Conservation scientists generally agree that many types of protected areas will be needed to protect tropical forests. However, little is known about the comparative performance of inhabited and uninhabited reserves in slowing the most extreme form of forest disturbance: conversion to agriculture. In a paper recently published in Conservation Biology (2006, Vol 20, pages 65-73), an international team of scientists, led by Daniel Nepstad of the Woods Hole Research Center and the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazonia, use satellite data to demonstrate, for the first time, that rainforest parks and indigenous territories halt deforestation and forest fires.
According to Nepstad, "Protecting indigenous and traditional peoples lands and natural areas in the Amazon works to stop deforestation. The idea that many parks in the tropics only exist on paper must be re-examined as must the notion that indigenous reserves are less effective than parks in protecting nature."
While previous studies had queried park managers about reserve performance, this study is the first to evaluate the effectiveness of tropical protected areas against forest clearing using quantitative analysis of satellite data. The group used satellite-based maps of land cover and fire occurrence between 1997 and 2000 to compare parks and indigenous lands. Deforestation was 1.7 to 20 times higher along the outside versus the inside perimeter of reserves, while fires were 4 to 9 times higher. Indigenous lands clearly stopped clearing in high-deforestation frontier regions: 33 of 38 indigenous territories with annual deforestation greater than 1.5 percent outside their borders had inner deforestation rates of 0.75 percent or less. Few parks are located in active frontier areas (4 of 15 in the sample) than indigenous lands (33 of 38). But parks and indigenous lands ability to inhibit deforestation appear similar.
Elizabeth Braun | EurekAlert!
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