Tag Archives: forests

New study: Deforested protected areas are more vulnerable to being reduced or eliminated

Protected areas are the cornerstone of global efforts to halt the biodiversity crisis and combat climate change. The conservation community has invested billions of dollars over decades to scale up their application, especially in areas of critical importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Economists and conservation scientists evaluate these interventions to assess their effectiveness for deforestation, carbon storage, and sometimes, for social impacts. Because of the rigorous application of econometric methods and counterfactual thinking in conservation, we are beginning to gain a more robust understanding of the effectiveness of protected areas, especially for ecological systems.

Mongabay recently synthesized the evidence regarding the effectiveness of tropical protected areas. See the infographic for links to studies: https://news.mongabay.com/2017/12/do-protected-areas-work-in-the-tropics/

Mongabay recently synthesized the evidence on the effectiveness of tropical protected areas. See their article with infographic for links to studies: https://news.mongabay.com/2017/12/do-protected-areas-work-in-the-tropics/

But what about the permanence of protected areas? Are protected areas being sustained, and if not, why? Our new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examines this question, focusing on protected areas in Rondônia, Brazil. This region is of particular importance, as it has suffered widespread land conversion from native tropical forest to other uses – especially agriculture – in the last several decades. We built on work by Pack et al. (2016) which found that many protected areas in Rondônia were reduced or eliminated – including ten related to hydropower dam development and four related to rural settlements. We wanted to know: why were these protected areas – and not others – reduced or eliminated? We were also interested in the impacts of these legal reductions and eliminations – what happened after the legal changes? Were there any consequences for forest cover loss?

Time series of deforestation in Rondonia, Brazil, 2000 – 2010. NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and Earth Observatory. Images from NASA’s Earth Observatory “World of Change” Amazon Deforestation feature. 

Our main finding: protected areas that were previously more deforested were more likely to have their protections reduced or eliminated. Perhaps these protected areas were seen as a “lost cause” for conservation efforts, as they had already been stripped of their ecosystem integrity. This can create a vicious cycle – degraded protected areas lose protection, which can then lead to further ecosystem conversion, for instance, if a dam is built and the landscape is flooded. On the flip side, however, protected areas which we found to be effective at reducing deforestation were more likely to be sustained. This suggests that conservationists should promote virtuous cycles for protected areas, wherein good management supports enduring protections. The sample of effective protected areas in our sample, however, was quite small, so further work on such heterogeneous protected area systems is needed to corroborate this finding.

Protected areas in Rondonia experienced higher levels of deforestation before they were downsized or degazetted in 2010. From Tesfaw et al. 2018. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/02/07/1716462115

Protected areas in Rondonia experienced higher levels of deforestation (in red) before they were downsized or degazetted in 2010. From Tesfaw et al. 2018. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/02/07/1716462115

We see these legal rollbacks unfolding as a process of negotiation and bargaining between conservation and development interests. The costs and benefits of conservation and development are not spread evenly across the landscape and over time – and therefore have relatively different levels of power in a given place and time. We also see evidence of such bargaining in the case of offsets: the compensation of a legal reduction or elimination of protection with a simultaneous expansion of area under protection or the upgrading of protections. Such offsets – including downsize-upgrade, downsize-upsize, or other such combinations happen around the world. More research is needed to understand offsets – are they ecologically equivalent to the areas removed from protection? Do they afford sustained protections? Are they effective in the long term for social and ecological systems?

Location of PADDD - protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement - events and offsets in Rondonia, Brazil. Figure from Tesfaw et al. 2018.

Location of PADDD – protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement – events and offsets (upgraded protections) in Rondonia, Brazil. Figure from Tesfaw et al. 2018. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/02/07/1716462115.short?rss=1

What about the impacts of these legal rollbacks for deforestation? In line with findings from Pack et al., we did not find significant impacts of reductions or eliminations of protected areas with respect to forest cover loss. This result was expected, however, as the protected areas under study were already on average more deforested; the legal change did not make a difference in changing local land clearing behavior.

