Strict conservation areas and indigenous reserves are more effective at reducing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon relative to “sustainble-use” areas set up for non-indigenous resource extraction, reports a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study, which involved researchers from the University of Michigan, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil, compared rates of forest loss between different categories of managed lands using satellite imagery and statistical analysis. It found that while all three approaches reduced deforestation relative to non-protected areas, strictly protected areas like national parks and biological reserves were consistently more effective than sustainable use areas in limiting deforestation. Indigenous territories were particularly effective at limiting forest loss in areas with high deforestation pressure.
The findings lend support for efforts to reduce deforestation by granting indigenous people greater control over their traditional land.
“Perhaps the biggest surprise is the finding that indigenous lands perform the best when it comes to lower deforestation in contexts of high deforestation pressure,” said study co-author Arun Agrawal of the University of Michigan. “Many observers have suggested that granting substantial autonomy and land rights to indigenous people over vast tracts of land in the Amazon will lead to high levels of deforestation because indigenous groups would want to take advantage of the resources at their disposal. This study shows that — based on current evidence — such fears are misplaced.”
Interestingly, the study found that indigenous areas in low deforestation zones had slightly higher rates of forest loss than other types of protected areas in the same low deforestation zones. The authors suggest that in these areas, small-scale subsistence activities, rather than market-driven forest conversion for commodity production, may be the reason for the observation. Many indigenous groups in the Amazon practice shifting cultivation, clearing small patches of forest for temporary use before abandoning it to allow the forest to regenerate. In contrast, industrial forest conversion for commodity production rarely allows for rapid forest recovery due to the scale of clearing and damage to soils.
The study’s results also indicate that strict protected areas remain an important tool in efforts to save the Amazon rainforest.
“Earlier analyses suggested that strict protection, because it allows no resource use, is so controversial that it is less likely to be implemented where deforestation pressures are high — close to cities or areas of high agricultural value, for example,” said lead author Christoph Nolte of the University of Michigan. “But we observed that recent designations of the Brazilian government placed new strictly protected areas in very high-pressure areas, attenuating this earlier argument.”
The authors say that while their results suggest indigenous lands and parks are more effective at avoiding deforestation than sustainable-use reserves, the latter may still be an important component in protecting the Amazon in that they offer non-indigenous communities opportunities for livelihoods and therefore may reduce other pressures on forest areas.
Deforestation across the Brazilian Amazon has fallen sharply since 2004. The drop is attributed to several factors including improved governance and law enforcement, new protected areas, macroeconomic trends, and increased concern among buyers about products linked to deforestation.
CITATION: Christoph Nolte, Arun Agrawal, Kirsten Silvius, Britaldo Soares-Filho. “Governance regime and location influence avoided deforestation success of protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon,” PNAS Mar 15, 2013. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1214786110
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