Guess what? Parks work


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All right. I’ll admit it. For a long time I have had my doubts about protected areas in developing countries. I thought most were just ’paper parks’. Then I read ’Effectiveness of Parks in Protecting Tropical Biodiversity’ by Aaron Bruner, Dick Rice, and Gustavo Fonseca from Conservation International and Ted Gullison from the University of British Columbia. Science magazine released it last week. Now, I don’t know what to think. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but I found their results rather striking.

The authors looked at a representative sample of 93 parks in 22 countries. Each was larger than 5,000 hectares, more than five years old, and subject to human pressure. Seventy percent had people living within their boundaries and over half had residents who contested the government’s ownership of some part of the park. Moreover, two-thirds were accessible by at least one major road or river. Nevertheless, over 80% of the parks have as much natural vegetative cover today as they did when they were first established. A large percentage actually have more! The parks suffered substantially less deforestation than the surrounding areas, as well as less logging and hunting, although in the latter cases the differences were not as marked.

Apparently, policing gets results. In general, the most effective parks were the ones with most guards per unit of area. Parks where people who cleared forest or logged had a good chance of getting caught and facing sanctions faced fewer problems. (This, however, did not apply to hunting.) The most effective parks were also characterized by clearly marked park boundaries and direct payments to communities. In contrast, the authors found no correlation between park effectiveness and the number of staff involved in development efforts and environmental education, or the level of community participation in park management. The sheer number of park guards shows up as much more important than how much training or equipment they have or the salaries they receive.

The effectiveness of the parks studied is especially impressive given how little most spent on management – median annual spending per hectare was only $1.18 US dollars. The authors suggest this means even small increases in funding could go a long way to increasing effectiveness. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

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Further reading

If you would like a free electronic copy of a more extended summary and information on the sample analyzed you can write Christine Ogura at

To send copies to the authors, write Aaron Bruner at

You can download the full original article for a fee at (January 5 issue).