation.


WCS Conservation and Communities Program
2300 Southern Boulevard
Bronx, New York 10460

Recent Publications

All Communities and Conservation Publications >>

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