- A recent study finds that ineffective protected areas stand a lower chance of surviving if deforestation has occurred within their boundaries.
- The research took place in the state of Rondônia in the Brazilian Amazon.
- The team of scientists also found that protected areas that work are less likely to be carved up for development.
- The authors argue that removing safeguards, even from degraded areas, does not take into account the benefits that we may derive from existing protected areas, including carbon storage and clean water.
A recent study finds that when parks and reserves don’t do a good job of safeguarding the forest they contain, they’re more likely to be stripped of their status as protected areas.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” Mike Mascia, who directs the social sciences department at Conservation International, said in a statement. “If a protected area has suffered from deforestation, then it becomes vulnerable to loss of legal protections. And if a government scales back some or all legal protections, then the remaining forest may be even more vulnerable to the forces that led to deforestation in the first place.”
Mascia was a co-author of the research, published Feb. 12 online by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Aiming to better understand the global trend in which governments downgrade, downsize and degazette protected areas — known by the acronym PADDD — the team looked at 62 protected areas in the Brazilian state of Rondônia. Once packed with Amazonian rainforest, Rondônia has been hit hard by deforestation, and instances of PADDD have occurred, typically to make way for agriculture and hydropower projects. And they’ve all happened under the umbrella of a single state’s laws.
In some cases, protected areas have lost all of their protection, referred to as degazetting. Mascia and his colleagues found that if a protected area did a poor job of keeping forests standing, it was more likely to be degazetted. Conversely, the scientists also found that protected areas that do carry out their intended purpose are more likely to remain in place, in another piece of evidence demonstrating the importance of governance.
Scientists are still grappling with what PADDD means for deforestation rates in the tropics. Several studies in Peru and Malaysia have recorded spikes in the amount of clearing after these types of changes have taken place. On the other hand, investigations in other parts of Brazil have found that deforestation there did not go up when the same thing happened.
And PADDD is not just limited to tropical forests. “The government’s support for economic development in Rondônia — and the subsequent deforestation in Rondonian protected areas — is emblematic of the challenges facing protected areas around the world,” Rodrigo Medeiros, a biologist and vice president of Conservation International Brazil and co-author of the study, said in the statement.
Mascia pointed to the United States: “A very fresh and well-known example is [what is] happening to Bears Ears National Monument, in Utah,” he said. “President Trump reduced the size of Bears Ears — that’s PADDD. Now that area is open for mining.”
Oftentimes, the unseen impacts of a protected area escape the notice of decision-makers who might see an area that’s suffered some deforestation as not worth protecting. But that can be a short-sighted position, Medeiros said.
“There’s a misconception that these areas aren’t bringing any benefits to society. Protected areas provide clean air, carbon storage, freshwater — the benefits are innumerable,” he said. “It’s critical that governments factor in the ecological importance of protected areas and enforce protections for conservation outcomes.”
Banner image of a frog in Brazil by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.
Tesfaw, A. T., Pfaff, A., Kroner, R. E. G., Qin, S., Medeiros, R., & Mascia, M. B. (2018). Land-use and land-cover change shape the sustainability and impacts of protected areas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201716462.
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