07 Nov 2013: Report

People or Parks: The Human
Factor in Protecting Wildlife

Recent studies in Asia and Australia found that community-managed areas can sometimes do better than traditional parks at preserving habitat and biodiversity. When it comes to conservation, maybe local people are not the problem, but the solution.

by richard conniff

When the United Nations put out its Protected Planet Report in 2012, it touted the news that national governments have designated more than 177,000 protected areas around the world for the long-term conservation of nature, covering an impressive 12.7 percent of the earth’s land surface. Just since 1990, the acreage under protection has increased by 48 percent.

But this encouraging news also masks a significant defect. Setting aside the question of how well officially protected areas actually protect anything, poor planning means these areas often completely omit critical habitats and key species. When a 2004 study in BioSciences looked at a representative sampling of wildlife from around the world, it found that protected areas included little or no habitat for about 90 percent of the threatened or endangered species in the sample. The list of outcasts included 276 mammal species, 940 amphibians, 23 turtles, and 244 birds. Even in parks specifically designed to accommodate certain species,
The Nepal study found that tiger habitat improved in areas where local communities had a say in the management.
moreover, climate change could make conditions far less accommodating in 50 or 100 years.

Hence the increasing recognition that what happens outside protected areas matters at least as much as what happens within. And that has led to a worldwide upsurge in management of critical habitats by the people who live in them. This movement does not come easy to either side. Park managers have typically regarded nearby communities as a source of illegal logging, poaching, and other problems, not as part of the solution. Local people in turn have often seen the parks as a threat to their crops and livestock, as well as a usurpation of their traditional land rights.

But two studies published in recent weeks suggest that community-managed areas, or areas managed by communities in collaboration with parks, can sometimes do better than traditional parks alone at protecting habitats and species.

The first study, in the journal Ecosphere, looked at the status of tigers in and around Nepal’s Chitwan National Park in the Himalayan foothills. That country has brought off one of the few tiger success stories, with a robust and increasing population, even as poaching eliminates tigers from traditional habitats in neighboring India. Nepal’s Chitwan district in particular has seen its population of adult tigers increase from 91 just four years ago to 125 today, says the study’s lead author Neil H. Carter, a conservation biologist at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center.

The human population in the buffer zone around the park has, however, also tripled over the past 40 years, and tigers now kill seven or eight people a year there. It sounds like the classic recipe for conflict.

Under the 1996 management plan developed by the community and approved by the park, says Carter, livestock grazing in the buffer zone has ended. But the community now determines how to allocate other forest resources there, for fodder and firewood. To understand the effects of that shift, he and his co-authors set out camera traps at 76 locations both inside the park and in a 25-square-mile community-managed forest in the buffer zone. They also used satellite imagery to measure changes in different habitat types.

To their surprise, they found fewer tigers and a decline in habitat quality inside the park. But habitat actually improved, particularly after 1999, on land where local communities had a say in the management. The camera traps revealed more tigers there, too. Top-down, exclusionary policies had failed to discourage local people from gathering fuelwood and fodder in the park, the co-authors concluded. But bottom-up involvement of local people had given them a sense of ownership in the community land. People were also "surprisingly tolerant" of tigers there, says Carter, though continuing growth in the tiger population might change that. The hope, he says, is that
In Australia, researchers found it wasn’t hunting that caused the extinction of small mammals, but the loss of hunting.
a corridor of community-managed lands might ultimately allow the tiger population to re-connect with populations in other parks.

The second study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, looked at aboriginal hunting practices in Australia’s Western Desert. After the last nomadic hunters left the area in the mid-20th century, 10 to 20 species went extinct, and many more experienced sharp declines, according to Stanford University anthropologist Rebecca Bird and her co-authors. One possible factor was that the fires set by aboriginal hunters had averaged just 64 hectares in area, producing a mosaic of habitats. But with the hunters gone, the average size of lightning-caused fires leaped to 52,000 hectares by 1984.

