Tag Archives: PADDD

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


My Public Comment on “Review of Certain National Monuments Established Since 1996”

Wind Whistle Rock in Bears Ears National Monument. Photo by Tim D. Peterson, from: http://wilderness.org/photo-gallery-utahs-bears-ears-region-natural-cultural-treasure Wind Whistle Rock in Bears Ears National Monument. Photo by Tim D. Peterson, from: http://wilderness.org/photo-gallery-utahs-bears-ears-region-natural-cultural-treasure

The Department of the Interior is currently conducting a review of 27 National Monuments. This review may lead to recommendations to alter their status, size, or eliminate them entirely. In fact, the review of Bears Ears National Monument has already led Secretary Zinke to recommend a reduction in its size.

The public comment period is open until July 10th. Comments can be submitted online by clicking “Comment Now.”

Here is my comment.


National Monuments and other protected lands are part of our national heritage. The proud tradition of preserving these ecological and culturally important lands has made the United States a model nation for conservation around the world. From Giant Sequoia to Bears Ears, National Monuments not only preserve crucial ecological services, but also provide tangible economic and cultural benefits to neighboring communities. By setting aside National Monuments, the U.S. has used the precautionary principle appropriately to preserve our most precious and irreplaceable resources: biodiversity, healthy watersheds, gorgeous landscapes, and culturally significant treasures. National Monuments also serve as a boon for local economies, drawing tourists and generating revenues. By offering abundant opportunities for recreation, Americans and international tourists alike can refresh their minds and bodies in nature.

Modifying National Monuments to temper regulations, reduce their acreage, or eliminate them would jeopardize these benefits. Such changes could put these ecologically and culturally valuable lands at risk of development, disturbance or loss of wildlife, degradation of ecosystem services, and erosion of local tourism revenues. Boundary changes to protected lands in the United States and around the world have been studied as part of an effort to understand the legal changes that Downgrade (temper regulations), Downsize (reduce), and Degazette (eliminate) protected areas. Such legal changes are known as PADDD (Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement) events (Mascia and Pailler 2011). Research to date has shown that PADDD events are primarily driven by industrial scale-extraction and development (Mascia et al. 2014) and can lead to accelerated deforestation (Forrest et al. 2015).

Peer-reviewed research has demonstrated that reducing the size of protected areas can have tangible and long-lasting ecological consequences. A study analyzing the downsizing history of Yosemite National Park (Golden Kroner et al. 2016) demonstrates that forests which were removed from the National Park and transferred to private landowners (in 1905 and 1906) are now more highly fragmented by roads today than forests which remain protected – either within Yosemite National Park or as Wilderness Areas nearby. Forest fragmentation is a well-understood threat to global biodiversity, contributing, among other impacts, to population isolation, edge effects, and reduced diversity and abundance of sensitive species. Research on Yosemite National Park shows the legacy effect that the reduction of a protected area can have for ecological consequences. Notably, this work also demonstrates the benefits of federal-level protected areas and their potential to effectively preserve large tracts of land and watersheds for generations.

Given the importance of and benefits provided by National Monuments, coupled with the potential consequences of change, I urge the Department of Interior to preserve the 27 National Monuments that are under review and avoid tempering their regulations, reducing them in size, or eliminating them.

• Golden Kroner, Rachel E., Roopa Krithivasan, and Michael B. Mascia. 2016. Effects of Protected Area Downsizing on Habitat Fragmentation in Yosemite National Park (USA), 1864 – 2014. Ecology and Society 21(3).
• Forrest, Jessica L., Michael B. Mascia, Sharon Pailler, et al. 2015. Tropical Deforestation and Carbon Emissions from Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement (PADDD). Conservation Letters 8(3): 153–161.
• Mascia, Michael B., and Sharon Pailler. 2011. Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement (PADDD) and Its Conservation Implications. Conservation Letters 4(1): 9–20.
• Mascia, Michael B., Sharon Pailler, Roopa Krithivasan, et al. 2014. Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement (PADDD) in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, 1900–2010. Biological Conservation 169: 355–361.


