Correspondence Michael B. Mascia, World Wildlife Fund, 1250 24th St. NW, Washington, DC 20037, USA. Tel: +1(202)495-4532; fax: +1(202)293-9211. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
National parks and other protected areas (PAs) are the foundation of global efforts to conserve biological diversity. Conservation policy and practice assume that PAs are permanent fixtures on the landscape, but scattered evidence points to widespread—yet largely overlooked—PA downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD). As a preliminary investigation of PADDD and its implications for conservation science and policy, we explore the published literature and contemporary media reports. We identify 89 historic instances of PADDD, in 27 countries, since 1900. Contemporary accounts reveal that PADDD has recently occurred or is currently under consideration in at least 12 countries worldwide. Proximate causes of PADDD vary widely, but center on access to and use of natural resources. Case studies from India and South America highlight the fact that PAs are socially defined and socially constructed governance regimes, responsive to social pressures—including conservation demands—at local to global scales. PADDD challenges longstanding assumptions underlying conservation policy and practice, including efforts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), and underscores the need for resilient and robust conservation strategies. Because many fundamental questions regarding PADDD remain unanswered, further research is required to understand this conservation phenomenon and develop tailored policy responses.
National parks, nature reserves, and other protected areas (PAs) are the foundation of global efforts to conserve biodiversity. Though the origin of PAs can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt, Yellowstone National Park (USA), established in 1872, is generally recognized as the first PA of the modern era (Lockwood et al. 2006, 692–693). Today, more than 122,000 nationally designated PAs cover approximately 12% of the earth's land surface and another 0.65% of its oceans (Wood et al. 2008; IUCN and UNEP 2009; United Nations 2009). Myriad provincial and municipal PAs, community conserved areas, private reserves, and other formal and informal PAs complement these nationally designated PAs (Johannes 1978; Langholz & Lassoie 2001; Berkes 2009). Societal expectations for PAs and their roles in biodiversity conservation are codified through the Convention on Biological Diversity, which calls for its 193 member states to establish comprehensive systems of representative and effectively managed PAs by 2010 (terrestrial) or 2012 (marine) (Convention on Biological Diversity 2004).
Conservation policy and practice assume that PAs are permanent fixtures on the landscape, but scattered evidence points to widespread—yet largely overlooked—PA downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD). Though the conventional narrative regarding PAs is one of continuous growth in numbers and spatial extent (Figure 1), several countries have scaled back their national PA systems (Figure 2, Zimmerer et al. 2004), a contentious practice first observed in the early 1900s (Adams 2004). Nor are the global icons of conservation immune to calls for PADDD (Dowie 2009), as demonstrated by recent government proposals to downgrade Amboseli National Park (Kenya) and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) (USA) (Corn & Roberts 2008; Veit et al. 2008). Despite the central role of PAs in global conservation efforts, PADDD has never been systematically studied. The extent, patterns, trends, and causes of PADDD remain largely unrecognized and poorly understood—as do the implications for conservation.
As a preliminary investigation of PADDD and its implications for conservation science and policy, we assemble and explore evidence from the published literature and contemporary media reports (for methods and full dataset, see supporting information). We provide an overview of historic and contemporary accounts of PADDD, briefly examine two historic case studies, and then consider the implications of this evidence for conservation policy and practice. We do not consider PA effectiveness through an assessment of site administration or de facto performance (cf., Bruner et al. 2001; Hockings et al. 2006). Rather, without making a priori assumptions about whether PADDD is “good” or “bad,” we investigate fundamental questions about the de jure existence and permanence of PAs. We define downgrading as a decrease in legal restrictions on the number, magnitude, or extent of human activities within a PA (i.e., legal authorization for increased human use); downsizing as a decrease in size of a PA as a result of excision of land or sea area through a legal boundary change; and degazettement as a loss of legal protection for an entire PA. Notwithstanding various critiques (e.g., West et al. 2006; Gaston et al. 2008), we assume that PAs will continue to play a leading role in local, national, and international conservation policy and practice. Accordingly, PADDD raises many provocative questions for both scholars and policymakers.
