Diversity in Protected Area Governance and Its Implications for Management: An Institutional Analysis of Selected Parks in Iceland

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A protected area (PA) is essentially a governance system, a spatially defined area en-compassing natural and/or cultural attributes, governed by a set of actors with different roles and institutional frameworks. There are many types of PA governance systems, guided by historical-, site-specific-and context-dependent factors. This study has the objective to advance understanding of PA governance systems, their diversity and the implications for management. We take the case of Iceland and five of its major PAs. We develop an analytical framework for the study of PA governance systems, investigating their evolutionary trajectories, conducting a comparative institutional analysis of their environmental governance systems (EGS), and assessing their management implications using nature-based tourism as a key variable. We find this framework effective and applicable beyond this study. We find great diversity in the five PA governance systems that has not come by chance but deliberately negotiated in their protracted establishment trajectories. At the individual park level, such PA diversity can be embraced as a sign of an adaptive approach to governance instead of a one-size-fits-all solution while at the national level, however, such fragmentation constitutes coordination challenges. Our analysis of the current portfolio of PA governance systems reveals they accommodate most of the needed management measures, but a problem remains concerning scattered and locked-in individual governance systems that do not support coordinated action and sharing of expertise and resources. This calls upon policy guidance with more formal coordination, such as a legal and national policy framework embracing PA governance diversity, but also securing more coordinated measures for day-to-day management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number315
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The site-specific legislation of BNR employs a local management approach to governance [66]. Its governance system puts mandate and powers in the hands of an independent management committee as the lead actor, the Breiðafjörður committee, reporting directly to the Minister for Environment (Figure 3). The municipalities must consult the Breiðafjörður Committee regarding spatial planning in the area. The Committee has seven members: four from local municipalities, one jointly from the Icelandic Institute of Natural History and the Nature Centre of West Iceland and West Fjords, one from the National Heritage Council and the chairperson appointed by the Minister. The EA has an advisory role to the Committee and may decide on some construction permits and resource-use licenses. There are limited provisions for park management in the legislation, but further bylaws are allowed. None have been set so far to regulate visitor activity or commercial tourism; however, the visitor numbers in the BNR are relatively low compared to the other case studies albeit not well-recorded. Funding for BNR is provided directly from the state budget, administered by the committee. The BNR funding is low, almost only to meet the cost of the committee members and their meetings.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

Other keywords

  • Conservation
  • Environmental governance systems (EGS)
  • Institutional fit
  • Legitimacy
  • Park service


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