New study: Effects of protected area downsizing on habitat fragmentation in Yosemite National Park

yosemite image

The centennial of the National Park Service’s provides an opportunity to reflect on the history of parks and prepare for the next 100 years.                                                                                                                                                               Image: http://www.wallpaperup.com/153388/Yosemite_National_Park_waterfall_forest_mountains.html

My colleagues and I just published a new study in Ecology and Society highlighting 150 years of history of Yosemite National Park. We documented seven legal changes that altered the boundaries of the park – both reductions and additions. We found that Yosemite lost 30% of its original area from when it was established in 1890. We also found that some lands which were removed from the park were subsequently re-protected as wilderness due to the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Forests which were downsized from Yosemite and remain unprotected are more highly fragmented by roads today. Higher road density indicates that the ecosystems are more degraded. Roads may also inhibit migration as species attempt to adapt to climate change.

Coverage of this story can be found on Human Nature, Mongabay, and VICE.  

This piece is part of a broader research effort on protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) which focuses on legal changes to protected areas around the world.  Learn more at PADDDtracker.org and follow @PADDDtracker on twitter.

New study: protected areas conserve mangroves and avoid blue carbon emissions

Kate Fuller (Marine Photobank) http://www.grida.no/photolib/detail/young-red-mangrove-tree-in-the-benner-bay-mangrove-marine-sanctuary-virgin-islands_5c521

Mangroves are an important storehouse of carbon. Source: Kate Fuller (Marine Photobank) http://www.grida.no/photolib/detail/young-red-mangrove-tree-in-the-benner-bay-mangrove-marine-sanctuary-virgin-islands_5c521

What’s a good strategy to combat climate change and save species simultaneously? One possible approach is to focus on protecting lands that store lots of carbon and that also provide excellent habitat. A flagship example of this type of ecosystem is the mighty mangrove. Mangroves provide an incredible wealth of ecosystem services: they serve as habitat for species, and even protect coastal areas from storms. Mangrove root structures offer unique underwater habitat, safeguarding breeding grounds for fish that local people depend on. Furthermore, these coastal ecosystems store a vast wealth of carbon. The carbon that is stored in mangroves (and other coastal and marine areas) is known as blue carbon. The carbon isn’t actually blue, of course. The term blue carbon is used to distinguish the carbon stored in coastal ecosystems from that stored in terrestrial ones. Blue carbon is found worldwide and is perhaps an underappreciated part of a solution to combat global climate change.

Global distribution of blue carbon. http://thebluecarboninitiative.org/category/about/blue-carbon/


Using policies, how can we harness the power of mangroves to store carbon and deliver climate mitigation benefits (not to mention climate adaptation benefits such as buffering from storms)? One approach is to set aside mangroves as protected areas. By drawing boundaries around mangrove habitats and preventing coastal development, perhaps we can realize some additional benefits in the form of blue carbon storage. This approach is worth investigating: are protected areas actually effective at preserving mangroves that store carbon? The first study to examine this question was published this week in Ecological Economics (Miteva et al. 2015). Miteva and her team used a quasi-experimental approach, incorporating matching and difference-in-differences methods. These approaches take into consideration the non-random locations of protected areas on the landscape. Simply comparing protected to unprotected areas would not yield accurate estimates of the causal effects of protected areas. Using matching (with both covariates and propensity scores in this case) allowed researchers to compare “apples to apples,” comparing villages that were protected with similar villages that were unprotected.

The researchers used covariates, factors correlated both with the treatments and outcomes, to select appropriate control villages. The covariates they chose included: the distance to markets (ports and cities), agricultural suitability proxies (length of rivers, slope, elevation), and socio-economic factors (e.g. poverty). They also examined how both marine protected areas (MPAs) and species management areas (SMAs) fared in terms of effectiveness. After completing a series of different statistical manipulations and robustness checks, Miteva and her team demonstrated unequivocally that overall, protected areas were significantly effective. In particular, MPAs were effective at reducing mangrove loss from both 2000 to 2006 and 2000 to 2010. However, species management areas were less effective – they did not have a significant effect during either time period.

mangrove pa

Overall, the mangroves that were not lost because of the policy intervention of protected areas stored 13 million megatons of carbon emissions. According to the researchers’ estimates, this is equivalent to $544 million (using the social cost of carbon) and equal to taking 344,000 cars off of the road. This study is an excellent contribution to the literature, as it is the only and most current large scale evaluation of protected areas’ impacts on blue carbon. One suggestion to improve future evaluation studies is to include or control for the effects of additional policies, including changes to protected areas and other conservation interventions. At least seven known policies have changed the size or status of protected areas in Indonesia, many of which have affected coastal protected areas (see PADDDtracker.org). Although the known number of instances of protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) events is low in this nation, it is possible that there are many other undiscovered instances. It is important for researchers to continue to explore and document these changes and consider them in analyses. If considered carefully, the incorporation of protected area dynamics could offer new insights to the evaluation literature and improve estimates of protected area performance. 