That year, a group of Martu desert-dwellers returned to their traditional lands and resumed hunting. Bird and her co-authors set out with them to test the hypothesis that traditional hunting practices fostered diversity. They focused on the sand monitor lizard (Varanus gouldii), which is the chief object of the Martu hunt. The Martu hunters typically burn a small area of older-growth spinifex grassland, according to the co-authors, then search the area for fresh lizard burrows. Burning dramatically increases their catch — and the resulting patchwork landscape also provides better habitat for the lizards and other species.

"Paradoxically, V. gouldii populations are higher where Aboriginal hunting is most intense," the co-authors write. It wasn’t human hunting that caused the extinction of small mammal species, they conclude, "but the loss of human hunting."

The Martu now have a ranger system running in Karlamilyi National Park, in partnership with Australia’s Department of Environment and Conservation. But when asked if scientific advisers guide the process, Douglas W. Bird, Rebecca’s co-author and husband, just laughed. The aboriginal system of know-how, called Jukurr, is so ecologically detailed,
Community-managed forests in 15 tropical countries were more effective than traditional protected areas.
the co-authors write, that the Martu are aware of "which species of skink returns to the same location to defaecate and which mouse prefers burnt spinifex." The government, which has no staff on the ground there, has asked the Martu to participate in co-management of the park, but the Martu have insisted instead on full ownership and management rights. Elsewhere in the world, indigenous communities and community conservancies already control 40 percent of the land area in Namibia, 50 percent in Mexico, and 90 percent in Papua New Guinea. And the evidence increasingly suggests that they can succeed at achieving conservation goals. A recent analysis in the journal Forest Ecology and Management found that community managed forests in 15 tropical countries were actually more effective than traditional protected areas at reducing deforestation.

Community conservancies are never, however, an easy fix, says Philip Muruthi, chief scientist for the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). The habitat, the idiosyncrasies of the people and wildlife living there, and the political and economic context around them mean that community management structures must be worked out one case at a time.

"Our projects are science-led," says Muruthi. "Before we go into it, we plan and talk about which are the key areas to connect." For instance, Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya is too small for its elephant population. But the elephants have nowhere to go because of the growing human population outside the park. AWF believes community conservancies there have the potential to open a migratory corridor south to Mount Kilimanjaro and Arusha national parks in Tanzania, with tourism providing both economic benefits to local populations and the budget for increased anti-poaching patrols.

Business considerations also count, says Muruthi. One proposed conservancy may be large enough to make its own contract with a tourism operator, while another may prosper only by forming an alliance with neighboring conservancies. Due diligence is also essential, so a deal with a lodge operator doesn’t belatedly fall through when the conservancy turns
'We can’t conserve everything within park boundaries. So how do we work with local people?'
out not to own the land under negotiation. (It’s happened, he says.)

Any community management or co-management scheme requires a land-use plan with detailed prescriptions for habitat and species. It’s also essential to lay out a clear system of governance, both to enforce the rules and to share the economic benefits equitably within the community. "Otherwise people become disenfranchised and start disobeying the prescriptions," says Muruthi. To ensure success, AWF typically remains on a local conservancy board for the first 10 to 15 years, "because the ecological benefits can take that long to appear."

That careful process is likely to be repeated increasingly around the world, as park staffs and their neighbors learn to talk as collaborators rather than as enemies. The Indigenous Community Conservation Area Consortium, set up in 2008, is encouraging such conversations. So do schemes like the World Bank system of payments for ecosystem services, and the United Nations system of payments for avoided deforestation — that is, REDD, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. (Another study out last month found that trained members of local communities can

MORE FROM YALE e360

An African Success: In Namibia,
The People and Wildlife Coexist

An African Success: In Namibia, The People and Wildlife Coexist
Shortly after gaining independence in 1990, Namibia turned ownership of its wildlife back to the people. By using a system of community-based management, Richard Conniff writes, this nation has avoided the fate of most others on the continent and registered a sharp increase in its key wildlife populations.
READ MORE
be as accurate as professional foresters at monitoring REDD compliance — and will likely be less expensive in the long run.)