PADDD has a long history. In 1903, the British imperial government proposed degazetting the White Nile Reserve in Sudan, with the understanding that another game reserve—more distant from population centers in Khartoum—would be established instead (Prendergast & Adams 2003; Adams 2004). The government proposal sparked concern among a small group of social and political elites in England, who successfully fought the proposed degazettement by arguing that the ∼100,000 km2 White Nile Reserve (Buxton 1902) was necessary to provide wildlife near Khartoum with a sanctuary from otherwise unsustainable hunting (Adams 2004). Inspired by their success, these individuals formed the Society for the Preservation of Wild Fauna of the Empire, the conservation organization known today as Fauna and Flora International. In the years that followed, however, the White Nile Reserve was degazetted, perhaps “replaced” in the 1930s by the Zeraf Game Reserve hundreds of kilometers to the south (Philip Winter, Rift Valley Institute, pers. comm. February 27, 2010; SPWFE 1904).
More than 100 years later, government officials debated legislation to permit oil drilling in the U.S. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which would downgrade the iconic PA known as “America's Serengeti” (Corn & Roberts 2008). First established in 1960, ANWR doubled in size as a result of national legislation in 1980. Acknowledging the potential oil wealth beneath the ground in ANWR, the U.S. Congress left nearly 6,300 km2 of the 78,000 km2 PA open to limited geological and seismic testing, but explicitly prohibited drilling in ANWR without subsequent Congressional authorization. Despite indications of large oil deposits, efforts to pass legislation that would permit drilling for oil in ANWR have repeatedly failed since the late 1970s (Corn & Roberts 2008). As a result, no drilling has occurred. Advocates for oil development have stressed potential economic and national security benefits, while opponents have emphasized risks to vulnerable species and ecosystems and to the cultural heritage of native peoples (Docherty 2001; Corn & Roberts 2008). Legal changes to permit drilling for oil within ANWR may also violate U.S. obligations as a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, setting a precedent for other nations (Docherty 2001).
Though regulations governing ANWR remain unchanged, evidence suggests that PADDD has been widespread in the century since the White Nile Reserve was first targeted for degazettement. Our preliminary examination of the literature reveals at least 89 historic instances of PADDD, in 27 countries, since 1900 (Table 1, S1). The reported causes (where noted) of PADDD range from political bribes to tsetse fly abatement, but center on three main drivers: industrial-scale commodity production and extraction, infrastructure development, and local land claims and human settlement. In some cases, PADDD resulted from an ex post facto rationalization of environmental degradation, where authorities reconfigured land or sea governance because the PA had failed to meet its management objectives (Leader-Williams et al. 1996; East 1999; Burgess & Clarke 2000). These historic instances of PADDD are consistent with the findings of Zimmerer et al. (2004), who report that nine countries (Botswana, Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Luxembourg, Pakistan, Somalia, and Togo) experienced a 5-60% decline in PA coverage between 1985 and 1997.
Table 1. Illustrative sample of historic instances of PADDD documented in scientific literature, academic texts, and published reports. See Table S1 in the online Supporting Information for all historic instances of PADDD identified in this study.
Cause (as described in text)
*Date ranges have been inferred when years are not specified.
Pedang Wildlife Reserve
“Army compounds and a small college have been built in the park and a railroad runs right through it.”
“By mid-1995, the Mutara reserve and the northwestern half of Akagera National park had been occupied by large numbers of people and several hundred thousand cattle and had effectively ceased to be a conservation area. The northern part of the protected area has subsequently been degazetted.”
“Using his constitutional powers to alter the boundaries of national parks, Kaunda even degazetted part of Sumbu National Park to facilitate [Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines’] development plans for Kasaba Bay.”