Instances of protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) in Indonesia. http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/IDN

Instances of protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) in Indonesia. Key: green = downsizing,; orange = degazettement; yellow highlight = proposed PADDD. http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/IDN


Miteva, D. A., B. C. Murray, and S. K. Pattanayak. 2015. Do protected areas reduce blue carbon emissions? A quasi-experimental evaluation of mangroves in Indonesia. Ecological Economics 119:127–135. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800915003419

PADDDtracker – explore legal changes to the world’s protected areas

This is the tenth (and final) blog in a series of weekly blog posts covering conservation topics with a focus on protected areas and the laws and institutions that support them (or don’t).



When you think about national parks, wildlife reserves, marine sanctuaries, or other protected lands or waters, what pops into your mind? Perhaps you envision amazing animals, peaceful getaways, or the potential for fun adventures. Chances are that you live nearby a protected area, whether it be local, state, or nationally designated. In fact, there are more than 200,000 nationally established protected areas in the world according to the latest estimates from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. You can locate your local protected areas here. Protected lands and waters provide endless resources to people, including carbon storage, filtration of clean water, natural products, and a sense of peace and serenity in nature. Maps that display protected places are usually viewed as a snapshot. However, have you ever thought about the dynamic nature of protected areas? It turns out that although the number of protected areas and the land and waters they cover has been increasing in recent years, there are many instances around the world of changes that have reduced the size or status of protected areas or even removed protection completely.

Protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) is an acronym to encapsulate the legal changes that make protected areas weaker, smaller, or delete them entirely. Researchers have worked to collect data on PADDD and have made it available online at PADDDtracker.org. This site, although intuitive to use, has a few important technical components that users should be familiar with when exploring or using the data. This blog post presents a quick “primer” and answers to FAQs about PADDDtracker. The intended audiences of PADDDtracker include scientists, park managers and other conservation practitioners, students, and companies considering investments in conservation or other development projects.

First of all, what is a protected area?

For the purposes of defining a PADDD event for PADDDtracker, a protected area is:

“a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.” (IUCN Definition 2008)

While doing research on PADDD, it’s important to identify whether a legal change is actually affecting a protected area as defined by IUCN and not some other type of intervention (a payment for ecosystem services scheme, a forest certification area, etc).

What do all of those D’s stand for? A dega-what? 

A downgrade is the legal allowance of additional human activities within a protected area. These could include industrial development and extraction (e.g. oil drilling, agriculture, mining, tourism), or could even include subsistence-level harvesting of natural resources (artesanal fishing).

A downsize is the reduction in size of a protected area caused by a change in the law.

A degazette is the complete legal deletion of a protected area. To “gazette” is to write down or establish an area, so to degazette is to remove it from the law.

The colors on the map show the different D's: downgrades (purple), downsizes (green), and degazettes (orange). Most PADDD event data exist as points, but there are also polygons available in some nations including Peru. 

The colors on the map show the different D’s: downgrades (purple), downsizes (green), and degazettes (orange). Most PADDD event data exist as points, but there are also polygons available in some nations including Peru.

Why are some circles highlighted?  

PADDDtracker differentiates between enacted (already passed into law) and proposed (put forth but not yet passed) PADDD events. Highlighted circles show proposed events. When doing research on PADDD, it’s important to verify the current status of proposals – some may have been enacted recently or may no longer be under consideration.

What are those other terms on the Advanced Search?

Cause: Many PADDD events (but not all) have a known proximate cause that primarily drove the legal change. The cause of legal changes can usually be identified within the law itself. If the cause of a PADDD event does not fall into one of the fourteen causes in the list (e.g. tourism development), it falls under “Other” or is perhaps “Unknown.”

IUCN category: The International Union for the Conservation of Nature provides guidance on the categorization of protected areas into 6 categories. Category I is the strictest, while VI is the least strict. Sometimes, a downgrade causes the change in the IUCN category of a protected area; however, this does not always occur.

