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New website tracks protected areas under attack

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The struggle to safeguard wild lands and species doesn’t end when a park or protected area is created. In fact, social scientists and conservationists are increasingly uncovering a global trend whereby even long-established protected areas come under pressure by industrial, governmental, or community interests. This phenomenon, recently dubbed PADDD (which stands for Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement), includes protected areas that see their legal status lowered (downgraded), lose a section of their land (downsized), or are abolished entirely (degazetted). Now, a new website from WWF seeks to track PADDD events worldwide.

“To better understand PADDD and to inform policy debates, we developed, a new global crowdsourcing tool, to collect, map, and share PADDD data,” WWF social scientist Roopa Krithivasan told, adding that “ will allow us to build a truly global dataset that answers some basic questions about national parks and nature reserves: did PADDD occur? Is it currently being debated? […] Was the decision reversed or offset by protecting other lands? And, with this information, we can start to answer the most important question of all: What are the consequences of PADDD for biodiversity and the people who depend upon natural resources?”

There are a number of reasons why governments decide to downgrade or abolish a protected area. In some cases, governments are reacting to new sensitivities about the role of indigenous people in safeguarding wild lands, i.e. handing over protected area to indigenous or more communal management. But in many cases, the protected area is undercut due to the desires of industry, such as gas, oil, logging, mining and agricultural expansion.

“We have seen PADDD linked to everything from political bribes to tse-tse fly abatement, but we can’t say anything definitive on a global level,” Mike Mascia, director of social science at WWF. “In some places, PADDD is linked to industrial scale commodity production and extraction; in other places, local land claims and human settlement play a key role. Some have suggested PADDD as a way to enhance the efficacy of national park systems.”

While incidents of PADDD have long gone unrecorded in the public–let alone thoroughly studied–the trend has been going on ever since the world’s first formal and public protected areas were established in the late 19th Century. Currently a number of incidents–including opening up Virunga National Park for oil drilling and the logging and agricultural industry shrinking parks in Cambodia–have been in the news.

Already, the interactive map at PADDD is filled with multi-colored dots marking both past and present changes to parks.

“Working with collaborators around the world, we have identified hundreds of cases of enacted and proposed PADDD,” says Mascia. “We need to take a closer look at these data and, at the same time, continue to build the global PADDD dataset. At this point, we have made a good start, but there is still a long way to go.”

WWF hopes the new interactive site will help raise awareness and dialogue about the practice of downgrading and shrinking the world’s protected areas. To this end, Krithivasan says the site is a “resource for civil society” in order to better debate “the pros and cons of PADDD.”

Keeping track of every proposal to downgrade, downsize or abolish a park, however, is a herculean task. For this reason the website also allows users to add information and create new incidents of PADDD.

“Anybody, anywhere in the world, can directly contribute their knowledge of PADDD,” encourages Krithivasan. “Just go to It only takes a few clicks to get started.”

The site plans to release an official dataset every few years in order to give conservationists, scientists, and decision-makers hard data to go by.

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