Washington, July 4 : A new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkley, has determined that rather than suppressing local communities in developing nations, nature reserves attract human settlement.
In an analysis of 306 rural protected areas in 45 countries in Africa and Latin America, the researchers found that, on average, the rate of human population growth along the borders of protected areas was nearly twice that of neighboring rural areas.
According to George Wittemyer, UC Berkeley post-doctoral researcher and a National Science Foundation (NSF) International Research Fellow, "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."
"If these protected areas are a detriment to local livelihoods, we should see little or negative population growth at their borders," said Justin Brashares, UC Berkeley assistant professor of environmental science, policy and management. "Instead, people consistently move closer to them," he added.
"Along with economic incentives provided through targeted donor funding, many parks are hotspots for ecosystem services and goods, such as open water, good soils for agriculture, bushmeat, fish and timber that increasingly are found in few other places," said Brashares.
While the factors that drive rapid immigration to parks will likely vary among parks and countries, the authors note that nature reserves in developing regions often are targets for international aid and donor investment.
This investment, often coming through initiatives that pair goals for economic development and biodiversity conservation, creates infrastructure such as roads, schools, clinics, water and sewer systems, and other services that are often lacking in impoverished rural areas.
In support of their hypothesis, the authors found that population growth near protected areas was positively correlated with the amount of funding countries received from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) for conservation-related projects.
The researchers also found that population growth was higher near protected areas that support greater concentrations of employees, suggesting a connection between human immigration to reserves and the economic or job opportunities the parks provide.
"This study highlights that conservation activities can and do have positive impacts for the local communities where they take place," said Wittemyer.
"Our results indicate that the economic and ecological benefits of living near protected areas outweigh the costs typically attributed to such proximity," he added.