The six management categories for protected areas as defined by IUCN. https://portals.iucn.org/library/efiles/html/BP9-management_guidelines/2.%20Backgroundf2.html

The six management categories for protected areas as defined by IUCN. https://portals.iucn.org/library/efiles/html/BP9-management_guidelines/2.%20Backgroundf2.html

Reverse: Sometimes, PADDD events are withdrawn, even after enactment. For example, there is currently a proposed law in Congress that would reverse the 1906 downsize of Yosemite National Park and add that portion back to the park. Hence, enacted events can be reversed, even years later. In addition, proposed events can also be reversed. In other words, proposals that are retracted or abandoned are considered as reversed PADDD proposals.

Offset: Occasionally, to compensate for the reduction or deletion of a protected area, a law subsequently adds a parcel of land to the park in a different location. Offsets may make up the difference in the area lost but also may not.

Systemic: Oftentimes, one law to change protected areas affects many parks simultaneously. For example, a law may affect all National Parks or all National Forests at the same time.

How can I get summary information on PADDD quickly and easily?

There are two easy ways to do this. The first: access an Event Profile for any PADDD event by clicking on the corresponding dot on the map and selecting Event Profile. This will give you a summary of the information about that particular legal change. Scroll down to access details about the event.

1/2: Event Profile for a downgrade event in Virunga National Park, DRC.   http://www.padddtracker.org/view-paddd/paddd-events/B62175

1/2: Event Profile for a downgrade event in Virunga National Park, DRC. http://www.padddtracker.org/view-paddd/paddd-events/B62175

2/2: Details of event profile for downgrade in Virunga National Park, DRC. http://www.padddtracker.org/view-paddd/paddd-events/B62175

2/2: Details of event profile for downgrade in Virunga National Park, DRC. http://www.padddtracker.org/view-paddd/paddd-events/B62175

The second way to get information quickly: access a Country Profile by clicking on a locality on the map outside of a PADDD event dot on the nation you are interested in. Scroll down to access pie charts and a timeline summarizing the data for that country.

1/2: Country profile of PADDD for the DRC.

1/2: Country profile of PADDD for the DRC.

2/2: Country profile of PADDD for the DRC.

2/2: Country profile of PADDD for the DRC.

Where do the data come from?

Some data on PADDDtracker have been published in conjunction with peer-reviewed articles (e.g. Mascia and Pailler 2011; Mascia et al. 2014), but some have not been validated by peer-review. Some data are currently under review or in preparation for publication. A subset of the validated data can be downloaded here. A portion of the data on PADDDtracker, however, have been contributed by “the crowd” including users and contributors from around the world. Hence, there may be duplicate entries of PADDD events and some out of date information, for example, on the current status of proposed events.

How do I share PADDD on Social Media?

Sharing PADDD events and country profiles on social media – facebook and twitter – is easy. When you want to share a page, simply click on the facebook or twitter icon on the top right-hand corner of the screen to share instantly.

How do I conduct research using PADDD data?

Some of the data on PADDD are available to download. These data comprise the data which have been validated by peer review and do not include all PADDD data points that you see online. You can download the data here. Before working with the data, do read the technical guide (here) which defines key terms and provides decision trees about the delineation and definition of PADDD events and fields.

This is exciting. There is so much potential for research on PADDD! Where do I learn even more about PADDD and PADDDtracker!?

More information on PADDD can be found in the technical guide. This document will come in handy if you plan to work with PADDD data for research. For instance, the flow charts help you determine if something is actually a PADDD event and what category “D” it falls into. Also, for the latest science, check out the new peer-reviewed paper about impacts of PADDD on tropical deforestation and carbon emissions (Forrest et al. 2015 – open access).

Start exploring PADDDtracker today!

This is the last entry of the summer blog series. Next week, the fall blog series focused on evaluating conservation interventions and building the evidence base for conservation will begin.

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While you were away…catching up on the latest protected area and PADDD news

This is the seventh in a series of weekly blog posts covering conservation topics with a focus on protected areas and the laws and institutions that support them (or don’t).

Catching up on protected area and PADDD (protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement) news after a 3-week hiatus should be simple, right? You may think: well, it must be very difficult and slow to change protected areas’ laws, so PADDD must not happen very often. My experience shows that this is not the case. The process that I use to mine the news and scientific evidence about protected areas and legal changes that affect them is enhanced by search engines, twitter hashtags, and RSS feeds. This searching generates loads of information that I further winnow down to identify the actual *legal changes* within parks, filtering out other topics (protected area planning, establishment, effectiveness studies, etc). After scrolling through dozens of stories about Cecil the Lion (which has inadvertently become the highest profile conservation story of the year, despite the fact that millions of endangered animals are killed legally and illegally every day), I’ve discovered several very important PADDD events. Globally, PADDD occurs more often that you may think. Here are highlights of the most recent protected area and PADDD news.