PADDD is not only a historic phenomenon. Contemporary accounts from recent news headlines show that PADDD is a policy issue in at least 12 countries worldwide, with a few proposals recently agreed upon and numerous others under debate (Table 2). Though most contemporary accounts describe proposals to downgrade, downsize, or degazette a single PA, policy deliberations may simultaneously affect multiple PAs and even the entirety of a national PA system. In New Zealand, for example, successive governments have granted permits for “prospecting and exploration” in 42 PAs, as prelude to a currently pending proposal to downgrade an unspecified number of PAs—including the Mt. Aspiring National Park, a World Heritage Site—and subsequently permit industrial-scale mineral extraction in these PAs (Haggart 2009; NZPA 2009a, b). Similarly, Indonesia recently instituted legal reforms that would permit conversion of “conservation forests” and 316,000 km2 of “protection forests” into “production forests,” a governmental designation that would allow open-pit mining and conversion to oil palm plantations on these forested lands (Simamora 2010a, b). Industrial-scale petroleum and mineral extraction are the predominant catalysts associated with contemporary PADDD and PADDD proposals, though reports also highlight tourism development and local land claims as causal factors. As is clear from local newspaper headlines, efforts to downgrade, downsize, and degazette PAs are often the subject of political debate and social conflict (Table S2).
Table 2. Contemporary accounts of PADDD documented in news articles published August 31, 2009–April 30, 2010.
Cause (as described in text)
Bladen Nature Reserve
“…environmental groups and the San Pedro Columbia community are mounting opposition to the proposed construction of a dam. The site is the Central River that runs through the Columbia River Forest Reserve and the Bladen Nature Reserve, two core conservation areas.”
“… the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) as part of their plan to connect Srinagar and Kanyakumari wants to build a 56 km stretch in Madhya Pradesh which is proposed to cut through Pench National Park…”
“The National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) chaired by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in a recent meeting approved the state government's proposal to denotify the sanctuary, after its officials said that the bustards were not sighted since 1995 and that most of the land inside the sanctuary sprawling over 202 km2 was private land and people were facing lot of problems.”
“A leaked report recommends the Government remove up to 20% of Mount Aspiring National Park from a schedule of protected areas, opening the way for mining and exploration in the designated World Heritage area.”
“The group, which exposed an attempt to “chop-chop” the HINP, expressed alarm that the passage of the proposed measure may be used to develop the island for residential, commercial and industrial purposes.”
“…road construction, as well as mining exploration and extractive activities on Mt. Bulanjao, have taken place in areas that, according to the ECAN (Ecological Critical Areas Network), fall into the so called ‘Core Zones’ of maximum protection…”
“Puerto Rico's governor on Friday canceled the designation of part of the island's northeastern coastline as a nature reserve, opening the door to large-scale development along a white-sand beach where proposals for hotel resorts have sparked bitter protests.”
“…a cash-strapped Miami-Dade County has been mulling the possibility of drilling for oil beneath the [Big Cypress National Preserve]… to help pay for the expansion of Miami-Dade International Airport.”
Unfortunately, our understanding of historic and contemporary PADDD is limited by a lack of detail in these largely anecdotal reports. Many accounts of PADDD do not include basic information, such as the year in which PADDD occurred or the size of the area(s) affected. Research exploring the context, causes, and consequences of PADDD is even more rare. Fortunately, rigorous studies in India (Agrawal 2005) and South America (Naughton-Treves et al. 2006) provide valuable insights into the social, political, and ecological dynamics surrounding PADDD.
PADDD in India, 1850–2000
Agrawal's (2005) study of forest conservation in the Kumaon region of northern India provides compelling insights into PADDD and its conservation implications. In the late 19th century, the economic value of forests and forest products—principally timber, resin, and firewood—increased sharply in Kumaon and elsewhere in the British colony (pp. 65–66). To enhance forest yield and sustainability, as well as government tax revenues, colonial forest department officials responded by establishing forest reserves and instituting other innovative models of scientific forest management (pp. 3–4). The first Kumaoni PAs were established in the late 1860s or early 1870s (pp. 69, 250 note 14), but their spatial extent and restrictions on human activities expanded dramatically following the Forest Act of 1878 (p. 72). In the 1890s, the forest department established forest reserves covering approximately 500 km2 in Kumaon (p. 83), including some areas that villagers considered as sacred groves (p. 78). Regulations governing forest reserves prohibited use by local villagers, including subsistence activities like grazing cattle and gathering firewood (pp. 72–73). (Though British officials in India did not establish forest reserves to conserve or manage wild animals, governance of valuable wild plants and animals blurred together. Forest reserves often included “shooting blocks” that excluded local residents while giving hunting rights to political elites; many of these forest reserves were eventually converted to national parks (Saberwal & Rangarajan 2003).)
