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Nature Reserves Attract Humans
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Nature Reserves Attract Humans

July 8, 2010
Nature Reserves Attract Humans During periods of excessive drought, local herders in northern Kenya, including this woman at the Samburu National Reserve, are allowed access to protected areas, where livestock will share scarce water with elephants and other wildlife. During two recent droughts, 60 percent of cattle in this primarily pastoral region died, but herding communities on the borders of Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves fared far better as a result of their legal access to parklands. More about this ImageJustin Brashares, University of California-Berkeley assistant professor of environmental science, policy and management, and George Wittemyer, UC-Berkeley postdoctoral researcher and a National Science Foundation (NSF) International Research Fellow, co-led a study that found that, rather than suppressing local communities in developing nations, nature reserves actually attract human settlement. In an analysis of 306 rural protected areas in 45 countries in Africa and Latin America, Brashares and Wittemyer found that, on average, the rate of human population growth along the borders of protected areas was nearly twice that of neighboring rural areas. The findings counter the perception that park creation comes with high costs and few benefits to marginalized rural populations, who lose out when conservation areas restrict their access to traditional lands and natural resources. However, while the study found that protected areas appear to draw immigration by stimulating local economies, the consequences of this immigration threaten the ability of conservation areas to protect biodiversity. Strong links between human settlement near protected areas and illegal harvesting of timber, bush meat hunting, fire frequency and species extinction are widely recognized. The study also found that rates of deforestation were higher near protected areas where human population growth was greatest. These and other findings suggest current conservation efforts may achieve poverty alleviation at a direct cost to biodiversity protection. The study was supported by the National Science Foundation, the J.S. McDonnell Foundation and the Hellman Family Fund. To learn more about the study, see the UC-Berkeley News story, "Nature Reserves Attract Humans, but at a Cost to Biodiversity, says Study." (Date of Image: 2005-2007)