How Best to Protect Biodiversity?


The human population will increase from the present 6 billion to 10 billion people sometime around 2050, with most of that growth occurring in poorer countries in the tropics. The natural areas that remain in the tropics will face increasing pressure from agriculture, hunting, grazing, fire, mining and logging.

The traditional approach to conservation has been to set aside important natural areas as reserves or parks, but in recent years sustainable development and sustainable management have captured the imagination of many in the conservation movement. Sustainable management is appealing because it allows for limited human use of important natural areas, giving poor people a chance to make a living and an incentive to protect their natural resources.

An increasingly common criticism of parks and reserves has been that without adequate funding and management, many parks in the developing world are paper parks, mere lines on a map.

To evaluate this criticism, Richard Rice and Aaron Bruner of Conservation International studied the effectiveness of parks in meeting various threats. They looked at the conditions in ninety-three protected areas in twenty-two tropical countries with a combined area of 18 million hectares (44 million acres). They found that within this group, agricultural encroachment was stopped in 83 percent of the parks. Other measures of effectiveness also showed parks to be largely successful in doing what was expected of them.

While it is too early to write off sustainable development as a conservation tool, parks and nature reserves have been shown to be effective in many contexts. We spoke with Richard Rice and Aaron Bruner about their work reported in Science magazine.

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