Researchers compared deforestation and forest degradation rates in areas of the Peruvian Amazon that were unprotected to those protected through government and local management.
They found, on average, locally led conservation initiatives proved more successful in preserving forests than those that are government-managed.
The study adds to mounting evidence that letting local and indigenous communities officially manage their forests may often be a highly effective way to conserve them.
However, official recognition of land rights often stands in the way of community-based conservation initiatives. The researchers urge the process be simplified so that more indigenous territories can be established and managed by the people who live in them.
Research has shown community-managed protected areas are often more effectively conserved than protected areas run by outsiders. A new study, published this week in Scientific Reports, a journal by Nature, adds more fodder to this argument, finding conservation initiatives in Peru led by local communities and indigenous groups tend to be as or more effective as those led by the government.
The study was conducted by researchers from universities in the UK and the Peruvian Ministry of Environment. Using satellite imagery and environmental and socio-economic data, they looked at different approaches to conservation enacted in the Peruvian Amazon between 2006 and 2011, comparing them to each other as well as to non-protected areas.
They found that, on average, there was less deforestation and forest degradation in community-managed protected areas than in those managed by the government.
“Our analysis shows that local stewardship of the forest can be very effective at curtailing forest degradation and conversion in the Peruvian Amazon,” said lead author Judith Schleicher, from the University of Cambridge.
While the reasons behind the general success of local conservation initiatives haven’t been studied much in-depth, some researchers speculate that giving communities official management control over their land may increase regulatory pressure. Others say it’s because communities have a vested interest in sustainably managing the forests on which they depend.
Overall, the findings of Schleicher and her colleagues indicate that all protected areas, regardless of who’s governing them, preserved forest cover better than non-protected areas. However, the study also found that the efficacy of conservation initiatives varied considerably depending on what kind of unprotected land they were compared to. For instance, logging concessions generally showed less forest loss and degradation than mining concessions.
“Mining concessions experienced the highest proportion of deforestation and forest degradation of all land use designations assessed, as might be expected in light of the recent surge in highly destructive gold mining exploitation in the southern Peruvian Amazon,” the authors write.
Schleicher urges policy makers to “focus on a more diverse set of mechanisms for protecting the rapidly disappearing tropical forests.”
Her recommendation was echoed by co-author Carlos Peres from the University of East Anglia: “Our analysis shows that there is no single way of protecting tropical forests, and multiple approaches are required to stem the relentless tide of forest conversion and degradation.”
As part of diversifying protection mechanisms, Schleicher urges an uptick in focus on locally managed conservation projects.
“Local conservation initiatives deserve more political, financial and legal support than they currently receive,” she said.
Previous research, published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found one way to increase the abilities of local communities to protect forest – recognize their land rights.
The study, conducted in Peru by researchers at with U.S.-based Resources for the Future, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Carnegie Institution for Science, found granting land titles to local and indigenous communities correlated with improved forest preservation. The team found deforestation and forest degradation were respectively reduced by around 75 and 67 percent in the two years after an indigenous community was granted formal title to their traditional lands.
“Granting indigenous and other local communities formal title to the forests that have traditionally sustained them is probably the most important trend in tropical forest policy over the past 30 years,” lead author Allen Blackman, a researcher with Resources for the Future, said in a statement. “These local communities now manage almost a third of all forests in developing countries, over twice the share currently found in government-run protected areas.”
Land tenure data show about 56 percent of Peru’s land area is held or used by indigenous communities. However, research indicates the government acknowledges just over half of this. In their Scientific Reports study, Schleicher and her co-authors write that several political obstacles current exist that make it difficult for indigenous communities to achieve official land rights.
They urge governing authorities to address these obstacles and make it easier for local communities to establish and manage their own conservation initiatives.
“These include (i) reducing the complexity and length of the application processes, which often take several years to complete and (ii) adding to the very few [Indigenous Territories] that have been granted to indigenous communities during the last decade,” the authors write.
“This is particularly important in light of the widespread political interests to resist or reverse the decentralization and devolution of the control over forests and other natural resources.”
Banner image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay
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