Bolivia: Bolivian president Evo Morales approved oil exploration in 7 out of 22 of its National Parks, where oil exploration was previously banned. By area, this change affects 22% of the land within Bolivian National Parks. If exploration led to the discovery of oil, this would ultimately lead to drilling and potential endangerment of public health and wildlife habitat. More information here.

This map, produced by the Bolivian Documentation and Information Center (CEDIB) shows the country’s national parks, biosphere reserves, and other protected areas in green, and both existing and planned oil and gas concessions. Oil and gas concessions are colored by the corporation involved, while light purple indicates blocks to be auctioned off in the future. The map appeared in CEDIB’s magazine PetroPress in 2013, where it accompanied a longer article. Source: https://woborders.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/map-bolivian-parks-and-protected-areas-opened-to-oil-gas-drilling/

United Kingdom: The UK government did a “U-turn” and announced that hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) will now be allowed within protected areas known as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). This is a reversal of the previous announcement from January 2015 that would have banned fracking in these areas. The Telegraph reports that there are about 3,600 SSSI locations in the UK. Fracking has been linked to water and noise pollution as well as small earthquakes. More information here.

Cambodia: A new report from Forest Trends reveals accelerating legal and illegal deforestation within protected areas in Cambodia. Forested areas are leased for concessions, many of which are slated as rubber plantations. However, these permits are not always utilized appropriately: From the BBC:

"What happens is that the companies set up sawmills within the concession areas, but   they basically go outside and grab everything and buy from other areas, they bring it  into the concession and they launder it via the concession - this can go on for 2 or 3 years, they clean out the whole area." -Marcus Hardtke, an expert on forest issues in  Cambodia

Little to no enforcement of permitting allows deforestation to continue unabated. Without the legal frameworks in place to monitor protected lands, the “timber grab” is likely to continue.

The green areas are lands that have been sanctioned for rubber plantations. From http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-33702814

The green areas are lands that have been sanctioned for rubber plantations. From http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-33702814

United States: The House of Representatives and the Senate are considering several bills that would fast-track the permitting of gas pipelines in National Parks. If enacted, these bills would skip the requirement of Congressional approval for construction. The construction and operation of pipelines carrying natural gas poses risks to wildlife, public health, and safety. The construction process alone impacts local flora and fauna and throughout a pipe’s lifetime, ruptures and spills are possible.

These stories represent the top PADDD and protected area news stories of the past three weeks. The rate of new stories on protected area legal changes adds a layer of evidence suggesting that changes to protected areas occur constantly. However, the search for information on new legal changes is limited by what has already been reported in the traditional media and picked up on twitter. Hence, the information that can be gathered on PADDD (without intensive ongoing studies in each country) is likely to be an underestimate of the true magnitude of protected area changes. Only a large, concerted, international effort to track PADDD can hope to accurately quantify changes that affect protected areas on a global scale.

How do you know that protected areas are actually protecting anything? Use Matching!

This is the sixth in a series of weekly blog posts covering conservation topics with a focus on protected areas and the laws and institutions that support them (or don’t).

The forests surrounding many protected areas are being rapidly cleared or degraded. Shown is recent deforestation for oil palm plantations along the edge of Bukit Palong National Park in Peninsular Malaysia. Photo by William Laurance, http://theconversation.com/are-nature-reserves-working-take-a-look-outside-9432

The forests surrounding many protected areas are being rapidly cleared or degraded. Shown is recent deforestation for oil palm plantations along the edge of Bukit Palong National Park in Peninsular Malaysia. Photo by William Laurance, http://theconversation.com/are-nature-reserves-working-take-a-look-outside-9432

A new methodological approach is gaining traction in the conservation science community. This method is borrowed from the economics literature and has historically been used to analyze the impact of policies on future wages, socioeconomic status, or other economic variables. Today, conservation researchers are beginning to employ this rigorous approach – known as matching – for a variety of purposes. One prevalent application of matching is the evaluation of protected areas, both terrestrial and marine. Why is the matching approach so popular to evaluate protected areas? First of all, the need to rigorously evaluate protected area performance is becoming more widely acknowledged in the literature. The Convention on Biological Diversity includes targets about national designation of protected areas which should be effectively managed. Without monitoring and evaluation of these lands and waters, there would be no way to determine whether management were effective and whether the targets were met. 