"The reality," says Jen Shaffer, a University of Maryland anthropologist who works in Mozambique, "is that we can’t conserve everything inside park boundaries. So how do we work with local people? What do they know that we don’t? And how can habitats benefit from encouraging those practices? What are they doing that harms the habitat? And how do we work with the community to improve or tweak those practices, so the community is benefiting and the biodiversity is benefiting?

"It might mean moving the fences in, in some cases, or moving them out in others," she says. "But it involves understanding that landscapes have evolved with people, and that what people do is important."



POSTED ON 07 Nov 2013 IN Biodiversity Business & Innovation Forests Forests Urbanization Africa Asia Australia North America 

COMMENTS


This reminds me of work I did in Ontario in the 1990s focused on integrating ecological (including biological) and social (including cultural and economic needs, interests, and concerns). Through time it became known as the "Specifics Approach" — the last summary article published in The Forestry Chronicle 76(5):725-738. One key conclusion was that "local and broader-scale experts commonly identify different indicators (of sustainability), but that local scale information provides the foundation for quality broader-scale management efforts. Local-scale information provides "feed-forward" to inform broad-scale decisions, and discussions/conclusions at broader scales provides "feed-back" to local decisions.
Posted by R.A.Lautenschlager on 07 Nov 2013


POST A COMMENT

Comments are moderated and will be reviewed before they are posted to ensure they are on topic, relevant, and not abusive. They may be edited for length and clarity. By filling out this form, you give Yale Environment 360 permission to publish this comment.

Name 
Email address 
Comment 
 
Please type the text shown in the graphic.


richard conniffABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Conniff is a National Magazine Award-winning writer whose articles have appeared in Time, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and other publications. He is the author of several books, including The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth. In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, he has reported on pangolin poaching in Asia and Africa and examined how root microbiomes affect forest ecology.
MORE BY THIS AUTHOR

 
 

RELATED ARTICLES


Albania’s Coastal Wetlands:
Killing Field for Migrating Birds

Millions of birds migrating between Africa and Europe are being illegally hunted on the Balkan Peninsula, with the most egregious poaching occurring in Albania. Conservationists and the European Commission are calling for an end to the carnage.
READ MORE

Electric Power Rights of Way:
A New Frontier for Conservation

Often mowed and doused with herbicides, power transmission lines have long been a bane for environmentalists. But that’s changing, as some utilities are starting to manage these areas as potentially valuable corridors for threatened wildlife.
READ MORE

The Case Against a Legal Ivory Trade: It Will Lead to More Killing of Elephants
Proponents of easing the global ban on ivory are ignoring the fact that it was a legal market for ivory that pushed elephants toward extinction only a few decades ago. What’s needed now is not a legal ivory market, but better regulation and enforcement of the existing ban.
READ MORE

Ivory Trade Debate: Should the
International Ban on Ivory Be Lifted?

Although most conservationists oppose it, a proposal to allow a partial lifting of the ban on ivory trading would benefit Africa’s elephants. With proper controls and enforcement, a legal trade would choke off demand for illicit ivory and discourage the poaching now decimating the continent's elephant populations.
READ MORE

True Altruism: Can Humans
Change To Save Other Species?

A grim new census of the world’s dwindling wildlife populations should force us to confront a troubling question: Are humans capable of acting in ways that help other species at a cost to themselves?
READ MORE

 

MORE IN Reports


Albania’s Coastal Wetlands:
Killing Field for Migrating Birds

by phil mckenna
Millions of birds migrating between Africa and Europe are being illegally hunted on the Balkan Peninsula, with the most egregious poaching occurring in Albania. Conservationists and the European Commission are calling for an end to the carnage.
READ MORE

Drive to Mine the Deep Sea
Raises Concerns Over Impacts

by mike ives
Armed with new high-tech equipment, mining companies are targeting vast areas of the deep ocean for mineral extraction. But with few regulations in place, critics fear such development could threaten seabed ecosystems that scientists say are only now being fully understood.
READ MORE

Electric Power Rights of Way:
A New Frontier for Conservation

by richard conniff
Often mowed and doused with herbicides, power transmission lines have long been a bane for environmentalists. But that’s changing, as some utilities are starting to manage these areas as potentially valuable corridors for threatened wildlife.
READ MORE

