This is the second in a series of weekly blog posts that will cover conservation topics with a focus on protected areas and the laws and institutions that support them (or don’t).
Some of the most biodiverse regions in the world are also the most threatened. Cambodia, a tropical developing nation in southeast Asia, is one such place. Do a quick Google Image search of “Cambodia species” and you’ll find troves of eye candy. Asian elephants, Siamese crocodiles, Germain’s langurs (silver and black primates), along with many other imperiled creatures. Cambodia’s rich biological diversity also includes over 8,000 plant species and likely countless undiscovered groups of flora and fauna . Many of Cambodia’s species are experiencing declines in their populations; threats to the nation’s biodiversity include human population growth, habitat loss, and over-hunting; hunting especially affect populations of the Siamese crocodile .
What can be done to conserve the biodiversity of Cambodia? Many interventions are in place, including and not limited to protected areas with various designations, ranging from strict protection to sustainable use. In general, protected area systems are designed to prevent human encroachment and reduce or block habitat destruction, providing species with necessary habitat to survive. According to the World Database of Protected Areas, 26% of Cambodia’s land is currently designated as protected . Protected areas are considered particularly important for nations like Cambodia, which have faced high rates of forest loss in recent years – one of the highest in the world . This high rate of conversion has been attributed to extremely high population growth and low economic development, the combination of which puts pressure on forests for timber and land for agriculture . Are protected areas a useful tool for conservation in Cambodia? Evidence to support the impacts of conservation interventions are rare in the literature, but recent studies have shown that protected areas and also payments for ecosystem services (PES) implemented in Cambodia have been beneficial. Protected areas contributed to a reduction in deforestation and also contributed positively to local livelihoods [5, 6]. PES programs were particularly beneficial if implemented appropriately .
These impact evaluation studies are a positive sign: conservation interventions including protected areas and payments for ecosystem services can be beneficial. However, are all protected areas in Cambodia permanent? Will they continue to deliver benefits in perpetuity? Not likely. Protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) is widespread in Cambodia. The most recent evidence demonstrates that 146 PADDD events have been enacted; 58% of these events have been caused by industrial agriculture .
Has PADDD had an impact on forest cover in Cambodia? A cursory examination of the data suggests that there may be a connection. From 2001 to 2012, forest cover loss in Cambodia peaked around 2010. This corresponds in time with the documented PADDD events that have occurred in Cambodia (see figures below). As many of the PADDD events were driven by demand for industrial agriculture, it stands to reason that once the protected area laws were passed, then timber harvest likely began immediately. Further research, however, is needed to tease out the causal connection in space and time between the legal changes and the loss of forests.
The future of conservation and the prevention of further species losses in Cambodia will be extremely challenging; there are many complex factors at play between economic development and environmental conservation. If research demonstrates that PADDD is in fact driving forest conversion in Cambodia, this may suggest that protected areas (depending on the location) do benefit wildlife indirectly by preventing the conversion of forests. This may also show that the reduction or downgrade of a protected area is a change that the conservation community should work with the national government to avoid. Like many stories in conservation, this dynamic may not be so straightforward, however. For example, frequent changes to protected areas overall may suggest that looking beyond protected areas to other interventions (like Payments for Ecosystem Services) could be a more viable and sustainable alternative in the long term.
1. R. Jalonen; Choo, K.Y.; Hong, L.T.; Sim, H.C., (eds.) (2009). Forest genetic resources conservation and management: status in seven South and Southeast Asian countries. Bioversity International. pp. 3–. ISBN 978-967-5221-21-7.
2. Campbell, I.C., Poole, C., Giesen, W., and Valbo-Jorgensen, J. 2006. Species diversity and ecology of Tonle Sap Great Lake, Cambodia. Aquatic Sciences 68:3, 355-373.
3. World Database of Protected Areas. 2015. Accessed 5/29/15 http://www.protectedplanet.net/country/KH
4. Laurance, W. F. 2007. Forest destruction in tropical Asia. Current Science 93:11, 1544-1550.
5. Clements, T., Milner-Gulland, E.J. 2015. Impact of payments for environmental services and protected areas on local livelihoods and forest conservation in northern Cambodia. Conservation Biology 29:1, 78-87.
6. Clements, T., Suon, S., Wilkie, D.S., and Milner-Gulland, E.J. 2014. Impacts of Protected Areas on Local Livelihoods in Cambodia. World Development 64:S125–S134.
7. World Wildlife Fund. 2015. PADDDtracker: Tracking Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement [Beta version]. Accessed 29-05-2015. www.PADDDtracker.org.