Our paper also offers some interesting food for thought on information spillovers. You may have heard of deforestation spillovers – wherein protected areas displace deforestation outside their boundaries. But have you heard about information spillovers? This is the idea that a policy change – such as the legal removal of protected areas – can signal to interested parties (like development actors) that the government is shifting focus away from enforcement of environmental conservation rules. This type of information spillover could change behavior and affect the distribution of deforestation. Our paper presents the conceptual framework for this idea, but the effect of information spillover certainly merits further study.

So why does our finding – that more deforested protected areas are more vulnerable to losing protection – matter? It shows us that protected areas must be well-managed in order to be sustained and actually deliver on their promises for biodiversity, ecosystem services, and people. This finding is supported by many other studies, including Gill et al. (2017), which demonstrates the importance of adequate capacity and staff for management as critical to ensure positive ecological outcomes. In other words, protecting an area is not the end of the story. Moving blindly toward “half-earth” or other area-based targets for conservation by adding new protected areas is simply not enough. Protected areas must be well-planned and executed – taking social and environmental costs and benefits into account – and then supported with adequate, long-term funding for monitoring and management.  Without these necessary resources, we may see an acceleration of legal rollbacks to protected areas in the future.

Read our new paper here.

Citation: Tesfaw, A. T., Pfaff, A., Golden Kroner, R.E., Qin, S., Medeiros, R., and Mascia, M.B. 2018. Land-use and land-cover change shape the sustainability and impacts of protected areas. PNAS 201716462. doi:10.1073/pnas.1716462115

 

Speaking for the trees: protection of forests is compromised by PADDD

This is the third 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).

The Lorax speaks for the trees http://www.drseussart.com/

Today is World Environment Day – a day designated by the United Nations Environment Program which aims to promote dialogue on environmental issues at an international scale. I’d like to take this opportunity to “speak for the trees” – just like the Lorax would do. Here, I’ll highlight some of the benefits of forests, ways that we have tried to protect them, and one way that they have been compromised by policy changes.

Why should we care about trees? Here are just a few reasons.

1. Trees store carbon and pull carbon dioxide, a harmful greenhouse gas, out of the atmosphere every day. The natural biological processes that trees undergo – the storage of carbon in their cells and photosynthesis – help combat climate change.

The Carbon Cycle - Trees sequester carbon. http://dapa.ciat.cgiar.org/carbon-sequestration-one-true-green-revolution/

Trees and the Carbon Cycle http://dapa.ciat.cgiar.org/carbon-sequestration-one-true-green-revolution/

2. Trees and forests provide essential habitat for the world’s biodiversity. Tropical forests, in particular, harbor a richness of biodiversity around the world in biodiversity hotspots. The Indo-Pacific region and portions of East Africa and Madagascar are examples of biodiverse tropical forests upon which many species and people depend.

Biodiversity Hotspots, as defined by Conservation International http://www.conservation.org/How/Pages/Hotspots.aspx

Biodiversity Hotspots as defined by Conservation International http://www.conservation.org/How/Pages/Hotspots.aspx

3. Urban trees help regulate local air quality, provide shade, and regulate the urban heat island effect. Cities can get extremely hot, especially during afternoons in the summer. Built infrastructure and paved surfaces like sidewalks, streets, and parking lots tend to be much hotter than naturally vegetated areas. The presence of trees and other vegetation in urban areas can help reduce the urban heat island effect and cool things down.

Trees help reduce the urban heat island effect. http://healthyurbanhabitat.com.au/urban-heat-islands/

What policies are in place to protect forests?

