- Conserving nature in one area can relocate harmful activities such as illegal logging or mining to another, a phenomenon known as leakage or spillover; but how big is the problem?
- The first systematic review of studies examining the effects of protected areas around the globe on their surroundings found that less than 12% showed evidence of leakage or spillover, while the majority (54%) reduced deforestation in the surrounding areas.
- Another study found that protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon largely blocked deforestation in the surrounding forests, which in turn suggests that protected areas inhibit deforestation both inside and outside their borders.
- Experts say that environmental and regulatory rollbacks that loosen land use restrictions, shrink boundaries, or remove protective measures altogether pose a much bigger threat to the Amazon than spills, and efforts should focus on preserving protected areas permanently and management and the Improve enforcement.
In order to slow the pace of mass extinction and the climate crisis, nature must be protected. However, when it comes to protected areas, some argue that protecting one area can simply shift harmful activities like illegal logging or mining to another, a phenomenon known as leakage or spillover. But to what extent is that true? And how big is the problem?
Casey Fuller, a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Tasmania, and her colleagues delved into the subject, conducting the first systematic review of studies examining the effects of protected areas on their surroundings. Their results were published in the journal Global ecology and nature conservation.
Of the 2,575 protected areas audited that effectively reduced deforestation rates within their boundaries, less than 12% had evidence of leakage or spillover. The majority (54%) reduced deforestation in the surrounding areas (an effect known as a blockade) and 33% had no measurable impact on the surrounding areas.
“It was quite surprising that the protected areas that were impacting within their boundaries had a very similar impact on the immediately adjacent unprotected area,” Fuller told Mongabay.
Fuller came to a similar conclusion when she turned to the Brazilian Amazon. In a separate study published in Biological preservation, Fuller and colleagues examined spillover effects of newly established protected areas in Brazil.
Using satellite images, the team calculated deforestation in 91 state-administered (non-indigenous) protected areas between 2005 and 2016 compared to the deforestation rates in the surrounding unprotected areas.
Protected areas in Brazil, similar to those examined in the global review, largely blocked deforestation in the surrounding forests, suggesting that protected areas inhibit deforestation both inside and outside their borders.
Although the study failed to explain why, Fuller says that in the case of Brazil, the contiguous and contiguous network of protected areas established between 2005 and 2016 may have driven much of the deforestation in a different direction. It’s likely that the efforts to build illegal roads and put the infrastructure in a place with so much protection won’t be worth it, she says.
According to Fuller, leaks should be monitored, especially in cases where a protected area could shift deforestation to more biologically or environmentally valuable or more polluted areas, and in the world of carbon accounting and international systems (like REDD +) where some countries pay other countries to reduce deforestation to offset their own carbon emissions. But overall there are “bigger fish to fry”.
This “big fish”: the loss of protection altogether.
“The order of magnitude [of leakage] was not something I would call very worrying, “said Fuller,” especially when entire protected areas are threatened with extinction. “
Environmental and regulatory rollbacks that loosen land use restrictions, reduce borders or remove protective measures entirely are referred to as PADDD events (protected area devaluation, downsizing and degazettement). And PADDD events are running, both in Brazil (see Brazilian PADDD tracker site) and around the world.
“We know PADDD is a growing problem in Brazil,” Rachel Golden Kroner, a fellow at the Moore Center for Science at Conservation International, told Mongabay in an email, “whose risk is exacerbated by increased deforestation in protected areas.”
According to the study by Kroner and her team (published in 2018 and 2020), the higher the deforestation rate within a protected area, the more likely that a protected area will be reduced in size or lose its protection status.
“All in all, we can see from these studies that the transience of Brazilian protected areas is more worrying than leaks,” said Kroner. “Short-term efforts should strengthen long-term conservation and improve the management and enforcement of existing protected areas to better prevent deforestation.”
Looking beyond Brazil, Kroner and his colleagues followed environmental protection rollbacks around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their analysis found 64 cases of rollbacks in 22 countries between March 2020 and March 2021 affecting land, water, indigenous rights, climate change and more.
A similar report by Vivid Economics found that the COVID-era stimulus packages and guidelines were more likely to undermine conservation than to support them.
“These rollbacks continued,” said Kroner. “Ironically, given the relationship between maintaining intact ecosystems and reducing the spread of zoonotic diseases, environmental rollbacks leading to ecosystem degradation could exacerbate the risk of a future pandemic … We should be moving in the opposite direction.”
According to Kroner, supporting protected areas and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities are cost-effective investments that counteract climate change, the loss of biological diversity and public health.
“I think what we need to focus on is the absolute protection of the most irreplaceable and vulnerable habitats,” said Fuller. “Preserved already established protected areas, high quality … That has top priority.”
Fuller, C., Ondei, S., Brook, BW, & Büttel, JC (2020). When planning protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon, the focus should be on additionality and durability, not on reducing leakage. Biological preservation, 248, 108673. doi: 10.1016 / j.biocon.2020.108673
Fuller, C., Ondei, S., Brook, BW, & Büttel, JC (2019). First, do no harm: A systematic review of deforestation spillovers from protected areas. Global ecology and nature conservation, 18th, e00591. doi: 10.1016 / j.gecco.2019.e00591
Keles, D., Delacote, P., Pfaff, A., Qin, S. & Mascia, MB (2020). What drives the deletion of protected areas? Evidence from across the Brazilian Amazon. Ecological economy, 176, 106733. doi: 10.1016 / j.ecolecon.2020.106733
Tesfaw, AT, Pfaff, A., Kroner, REG, Qin, S., Medeiros, R. and Mascia, MB (2018). Land use and land cover changes shape the sustainability and impact of protected areas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(9), 2084-2089. doi: 10.1073 / pnas.1716462115
Banner image of the Javari River, where it forms the border between Brazil and Peru by Rhett A. Butler.
Liz Kimbrough is a staff writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter: @lizkimbrough_
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