The overwhelming complexity of managing human use of forests outside PAs led the forest department to dramatically expand its system of forest reserves early in the 20th century (p. 72). From 1911 to 1916, Kumaoni forest reserves grew from 500 km2 to more than 7700 km2 (p. 72)—nearly 80% of forests in the region (p. 3). Though originally divided into three classifications that permitted varying degrees of human activity, regulatory changes during this period effectively excluded local residents from the vast majority of Kumaoni forests (p. 78). “Villagers found that they had limited or no rights left in the reserves. In response, they set fires in the reserved forests in a vivid spectacle of challenge to new forms of government over nature (i.e., reserves). Fires were especially widespread in 1916. Nearly 200,000 acres (approximately 800 km2) were burned in hundreds of separate incidents” (Agrawal 2005, p. 3). These organized and intentional fires (which continued through at least 1921 [p. 80]) were the culmination of other acts of protest against PAs, including attacks on foresters who established reserves in sacred groves (e.g., 1890s); verbal protests at public meetings (e.g., 1907); and nearly ubiquitous noncompliance by local villagers—including coordinated efforts to break the law (especially from 1917 to 1921; pp. 78–81).
The colonial government responded to these local protests with an extensive review and radical transformation of its approach to forest governance (p. 83). By 1927, approximately 5,000 km2 of forest reserves of limited economic value had been degazetted and transferred to the jurisdiction of the colonial revenue department (p. 83). “Over the next 60 years,” many of these forests were eventually designated as “community forests” managed by village-level forest councils (p. 83). The remaining forest reserves, covering nearly 3,400 km2, were downgraded to permit local residents to collect firewood and fodder (p. 83). Though forestry officials predicted “ultimate destruction” of Kumaoni forests as a result of these policy changes (pp. 83–84), Agrawal argues that delegation and decentralization of authority to local village councils has been essential to conservation of these very forests over the past several decades.
PADDD in South America, 1940–2003
Naughton-Treves et al. (2006) examine the history of 15 large (>100 km2) state-administered forest PAs established in Peru (8 PAs) and Ecuador (7 PAs) between 1940 and 1987. Though the origins of these PAs are unclear, “typically, local communities were not consulted when the PAs were first created” (p. 36). Over the years, as PA regulations were implemented and forest governance shifted, “conflict erupted” with resource-dependent local residents. “Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, managers at some PAs attempted to prevent resource use by force,” in some instances leading to “public outcry and occasional violent protests” (p. 36).
Demand for access to and use of natural resources within these 15 PAs resulted in numerous instances of PADDD. In nine cases, all but one prior to 1993, “rather than attempt to evict local people or impose resource-use restrictions, PA boundaries were legally changed to cede land back to local citizens” (p. 36). On two other occasions, government officials excised portions of a PA to permit drilling for oil and gas. In one of these instances, officials returned the excised area to the PA after exploratory drilling indicated that the available petroleum deposits were not commercially viable; in the other instance, officials added a new piece of land (equivalent in size to the excised area) to the PA. Since 1993, instead of evicting local residents or downsizing PAs to mitigate resource conflict, “conservation agencies are [generally] rezoning land within PA boundaries to accommodate human use” (p. 36; emphasis in original). Portions of at least 11 of the 15 PAs were downgraded through the development of “internal zoning plans,” which legally authorized an increase in the number, magnitude, or extent of human activities within the PA. “Park managers explained that this approach was the only realistic option given the widespread presence of human settlements and resource use in PAs” (p. 36). By contrast, officials changed PA boundaries on 14 occasions to expand PA coverage (mean expansion 2,900 km2, range 12.5–8,000 km2; SD 2,700 km2) and made another nine boundary changes to correct cartographic errors (∼10–20 km2/change). Among these 15 PAs, therefore, PA governance (i.e., rules governing human activities within the PA) changed once every 9 PA years, on average, with PADDD accounting for nearly half of these changes (on average, once every 18.4 PA years).
