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17.8: Challenges for Protected Areas

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    The biggest challenges that park managers will face in the coming decades stem from a growing human population. When key natural resources, such as firewood and bushmeat, and medicinal plants, become harder to find, conflict is inevitable as more people look for new lands where they can fulfill their needs. As more people encroach into protected areas, so too will habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and diseases. Despite conservationists’ best efforts to build collaborations with nearby communities, park managers need to anticipate that this ever-greater demand for space and natural resources will add additional challenges to their work plans. Below, we discuss three challenges that will likely continue to pose threats in future, and for which there are not always easy solutions.


    People will continue to harvest resources illegally from protected lands especially when these resources are necessary for survival. Enforcement of regulations within protected areas and addressing poverty will be the most important factors in reducing poaching.

    Funding limitations

    To enable protected areas to achieve their full potential, there must be adequate funding to support a team of well equipped, properly trained, and motivated staff (James et al. 2001; Gill et al., 2017). There is also a need for buildings, vehicles, communications equipment, and other appropriate infrastructure and resources to enable the staff to fulfill their duties, and for tourists to have a memorable time. The cost of these resources can quickly add up. Some of these challenges can be solved with an adequate ecotourism plan, which can be facilitated from the grassroots level up or government level down. A growing number of funding mechanisms, including private and international donors, have also started to fill funding gaps which, in turn, has allowed more NGOs to assist in conservation areas management (Tranquilli et al., 2012; Lindsey et al., 2014). Above all, a carefully assembled management and monitoring plan, which is adequately funded, is key to the success of protected areas.

    Planning for climate change

    Because protected areas are fixed in space and time, many species that are currently protected will adjust their ranges beyond the borders of existing protected areas due to climate change. To ensure the future protection of species vulnerable to climate change, we must incorporate species’ predicted distribution ranges into the planning of protected areas networks. For species that disperse easily, this requires protecting gaps in their current and future ranges (Hole et al., 2011), as well as protecting, maintaining, and restoring potential dispersal pathways. For poor dispersers, conservationists could start experimenting with assisted colonizations, or identify and protect their climate refugia. For many species, however, establishing protected areas in their future ranges will be nearly impossible simply because no land is available. These species will greatly depend on conservation efforts outside protected areas.

    Facing degazettement

    It may be reasonable to assume that protected areas (especially government protected areas, established by law) afford permanent protection to biodiversity on those lands. Unfortunately, that is not the case—between 1950 and 2017, at least 227 different protected areas in Sub-Saharan Africa lost (partially or fully) lost their legal protected status (WWF and CI, 2016), in a process formally known as protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD, There are a variety of reasons behind PADDDs. For example, some protected areas have been PADDDed because of environmental degradation caused by conflicting land uses, including illegal logging, illegal agriculture, and land invasions; in such cases governments (in consultation with conservation managers) may determine that the resources needed for land rehabilitation are better spent protecting other sites (Fuller et al., 2010). Others have been PADDDed because incorrect procedures were followed during establishment—in such cases, it might be prudent to carefully consider if a compromise could be reached that combines the goals of conservation and development. However, the vast majority of African PADDDs are enacted because of more sinister motives, such as to undercut conservation restrictions (Mascia and Pailler, 2011). For example, when examining each threat individually, data from WWF and CI (2016) suggest that mining pressure was the leading cause of previous African PADDDs. Considering that nearly 30% of African protected areas are still earmarked for oil and gas exploration (Leach et al., 2016), the threat from mining will likely also continue in the foreseeable future (Durán et al., 2013; Edwards et al., 2013).

    Mining pressure is currently the leading cause for downgrading and degazettement of African protected areas.

    Most conservationists consider the PADDD process a bad precedent that should be avoided unless necessary. While there are legitimate reasons behind some PADDDs (Fuller et al., 2010), few are enacted with conservation goals in mind. In many cases, government officials remove the protected status of lands without even consulting conservation scientists and park managers. Such decisions are particularly frustrating when important areas that protect threatened species and ecosystems are affected. Combating the continuing threat of PADDDs will depend on national and international conservation organizations partnering with vigilant citizens who take ownership of their natural treasures. Until citizenry can trust that government officials have the interests of their natural heritage at heart, protected areas PADDDs will remain a highly controversial topic.

    This page titled 17.8: Challenges for Protected Areas is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John W. Wilson & Richard B. Primack (Open Book Publishers) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.