Deforestation much higher in protected areas than forests run by local communities
BOGOR, Indonesia _ Tropical forests designated as strictly protected areas have annual deforestation rates much higher than those managed by local communities – reinforcing a challenge to a long-held belief that the best way to conserve forests is to lock them away in protected areas, according to a new study.
"Our findings suggest that a forest put away behind a fence and designated 'protected' doesn't necessarily guarantee that canopy cover will be maintained over the long term compared to forests managed by local communities – in fact they lose much more," said Manuel Guariguata, Senior Scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and one of the co-authors of the paper, which includes researchers from Mexico and Spain.
Although a few isolated studies from different parts of the tropics have shown that community-based management can be more effective than protected areas in slowing deforestation, the paper, published in the journal Forest Ecology & Management, makes a strong case that these previous findings may constitute a broader trend. The paper also underscores earlier findings by other scientists that show that greater rule-making autonomy at the local level are associated with better forest management and livelihood benefits.
The latest research compared peer-reviewed case studies in 16 countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia. It found that protected areas lost, on average, 1.47 percent of forest cover per year compared to just 0.24 percent in community-managed forests. In addition, the range of variation within the values of deforestation rates around each of these two averages was much larger in forest-protected areas than in community-managed forests.
With billions of dollars being channeled into Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) – a climate change mechanism that pays developing countries to protect the world's forests – the paper suggests that community-managed forests could be a more cost-efficient and effective solution to reducing deforestation and ensuring the sustainable use of forests while benefiting local livelihoods.
"When done properly, the benefits of community-based management can be seen over the long term, leading to greater conservation participation, reduced poverty, increased economic productivity and the protection of many forest species," Guariguata said.
"We are not arguing that parks in tropical forested areas are useless. Instead we argue that community-managed forests are a key part of the overall forest conservation package."
The findings reinforce a view held by experts that if REDD+ is to succeed, ensuring community participation in the design and implementation of projects will be vital.
Recently released preliminary findings by a six-year global study carried out by CIFOR found that communities living in or near forests received more than one-fifth of total household income from forest-based resources. This further suggests that communities are much more likely to employ sustainable forest management practices if they rely on the forest for their livelihoods.
"After decades of expanding protected areas, the need to incorporate human rights concerns and equity into management objectives is now unquestioned. REDD+ schemes could provide an opportunity to recognize the role that local communities play in reducing deforestation," Guariguata said.
Each year, more than 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of forests are lost globally, an area roughly the size of England.
Community-based forest management now comprises 8 percent of the total of the world's managed forests, and up to 20 percent of Latin America's forests.
"This figure could rise now that we have found that community forest management may lead to better environmental and livelihood outcomes than conventional reserves. However, there are specific issues involving tenure rights, government regulations and local and international market forces that influence the likelihood of positive outcomes for people and forests. We need to learn in a rigorous way how these factors interact in order to develop appropriate policy interventions," Guariguata said.
An assessment of their conservation effectiveness across the tropics
This paper assesses the role of protected and community managed forests for the long term maintenance of forest cover in the tropics. Through a meta-analysis of published case-studies, we compare land use/ cover change data for these two broad types of forest management and assess their performance in maintaining forest cover. Case studies included 40 protected areas and 33 community managed forests from the peer reviewed literature. A statistical comparison of annual deforestation rates and a Qualitative Comparative Analysis were conducted. We found that as a whole, community managed forests presented lower and less variable annual deforestation rates than protected forests. We consider that a more resilient and robust forest conservation strategy should encompass a regional vision with different land use types in which social and economic needs of local inhabitants, as well as tenure rights and local capacities, are recognized. Further research for understanding institutional arrangements that derive from local governance in favor of tropical forest conservation is recommended.
land use, cover change, deforestation, protected areas
Forest Ecology and Management