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What works?

Protected areas, indigenous territories, and conservation concessions in Peru.

“State-controlled protected areas (PAs) have dominated conservation strategies globally, yet their performance relative to other governance regimes is rarely assessed comprehensively. Furthermore, performance indicators of forest PAs are typically restricted to deforestation, although the extent of forest degradation is greater.”

Thus starts a recent paper in Nature. The paper aims to address these shortfalls in the research, “through an empirical impact evaluation of state PAs, Indigenous Territories (ITs), and civil society and private Conservation Concessions (CCs) on deforestation and degradation throughout the Peruvian Amazon”.

Worldwide, there are 202,467 protected areas. This number has expanded rapidly over the past decades. And governments have committed to ambitious targets to expand protected areas further. Yet the conversion and degradation of tropical forests continues.

Local forest governance

The authors write that,

“Our findings add to the growing body of research that local forest governance can be equally or more effective than centralized state regimes.”

The paper is written by Judith Schleicher (University of Cambridge), Carlos A. Peres (University of East Anglia), Tatsuya Amano (University of Cambridge), William Llactayo (Ministry of Environment, Peru), and Nigel Leader-Williams (University of Cambridge). The title is, “Conservation performance of different conservation governance regimes in the Peruvian Amazon”.


Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, seen from the Alto Madre de Dios river. Photo by Martin St-Amant, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In their paper, Schleicher and colleagues assess the following:

  • how deforestation and degradation varied across governance regimes between 2006–2011;
  • the proximate drivers of deforestation and degradation; and
  • whether state Protected Areas, Conservation Concessions and Indigenous Territories avoided deforestation and degradation compared with logging and mining concessions, and the unprotected landscape.

The study area covers 74% of the Peruvian Amazon, and looks at deforestation and forest degradation between 2006 and 2011.

The authors write that,

"an extensive literature has highlighted that no single governance regime, such as state PAs, is a silver bullet for sustainable resource use of forests and other common-pool resources. Conservationists have therefore sought a diversification of conservation approaches. In particular, attention has been drawn to the potential contributions of formally designated Indigenous Territories (ITs) and civil society and private PAs to tropical forest conservation."

Deforestation found largely in three regions

The authors found that in total an area of 193,648 hectares was degraded, and 131,320 hectares was deforested during the period 2006 to 2011. 78% of deforestation and 66% of forest degradation was in three regions of the Peruvian Amazon:

A: part of the corridor of agricultural expansion in San Martin.
B: Ucayali’s logging center around the city of Pucallpa.
C: mining area south of the city of Puerto Maldonado in eastern Madre de Dios.

While the authors found that deforestation and degradation rates in logging concessions were also low, they point out that in Peru, “logging concession timber permits are widely used to legalize timber harvest in non-athourized areas”. So while deforestation may appear to be low inside the logging concession, the concessions are often used to facilitate illegal logging elsewhere.

The authors found that deforestation and forest degradation was highest in mining concessions. They comment that this “might be expected in light of the recent surge in highly destructive gold mining exploitation in the southern Peruvian Amazon”. Mining concessions are found in more accessible areas with higher human pressures. The authors found that “mining concessions provided poor comparisons for the three conservation strategies”.

Conservation concessions and indigenous territories “more effective”

The authors conclude that,

All three types of conservation governance regimes significantly avoided rates of deforestation and forest degradation compared to analogous areas in the wider unprotected landscape. Nevertheless, none were immune to these anthropogenic impacts.

Conservation concessions and indigenous territories “were on average more effective than state PAs in avoiding deforestation and forest degradation compared to the wider unprotected landscape”.

The authors make two recommendations relating to the designation of conservation concessions and indigenous territories in Peru:

  • The application process should be speeded up and simplified; and
  • More indigenous territories should be granted – very few have been issued during the past decade.

In a statement, lead author Judith Schleicher says,

“Policy makers must focus on a more diverse set of mechanisms for protecting the rapidly disappearing tropical forests. Our analysis shows that local stewardship of the forest can be very effective at curtailing forest degradation and conversion in the Peruvian Amazon. Local conservation initiatives deserve more political, financial and legal support than they currently receive.” 

In April 2017, Conservation-Watch wrote a post aimed at collecting research looking at land rights and conservation focussing on research that looks into whether giving land rights to local communities and indigenous peoples helps to stop (or at least reduce) deforestation. This is the latest post in a series on that theme.

Posted by Chris Lang of Conservation Watch. 26/9/2017.