The impact of these PADDD events on conservation in Peru and Ecuador is unclear. Land returned to local communities totaled more than 2,400 km2 (269 km2/downsize; range 0.2–1,330 km2, std. dev. 415 km2), representing a 4.1% downsizing of the original combined extent of the 15 PAs (58,158 km2). Land excised for oil and gas drilling represented another 4,970 km2 (8.5% downsizing) of the original PA estate, yet areas of comparable size were added to the same PAs from which land was excised, resulting in no net loss of land to oil and gas development. The spatial extent of PA lands downgraded to accommodate human settlement and use is unknown. At the same time that officials were downgrading and downsizing PAs in response to resident and industry demands, however, they were also adding a total of 34,541 km2 to these 15 PAs, a net 56% (32,120 km2) increase in their collective total area. Only one of the 15 PAs experienced a net decrease in total area—and that 50 km2 downsizing represented a modest 1.2% of the total area of the Cayembe Coca Ecological Reserve in Ecuador. The conservation value of the lands excised from or added to the PA estate in these cases is unknown.
Scientific unknowns & policy implications
Collectively, the available evidence suggests that PADDD is a longstanding, widespread, and yet largely overlooked conservation phenomenon (Figure 3). Though additional accounts of PADDD almost certainly lie buried in the published literature, unpublished reports, and in dusty file cabinets around the world, our preliminary exploration makes several points clear:
1The history of PADDD spans more than a century and has touched at least 36 countries (and likely many more).
2PADDD occurs in areas of global importance for biodiversity conservation.
3PADDD can substantially reduce the size of the PA estate and expand human activities within PAs, but may occur against a backdrop of increasing PA numbers and spatial extent.
4Though some PAs are relatively stable, others have repeatedly seen their boundaries shrink and regulations tempered.
5Proximate causes of PADDD vary widely, but often center on access to and use of natural resources.
6Perhaps most importantly, PADDD is not just a historic phenomenon, but part of contemporary conservation policy debates around the world.
PADDD highlights the dynamic nature of PAs. As socially defined and socially constructed governance regimes, PAs are responsive to social pressures—including conservation demands—at local to global scales. These social dynamics manifest themselves not only in the creation of new PAs and in the expansion of existing sites, but also in PADDD. Indeed, in some cases, PADDD is linked to the expansion of existing PAs or the establishment of new sites (Fuller et al. 2010).
The ecological and social impacts of PADDD remain unclear. Some accounts highlight environmental degradation following PADDD (van Steenis et al. 1989; Walpole 2003; Adams 2004). Contrary to conventional wisdom (Terborgh 1999), however, evidence suggests that PADDD may sometimes advance conservation ends (Agrawal 2005). Likewise, contrary to suggestions that PAs inexorably drift (or are actively driven) toward a “fortress” model of conservation that imposes social costs on local people (Brockington & Igoe 2006, p. 443), many instances of PADDD represent efforts to address the concerns and needs of indigenous groups and other local peoples (Agrawal 2005; Naughton-Treves et al. 2006).
Many fundamental scientific questions remain regarding PADDD. How common is PADDD? How much of the PA estate has been affected? How much would be affected by current proposals? What are the spatial patterns and temporal trends in PADDD across sociopolitical and biophysical contexts (e.g., countries, ecoregions)? What factors explain these patterns and trends—and through what range of social mechanisms is PADDD occurring? Perhaps most importantly, what are the ecological and social consequences of PADDD? We are starting to explore these basic questions and their derivatives, drawing upon diverse methods that range from archival research to remote sensing to citizen science. Through this research, we hope to develop a sophisticated understanding of PADDD that will help decision makers to identify countries and individual PAs most likely to experience PADDD (i.e., predictive analysis); focus conservation investments in key places and on critical issues (i.e., priority-setting); foster transparency, legitimacy, and accountability (i.e., governance reform); and design more resilient and robust conservation strategies (i.e., adaptive management).
