This study examines how agricultural frontier expansion and grazing practices develop in the páramos under communal tenure in the northern Ecuadorian Andes and how rules to control them emerge within communal governance. We approach these questions through the lens of collective action and cultural resilience, to understand the evolution of communal governance. We analyze a case study of the Comité de Páramo Ñukanchik Urku, a multicommunal organization created in the 1990s for collective resource management. We use the analytical framework of social–ecological systems (SES) to approach changes of the agricultural frontiers and grazing activities as conservation outcomes resulting from changes in resource units, actors, and governance structures. Through a mixed-method approach combining air photo analysis (years 1956, 1993, and 2008) and qualitative research, we examine spatial patterns of settlement and agricultural frontier expansion, historical grazing practices, and the main elements of current collective páramo management. Our results indicate that: (1) the demarcation of an agreed agricultural frontier as a territorial landmark is a response aiming to control the increase of crops and dwellings at higher elevations, and to limit grazing activities; (2) the authority's legitimation of the Committee and its Board is crucial to develop rules and to enforce them; and (3) legitimation is achieved through conservation knowledge and autonomous decisions to control páramos considered a communal territory. A broader comprehension of the context and history of cultural change is needed to understand the emergence of communal governance of páramos. Cultural-political dimensions are key to the cultural resilience of social systems in SES and to strengthening rules and institutional diversity to manage the commons in Andean communities.
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