Let’s suppose that you are interested in whether the protected areas in your country are preventing the loss of forests. Ok great. Can you simply compare the deforestation rates inside and outside the protected area? Unfortunately, that won’t be completely accurate. The lands inside and outside of that particular protected area might have different types of vegetation, terrain, or soil productivity. Because of these inherent differences, you cannot simply compare the inside to the outside. Ok, what about comparing the protected area before it was established to after? That is a bit better, because it is focused on the same piece of land. However, it doesn’t accurately capture the impact of protection because there may be other factors at play in this location. Perhaps other policies were enacted around the same time that affected deforestation.

inside outside

Ok, so how do we actually isolate the IMPACT of the protected area (the legal establishment itself) on deforestation? One way to do this is to use matching. To conduct matching, the researcher selects a piece of land that is protected and a similar (matching) piece of land that is NOT protected. The protected area is considered the “treatment” and the unprotected area is the “control.” Comparing the treatment and control to each other is a fair and simple way to quantify the benefits of protection. Hence, matching isolates the impact of the protection policy ITSELF and rules out extraneous factors that could affect the results (like other policies, the impacts of different landscape types or soil types, etc).

inside outside

How do you know if two pieces of land (or water) are a good match? Use covariates! Covariates are variables that correlate with the treatment and the outcome. It is necessary to use covariates because the location of protection or deforestation (or whatever outcome variable you are looking at) on the landscape is not random. Protected lands tend to be placed in isolated, mountainous areas with low soil productivity – high and far from development or urban areas. Also, deforestation occurs happen more often in places that are easier to access – closer to roads or other access infrastructure and also closer to the forest edge. By accounting for these factors using covariates (distance to roads, distance to forest edge, etc), the researcher can select well-matched control regions that are actually comparable to the protected area in question. This reduces bias in the analysis and allows you to compare apples to apples.  Further, it is worth noting that when using matching, the magnitude of the impact is likely to be much smaller than the estimate of impact using more traditional approaches simply because the covariates are accounted for.

What are some limitations of the matching approach? Simply put, sometimes you cannot find a perfect match. There may not always exist enough similar parcels on the landscape that are similar in access and topography to your protected area. Also, there is the issue of choosing covariates. How do you know that you have chosen the correct covariates or a sufficient number of them? As more researchers use matching, the scientific community will gain a more refined understanding of which covariates to use and when.

What research frontiers exist for applying matching in conservation? There are many! Matching could be used to evaluate conservation interventions other than protected areas – matching has been applied to quantify impacts of payments for ecosystem services, for example, The method could also be extended to indigenous reserves, community based natural resource management areas, or other area-based interventions. The application of matching to evaluate protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) is an area of research that merits exploration. Using matching can help answer questions like – what is the impact of changing a protected areas’ status on carbon storage for climate mitigation? What is the impact of reducing a protected area’s size on biodiversity? If a protected area’s protection is removed, how is land cover affected? There are endless possible areas of research and exploration that could employ matching.

What are some tools and resources to help with matching? There is a wealth of literature available on matching and impact evaluation – see here, here, and here.  There are also some R packages – MatchIt and Matching are two examples. If you are aware of other resources, post a comment below!

World Oceans Month – Marine Protected Areas and PADDD

This is the fifth in a series of weekly blog posts covering conservation topics with a focus on protected areas and the laws and institutions that support them (or don’t).Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge - located near the US-Mexico border http://flickriver.com/photos/frogdr/sets/72157623645555404/

June is World Ocean's Month http://www.oceanchampions.org/blog/?p=1362

June is World Ocean’s Month. http://www.oceanchampions.org/blog/?p=1362

In honor of World Oceans Month, this post will feature two short stories about ocean protection and how that protection was almost compromised. First of all, why is there a month dedicated to the world’s oceans? Oceans cover about 70% of our planet and provide vital life support systems for people around the world – they provide wild fish, regulate the global climate, and support ecotourism industries for many nations. Policies to help protect the oceans from overfishing and pollution are in place and growing in their extent. One example of top-down policies which apply to the oceans are Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs. MPAs are special places where human activity is restricted, whether it be commercial or local fishing, offshore drilling, or diving.