With the Boom in Oil and Gas,
Pipelines Proliferate in the U.S.

by peter moskowitz
The rise of U.S. oil and gas production has spurred a dramatic expansion of the nation's pipeline infrastructure. As the lines reach into new communities and affect more property owners, concerns over the environmental impacts are growing.
READ MORE

How Norway and Russia Made
A Cod Fishery Live and Thrive

by john waldman
The prime cod fishing grounds of North America have been depleted or wiped out by overfishing and poor management. But in Arctic waters, Norway and Russia are working cooperatively to sustain a highly productive — and profitable — cod fishery.
READ MORE

A New Frontier for Fracking:
Drilling Near the Arctic Circle

by ed struzik
Hydraulic fracturing is about to move into the Canadian Arctic, with companies exploring the region's rich shale oil deposits. But many indigenous people and conservationists have serious concerns about the impact of fracking in more fragile northern environments.
READ MORE

Africa’s Vultures Threatened
By An Assault on All Fronts

by madeline bodin
Vultures are being killed on an unprecedented scale across Africa, with the latest slaughter perpetrated by elephant poachers who poison the scavenging birds so they won’t give away the location of their activities.
READ MORE

As Small Hydropower Expands,
So Does Caution on Its Impacts

by dave levitan
Small hydropower projects have the potential to bring electricity to millions of people now living off the grid. But experts warn that planners must carefully consider the cumulative effects of constructing too many small dams in a single watershed.
READ MORE

Why Restoring Wetlands
Is More Critical Than Ever

by bruce stutz
Along the Delaware River estuary, efforts are underway to restore wetlands lost due to centuries of human activity. With sea levels rising, coastal communities there and and elsewhere in the U.S. and Europe are realizing the value of wetlands as important buffers against flooding and tidal surges.
READ MORE

Primate Rights vs Research:
Battle in Colombian Rainforest

by chris kraul
A Colombian conservationist has been locked in a contentious legal fight against a leading researcher who uses wild monkeys in his search for a malaria vaccine. A recent court decision that banned the practice is seen as a victory in efforts to restrict the use of monkeys in medical research.
READ MORE


e360 digest
Yale
Yale Environment 360 is
a publication of the
Yale School of Forestry
& Environmental Studies
.

SEARCH e360



Donate to Yale Environment 360
Yale Environment 360 Newsletter

CONNECT

Twitter: YaleE360
e360 on Facebook
Donate to e360
View mobile site
Bookmark
Share e360
Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe to our feed:
rss


ABOUT

About e360
Contact
Submission Guidelines
Reprints

E360 en Español

Universia partnership
Yale Environment 360 articles are now available in Spanish and Portuguese on Universia, the online educational network.
Visit the site.


DEPARTMENTS

Opinion
Reports
Analysis
Interviews
Forums
e360 Digest
Podcasts
Video Reports

TOPICS

Biodiversity
Business & Innovation
Climate
Energy
Forests
Oceans
Policy & Politics
Pollution & Health
Science & Technology
Sustainability
Urbanization
Water

REGIONS

Antarctica and the Arctic
Africa
Asia
Australia
Central & South America
Europe
Middle East
North America

e360 PHOTO GALLERY

“Peter
Photographer Peter Essick documents the swift changes wrought by global warming in Antarctica, Greenland, and other far-flung places.
View the gallery.

e360 MOBILE

Mobile
The latest
from Yale
Environment 360
is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile.

e360 VIDEO

Warriors of Qiugang
The Warriors of Qiugang, a Yale Environment 360 video that chronicles the story of a Chinese village’s fight against a polluting chemical plant, was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). Watch the video.


header image
Top Image: aerial view of Iceland. © Google & TerraMetrics.

e360 VIDEO

Colorado River Video
In a Yale Environment 360 video, photographer Pete McBride documents how increasing water demands have transformed the Colorado River, the lifeblood of the arid Southwest. Watch the video.

OF INTEREST



Yale