Forest policies can be roughly divided into two categories: reactive and preventative. Reactive forest policies or projects aim to restore degraded or deforested forest areas. For example, the World Resources Institute, the Nature Conservancy, and the US Forest Service all work to restore and track growth of forested areas. Restoration helps improve forested areas that have been lost to fire, have been cleared for agriculture, or whose ecosystems have been affected by habitat fragmentation or climate change. On the other hand, preventative policies to protect forests including the establishment of national and private protected areas, indigenous reserves, and payments for ecosystem services programs such as REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). In all of these schemes, native forests are meant to be left untouched and continue to sequester carbon as they would naturally.

Despite the good intentions of these policies, protected areas which aim to prevent forest loss are not universally permanent. Recent research in Peru, Malaysia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo has identified widespread protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) in these tropical forest nations. One hundred and seventy four enacted and eight proposed events in these three nations alone have been documented to date. For example, in Peru, PADDD has occurred in at least 14 different national parks (WWF 2015) and affected a striking 22% of its protected area estate (Forrest et al. 2014).

Country Profile for Peru showing PADDD events http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/PER

Critics may wonder – does removing pieces of land from protection actually matter? Yes – PADDD matters for forests and the carbon that they are meant to store. Forrest et al. found that areas that were removed from protection (either downsized or degazetted) were deforested at rates greatly exceeding deforestation rates in protected areas. This should come as no surprise. However, the study also found that deforestation in PADDDed locations was higher than in areas that had never been protected. This suggests that forests may have been cleared soon after laws were passed to open the forests to logging; PADDD enabled accelerated deforestation. In addition, PADDD was found to be a significant predictor of deforestation in a regression model, even when controlling for access to the forest. Access was controlled for because it has been shown to correlate with higher deforestation rates; forests nearer to roads and the forest edge are more likely to be deforested. The Forrest et al. study is  the first of its kind to demonstrate that PADDD has real consequences – for forests, biodiversity, and the global climate.

Forest loss was highest in PADDDed areas - much higher than protected areas and even higher than never protected areas. Forrest et al. 2014

Forest loss was highest in PADDDed areas – much higher than protected areas and even higher than never protected areas. Forrest et al. 2014

On this World Environment Day, think about the trees and the benefits they provide. Although there are many well intentioned and effective policies in place to safeguard forests and encourage their restoration, we should be aware that protected area policies can be impermanent and that legal changes to protected areas matter – for the trees.

References:

Forrest, Jessica L., Michael B. Mascia, Sharon Pailler, Siti Zuraidah Abidin, Mara Deza Araujo, Roopa Krithivasan, and Juan Carlos Riveros. “Tropical Deforestation and Carbon Emissions from Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement (PADDD).” Conservation Letters, September 1, 2014, n/a – n/a. doi:10.1111/conl.12144.

World Wildlife Fund.  2015.  PADDDtracker: Tracking Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement [Beta version].  Accessed 04-06-2015. www.PADDDtracker.org.

Protected Areas and PADDD in Cambodia

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 [1]. 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 [2].

Asian Elephant, from Fauna and Flora International  http://www.fauna-flora.org/species/asian-elephant/

Asian Elephant, from Fauna and Flora International http://www.fauna-flora.org/species/asian-elephant/

Siamese Crocodile. from: Fauna and Flora International

Siamese Crocodile. from: Fauna and Flora International http://www.fauna-flora.org/species/siamese-crocodile/

Germains Langur, from http://www.arkive.org/germains-langur/trachypithecus-germaini/

Germains Langur, from http://www.arkive.org/germains-langur/trachypithecus-germaini/

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 [3]. 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 [4]. 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 [4]. 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 [6].

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 [7].

PADDD in Cambodia. To learn more, visit http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/KHM

Map of PADDD in Cambodia. To learn more, visit http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/KHM

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.

Timeline of documented enacted PADDD in Cambodia. http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/KHM

Timeline of documented enacted PADDD in Cambodia. http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/KHM

Annual forest loss in Cambodia 2001-2012 http://rainforests.mongabay.com/20cambodia.htm

Annual forest loss in Cambodia 2001-2012 http://rainforests.mongabay.com/20cambodia.htm

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.

References

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.