PADDD presents a significant challenge to the prevailing conservation paradigm, given that strategies predicated upon permanent and (often) expanding networks of PAs are unlikely to succeed if these very PAs are disappearing from the landscape. Though PADDD may sometimes advance conservation objectives (Agrawal 2005; Fuller et al. 2010), in many instances PADDD suggests the need for more resilient and robust conservation strategies. Indeed, conservation strategies must be resilient not only in the face of biophysical perturbations like climate change, but also when confronted by sociopolitical shocks like food shortages, political crises, and spikes in global demand for commodities. Research in natural resource governance (Ostrom 1990) suggests that participatory decision-making arrangements; clear and contextually-congruent resource use rights; active and accountable enforcement regimes that deploy meaningful-yet-graduated sanctions; and accessible conflict resolution mechanisms are likely to foster enduring PAs that provide ecological and social benefits. At the same time, conservation strategies must be robust, so that the potential negative conservation impacts of PADDD are mitigated by a diversity of other conservation behaviors and institutions. The dynamic nature of PAs, however, and the shifting social and ecological context within which they operate, may ultimately require a more dynamic and adaptive approach to conservation from scientists and policymakers.
PADDD also challenges a core assumption of the emerging global framework to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). To date, forests within PAs have been viewed by the global community as a “permanent” storehouse of potential emissions, while forests outside PAs have been seen at risk of deforestation and degradation (Ricketts et al. 2010). Accordingly, forests outside PAs would qualify for REDD funding based on the economic value of the carbon sequestered within the trees. Forests inside PAs, by contrast, would not be eligible for REDD funding because these forests would not provide an “additional” reduction in greenhouse gas emissions above the “business as usual” (BAU) scenario that would unfold in the absence of a climate change treaty. In fact, “BAU” for PAs includes PADDD, a phenomenon that may accelerate in the face of increasing global commodity demands and local land pressures (Figures 4 and 5). This suggests that at least some forested PAs could sequester “additional” carbon—and, thus, merit consideration for funding under a REDD regime that accounts for historic rates of PADDD. Developing such baseline rates of PADDD will require much better documentation of the history of PA growth and loss, which is essential to establish the proper incentives for participants in any future REDD regime. Failure to account for PAs and PADDD within a REDD regime could create perverse incentives for PADDD, which countries might carry out to increase the extent of their forests eligible for REDD financing.
Though PADDD challenges longstanding assumptions underlying local, national, and international conservation strategies, it does not diminish the importance of PAs to the conservation of biological diversity. As conservation policy, practice, and science all attest, PAs and other place-based strategies have an essential role to play in conservation, alongside regulatory regimes, market-based strategies, voluntary programs, and community action. Indeed, the conservation community cannot overlook, neglect, or abandon traditional place-based strategies like PAs, despite their known limitations. Rather, scientists and policymakers must redouble their efforts to learn from PAs and invest in them in ways that enhance both ecological sustainability and social equity. For many years the conservation community—and society as a whole—has taken PAs for granted, but the unrecognized history of PADDD makes clear that it cannot do so any longer.
We thank W.M. Adams, A. Agrawal, A.G. Blundell, D. Burns, D.C. Miller, M.J. Mlotha, D. Murray, R. Naidoo, M. Panuncio, V. Roshchanka, M. Wieland, R. Troya, an anonymous editor, and two anonymous reviewers for their insights and feedback. We also thank WWF colleagues and attendees at the 2010 annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers for stimulating discussions about PADDD and its conservation implications. M. Wieland, P. Winter, and R. Brett helped us to uncover the fate of the White Nile Reserve in Sudan. This research was partially supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.