The world’s first MPA, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, was established in 1903 by President Roosevelt. This was 31 years after the first land-based park, Yellowstone National Park, was established in 1872. In recent years, the number of new MPAs and their coverage of the world’s oceans has been increasing. Notably, President Obama recently established the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument – the largest MPA in the world. MPAs are diverse entities – some are “no-take” zones, which prohibit all fishing activities. Others are “multiple-use” zones which may allow some fishing, but there are limits on catch and restrictions on the type of gear fishermen can use. MPAs can also place limits on diving for recreation or tourism. Due to these restrictions, marine protected areas have been controversial in some parts of the world. Opposition may come from policy makers or local communities, who claim that a proposed MPA could interfere with tourism or commercial or local fishing.

The benefits of marine protected areas for species have been documented extensively in the literature. A large meta-analysis of MPAs found that species density, biomass, organism size, and diversity on average were higher after the establishment of a park (or inside a park as compared to the outside). A recent update of this meta-analysis found that reserves can be effective even if they are small and regardless of location; it should be noted, however, that effects of reserves on different groupings of species can vary. In addition, MPAs can have positive “spillover” effects. This means that the MPA provides spawning habitat for fish; the fish hatchlings are then able to populate the surrounding area that is not protected and enrich the nearby fisheries.

Are MPAs beneficial for local people? It depends – the impacts are less straightforward and data availability is limited. One study examined changes in human well-being indicators (food security, resource rights, employment, community organization, and income) as a result of establishing a nearby marine protected area.  For the most part, food security remained stable or increased. Some local people gained more control over marine resources but about the same proportion lost control. This study shows that more data and research are needed to understand the influence of establishing a marine protected area on local communities and their livelihoods. It suggests that although MPAs are not universally “good” or “bad” for local people, they can be thought of as an opportunity to enhance livelihoods given proper implementation and other supportive policies and practices.

What about the legal support that MPAs need? Are marine protected areas currently threatened by legal changes that would weaken, shrink, or remove them? Protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) has been proposed in at least two iconic marine parks, but the most recent information suggests that neither of these proposals has been successful. 

Great Blue Hole National Park, Belize http://www.visithopkinsvillagebelize.com/the-great-blue-hole.html

Great Blue Hole National Park, Belize http://www.visithopkinsvillagebelize.com/the-great-blue-hole.html

1. Marine PADDD averted in Belize – offshore drilling

The most recent marine PADDD story comes from Belize, a small, tropical, coastal country in Central America. Many conservation projects and organizations are interested in Belize – it is home to the second longest barrier reef in the world, dwarfed only by the Great Barrier Reef. Despite the Belize Barrier Reef’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site, a recent proposal to conduct offshore drilling in this location was considered by the government, which would have opened up about 99% of Belize’s jurisdictional waters. Drilling could have affected many protected areas including seven World Heritage sites. After tireless opposition from environmental voices including Oceana, the Belizean government decided to drop the proposal last month. A salient argument against drilling was economic: Belize’s economy and millions of jobs depend on tourismResearch has found that a majority of tourists participate in marine activities during their visit to Belize, and that the value of coral reefs and mangroves in Belize is estimated at $289 million annually. Marine PADDD was successfully avoided in this small coastal nation.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/05/great-barrier-reef/holland-text

Great Barrier Reef, Australia http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/05/great-barrier-reef/holland-text

2. Marine PADDD avoided in the Great Barrier Reef – industrial waste

Last year, the Australian government issued a proposal to open up the Great Barrier Reef – the largest barrier reef in the world – to allow dumping of dredge spoil. Dredge spoil is produced during large-scale construction activities, usually related to ports. The Australian Government recognizes the impacts of dredging on their website:

“Dredging and material placement (also called spoil dumping) have relatively well-known potential impacts such as degradation of water quality, changes to hydrodynamics, smothering of benthic fauna and flora, damage to marine wildlife through the dredge mechanism, translocation of species and removal of habitat.”

This issue was raised to high-profile status within Australia and the international conservation community. The impending World Parks Congress in 2014 was held in Sydney; all eyes were watching the Australian government. Would they retract this proposal? With the pressure on, the Environment Minister of Australia announced that the reef would be safe from dredge spoil. In March 2015, the BBC reported that dredge spoil dumping will be banned in the Great Barrier Reef.

These marine conservation stories offer some hope. Both iconic protected areas faced proposed downgrades which would have weakened their regulations but neither passed.  An interesting feature that these stories have in common: the international news media and conservation community raised the profile of the proposals and garnered lots of attention. The involvement of civil society helped to reverse the course of these proposed PADDD events.

