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Watershed Management on Pohnpei:
Lessons for Enhanced Collaboration


A thesis completed for the School of
Natural Resources & Environment, University of Michigan
Christine Ogura
Advised by Professor Julia Wondolleck
April 2003




As one of four states comprising the Federated States of Micronesia, Pohnpei is a volcanic, mountainous island with deep valleys and ridges that are covered by dense, tropical vegetation in the form of rain forests found in the interior. These upland forests consist of a mix of broadleaf, swamp, and dwarf forests and are home to an incredible amount of biodiversity with high levels of endemicity, making it one of the most diverse places in Micronesia.

Pohnpei © The Nature Conservancy


Of the 767 plant species that have been recorded on the island, 34% are native to the island's upland forests. 111 plant species are endemic to the island and 90% of these are found in upland forests. In addition, sixteen percent of the island's 50 bird species are endemic to the island.


The top figure shows Pohnpei's forests (in green) in 1975.  The figure below shows the forest cover in 1995, illustrating a significant decrease in forest coverage during those twenty years © The Nature ConservancyTo protect these critical forests, the Pohnpei state legislature passed the Pohnpei Watershed Forest Reserve and Mangrove Protection Act in 1987 creating a close to 5,000 hectare (or 12,500 acre) protected Watershed Forest Reserve. The purpose of this act was to halt the degradation of the interior forests from population encroachment (namely the planting of sakau, Piper methysticum, a traditional as well as commercial cash crop; see picture below) and to protect the watershed and water supply for the island's population. [The figures to the left show the need for this vital watershed protection: the top figure shows Pohnpei's forests (in green) in 1975 while the figure below shows the forest cover in 1995, illustrating a significant decrease in forest coverage during those twenty years.]


However, when surveyors attempted to mark the boundary of this reserve, communities (who had not been engaged in developing the legislation and utilized these areas for agro-forestry) turned them back. As a result, watershed management on Pohnpei evolved from a conflict situation between communities and the state government over establishment of a Watershed Forest Reserve and authority over management of the area. Today, management can be characterized by a collaborative approach in which all parties work to manage this threatened area.


Sakau Plant (Piper methysticum) © The Nature Conservancy   This analysis looked at three key areas by


  • analyzing the evolution of watershed management on Pohnpei and pinpointing significant crossroads;
  • identifying lessons learned, including successful strategies and their attributes; and the roles of different organizations and parties; and
  • examining the current situation, particularly challenges facing management, and devising appropriate recommendations based on comparative collaborative and community-based case study analyses.

The analysis concluded by identifying six key factors underlying effective, collaborative natural resource management. Analysis was based on literature review and field research in which over 40 interviews were conducted with community members, traditional leaders, state agencies, non-governmental organizations, U.S. federal agencies, municipal governments, and politicians. The results of this case study analysis provide clear lessons for the watershed management program as well as other programs and projects facing similar challenges and issues.


The analysis is available in PDF Format . Click here to download the entire analysis in a complete document (note that this is a large file).


The analysis is also available in individual chapters:


Executive Summary


Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Introduction (Methods, Geography, Brief History, State and Traditional Governance Structures, Sakau, Terminologies Used)


Chapter 2 : Evolution of a Watershed Management Program


Chapter 3: Building on the Past, Understanding the Present, and Planning for the Future: Shared Insights from Parties


Chapter 4: Organizational Issues and Involvement of Parties: Observations of Participants


Chapter 5: Moving Forward: A Review of Case Studies


Chapter 6: Conclusion and Recommendations








All photos and maps have been provided courtesy of The Nature Conservancy.




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