Protected Areas Help To Stop Deforestation In The Amazon, Work Much Better Than "Sustainable-Use Areas"

Protected areas where no resource extraction is allowed to any degree, such as national parks and biological reserves, are much more effective at stopping deforestation in the Amazon rainforest than their alternatives, “sustainable-use areas”, are, new research has found. The research, from the University of Michigan, really makes it clear that these “sustainable-use” areas do not function nearly as well as a limit to deforestation, as protected reserves and “indigenous lands” do.


In particular, and in no way surprising to this author, protected areas that were established “primarily to safeguard the rights and livelihoods of indigenous people performed especially well in places where deforestation pressures are high.”

“Perhaps the biggest surprise is the finding that indigenous lands perform the best when it comes to lower deforestation in contexts of high deforestation pressure,” Arun Agrawal, a professor of natural resources at SNRE, said. “Many observers have suggested that granting substantial autonomy and land rights to indigenous people over vast tracts of land in the Amazon will lead to high levels of deforestation because indigenous groups would want to take advantage of the resources at their disposal.” (Author’s note: Did anyone actually believe this? It sounds ridiculous…)

“This study shows that — based on current evidence — such fears are misplaced,” he said.


Stopping, or at least limiting, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is an important goal for conservationists. There is an enormous degree of biological diversity in the Amazon rainforest, and it is disappearing at a very rapid rate as a result of deforestation. The rainforest also acts as an important carbon sink, and without it atmospheric CO2 levels would likely increase at a notable faster rate.

“After making international headlines for historically high Amazon deforestation rates between 2000 and 2005, Brazil achieved radical reductions in deforestation rates in the second half of the past decade. Although part of those reductions were attributed to price declines of agricultural commodities, recent analyses also show that regulatory government policies — including a drastic increase in enforcement activities and the expansion and strengthening of protected-area networks — all contributed significantly to the observed reductions.”

For the new study, the researchers utilized “new remote-sensing-based datasets from 292 protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon, along with a sophisticated statistical analysis, to assess the effectiveness of different types of protected areas. They looked at three categories of protected areas: strictly protected areas, sustainable use areas and indigenous lands.”

“Strictly protected areas — state and national biological stations, biological reserves, and national and state parks — consistently avoided more deforestation than sustainable-use areas, regardless of the level of deforestation pressure. Sustainable-use areas allow for controlled resource extraction, land use change and, in many instances, human settlements.”

“Earlier analyses suggested that strict protection, because it allows no resource use, is so controversial that it is less likely to be implemented where deforestation pressures are high — close to cities or areas of high agricultural value, for example,” said Christoph Nolte, lead author, and a doctoral candidate at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment.

“But we observed that recent designations of the Brazilian government placed new strictly protected areas in very high-pressure areas, attenuating this earlier argument,” he said.

“Hundreds of millions of people in the tropics depend on forests for their subsistence. Forest products that households rely on include firewood, fodder for livestock and timber for housing.”

But these forestry products don’t last for very long, especially when exposed to large populations, as the current state of the world shows. During only the last few thousand years more than half of the world’s forests have been destroyed, mostly as a result of deforestation. Much of this previously forested land is now desert or wasteland.

The new findings will be published March 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: University of Michigan

Image Credits: Pete Newton

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