Protected areas do far better when governments work to make them succeed

Why do some protected areas do a good job of protecting their biodiversity whereas others struggle to keep the poachers and illegal loggers out?

Protecting biodiversity takes effort -- but it's worth it  (photo by William Laurance)

Protecting biodiversity takes effort -- but it's worth it (photo by William Laurance)

In a new analysis published in Biological Conservation, ALERT members Corey Bradshaw and Bill Laurance, along with colleague Ian Craigie, argue that it largely comes down to national commitment.

When you factor out national-level variables like population size, socioeconomic differences, and the like, one big conclusion jumps out at you. 

Nations that are serious about protecting their protected areas -- and by that we mean they designate most of their reserves into IUCN categories I-IV, which enjoy the greatest legal protections -- their reserves and biodiversity fare a lot better.

In many nations -- China being an obvious example -- few reserves are fully protected.  Rather, the reserves can also support a range of human uses, such as limited hunting, natural-products harvests, logging, and land clearing.  Such reserves fall into the IUCN categories V and VI.   

However, reserves that are nominally fully protected include things like national parks, World Heritage sites, and wildlife preserves, where conservation of nature is the top priority.

In their analysis, Bradshaw and colleagues tried to factor out all the complicating factors that can bedevil such national-level comparisons.  The result was that the "high-protection" nations did a lot better overall than the "lower-protection" nations in terms of maintaining the biological health of their reserves.

The answer is appealing intuitively and makes sense.  The more you invest in protecting nature reserves -- and that means not only defending the reserves but also striving the limit the threatening land-use changes immediately around them -- the better their biodiversity fares.

Conserving nature is often not cheap.  For that reason, nations that make a real commitment to protecting their imperiled reserves and biota should be recognized and heartily applauded.

 

Does ecotourism help or hurt nature?

Some people worry that nature-loving tourists might be loving nature to death

It's fair to fret about such things, but a new study suggests otherwise.  At least in Costa Rica, ecotourism is good for nature and helps local people--a lot. 

Start 'em young (photo by William Laurance)

Start 'em young (photo by William Laurance)

Those are the conclusions of a study just published in the top-flight journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Economists Paul Ferraro and Merlin Hanauer found that local communities near Costa Rican conservation areas had considerably lower poverty than those in other locations.  They attribute most of the benefit to ecotourism, despite the fact that deforestation was reduced near reserves. 

Overall, the authors concluded that two-thirds of the poverty reduction associated with protected areas results from tourism.

Other studies have suggested another big benefit of nature lovers: illegal poachers and encroachers avoid places with tourists and also scientists.  "They don't dare show their face," says veteran ecologist John Terborgh, who has spent decades working at Manu National Park in Peru.

One recent analysis suggested that "no other sector spreads wealth and jobs across developing countries like tourism does". 

With ecotourists now spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually, it's gratifying to know that local communities and nature are also seeing some real benefits.