Happy World Oceans Month! 

#WorldOceansMonth #OceanOptimism #HopeSpots

“Border bills” in the United States – national security and protected areas

This is the fourth in a series of weekly blog posts covering conservation topics with a focus on protected areas and the laws and institutions that support them (or don’t).Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge - located near the US-Mexico border http://flickriver.com/photos/frogdr/sets/72157623645555404/

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge - located near the US-Mexico border http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Santa_Ana/about.html

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge – located near the US-Mexico border http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Santa_Ana/about.html

For the past four years, members of Congress have debated whether or not to allow border patrol agents additional access to public lands for national security purposes.  

In 2011, an act with a pro-conservation title (H.R. 1505: the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act) was introduced. The proposed bill would grant the U.S. Customs and Border Protection access to all public lands within 100 miles of the U.S. borders of Mexico and Canada. Within these large swaths of land, sixteen environmental laws would be waived including the Endangered Species Act, the Wilderness Act, and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Why? So that the border agents could patrol, build roads, fences, or other infrastructure for national security purposes without the burden of cumbersome environmental regulations. Later that year, the bill was amended to only apply to lands within 100 miles of the US-Mexico border. Various iterations of the bill have been proposed for the last several years, but nothing has been passed. I’m going to call all of the related bills the “border bill” for simplicity.

What is the latest on the border bill? 

H.R. 399 and S. 208 are active bills currently being considered by Congress. Pew has created a map to show the lands that this bill would affect. As you can see on the map, the border bills would allow access to iconic parks such as Saguaro, Big Bend, and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks


U.S. Public Lands Affected by the “Border Bill” http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/about/news-room/news/2015/03/31/new-bills-threaten-national-parks-wilderness-wildlife-refuges

A separate but related border bill in Arizona (S. 750: Arizona Borderlands Protection and Preservation Act) would allow patrolling, surveillance, and equipment deployment in border lands. However, there is no mention of infrastructure or other construction in the full text. The map here shows the lands that this bill would affect.

Federal Lands opened to additional border security activities https://www.aclu.org/blog/washington-markup/senator-john-mccain-pushing-extreme-border-security-bill-tramples-environment

Federal Lands opened to additional border security activities https://www.aclu.org/blog/washington-markup/senator-john-mccain-pushing-extreme-border-security-bill-tramples-environment

What is so interesting about this legislation? Like many political debates, this is all about values, pitting national security and immigration reform against public land management and environmental stewardship.

Proponents of the bill argue that the government should do everything in its power to protect national security. They argue that immigration is out of control and that the border should be secured by any means necessary. Debates can get testy. Recently, John McCain responded to a question from Senator Carper of Delaware about the bill: “In all due respect, frankly, I don’t give a damn if somebody that lives in Delaware doesn’t like my efforts.” Proponents see immigrants as a threat to national security; border crossings are also linked to exacerbated drug and human trafficking.

Opponents, however, state that this bill would be destructive to the environment. Because the bill would waive environmental laws, the Customs and Border Patrol could avoid completing Environmental Impact Assessments required by NEPA which often delay projects but also allow for more environmentally friendly project design. Because these border bills waive the Endangered Species Act, arguably the strongest conservation law in the U.S. (if not the world), endangered species found in these areas could be put at substantial risk. Infrastructure projects – roads, fences, helipads, patrol bases – could themselves fragment habitat and disturb wildlife in sensitive areas.

Mountain Lion - Big Bend National Park http://www.nps.gov/bibe/learn/nature/mt-lions.htm

Mountain Lion – Big Bend National Park http://www.nps.gov/bibe/learn/nature/mt-lions.htm

These border bills, if passed, would constitute a systemic downgrade of protected areas such as National Parks and National Monuments. Downgrades are one type of legal change encapsulated in the concept of PADDD – protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement. You can explore the myriad protected areas that these border bills could affect on PADDDtracker.org.

If passed, it is unknown exactly how much of a toll these bills would take on the environment and to what extent they would enhance security. Although the bill does provide Customs and Border Patrol with access to large swaths of land, the agency may not effectively need access to very distant areas from the border. It is possible that the debate about the border bills is a NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue – constituents of Arizona and other border states may feel differently about the border security issue because it is more of a local concern for them.

It is difficult to summarize this complex issue. Overall, values are driving the political dispute over border security and public lands. Given the current political climate, the border bill debate is likely to continue without a resolution.

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.


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.