- To predict the risk of deforestation in a protected area, examine the condition of surrounding forests, according to a new study.
- The study, which analyzed satellite images of protected forests around the world, found that the loss of nearby forests was a consistent early warning signal of future deforestation in protected areas.
- The researchers said national park agencies can use their proposed model to predict how vulnerable their countries’ protected areas are to deforestation and prioritize conservation efforts accordingly.
- But even if these agencies work to protect forests, they should take into account the needs of local communities living in the region, the researchers said.
Protected forests, like those in national parks, are unlikely to be felled when surrounded by intact forests. Conversely, when land adjacent to a protected forest is degraded, deforestation is likely to encroach on the protected area as well, according to a new study.
The study, which analyzed satellite images of protected forests around the world, concluded that the extent of forest cover around a protected area is an effective indicator of future forest loss.
When more than 90% of the land surrounding a protected area remains forested, it is likely that it will experience little or no deforestation. But when the adjacent forest cover falls below 20%, the protected area is likely to start losing forest cover at the same rate as the surrounding forests, as if it were no longer protected, according to the study.
The researchers, whose article was published in August in Current biology, gathered satellite images of all the world’s protected forests from 2000 to 2018 and used Google Earth to analyze the relationship between forest loss in protected areas and forest loss in areas up to 5 kilometers (5 kilometers) away ( 3 miles) from their limits.
They then predicted the risk of deforestation in protected areas around the world until 2036, highlighting national parks at risk, including Ankarafantsika and Kirindy Mitea in Madagascar, Virunga and Lufira Basin in the Congo Basin, Defensores del Chaco in the Amazon, and others.
“We wanted to know what happens to forests in protected areas when there is less and less forests around them – when their buffer zone starts to become less dense and looks more like a mosaic of forests and fields.” Zuzana Buřivalová, lead author of the new study and professor of forest and wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a press release.
“Based on the percentage of forest cover around a national park, we can now predict and say, ‘Okay, you should be careful now’ or ‘You don’t have to worry just yet'” , she added.
Buřivalová said the researchers’ findings should not be interpreted as setting “targets” but rather “taking the temperature” of protected areas.
“I would be potentially worried if someone said [as long as] we have this 5 kilometer forest buffer zone around the protected area, so everything is fine, ”she told Mongabay. “[Because then] they might not care what happens after 5 miles and they might think, okay, we can start deforestation a bit further out of the protected area.
Instead, said Buřivalová, national park agencies could, in the short term, use the researchers’ findings to determine which protected areas are at risk in their own countries and prioritize conservation efforts accordingly. “We assessed each protected area [in the world], “she said.” We did not release the [results] for each protected area … but if someone contacts me I can give [it to] them.”
In years, “the current results could be exceeded,” said Buřivalová. Agencies could then rerun the model proposed by the researchers, which has been released for free use, on a publicly accessible platform like Google Earth, and obtain updated predictions on the vulnerability of their countries’ protected areas to deforestation depending on the surrounding forest. blanket.
“You don’t even need to have computing power,” she said. “Anyone can just use our code and all the analysis will be done by Google.”
Although forests in different regions tend to be cleared or degraded for different reasons, with threats ranging from large-scale logging and industrial agriculture to subsistence farming and even forest fires, the Loss of nearby forests routinely serves as an early warning signal of future deforestation in protected areas, the team found.
For example, in the case of industrial agriculture, plantations around a protected area can lead to deforestation in two ways: directly, when companies ignore land boundaries to encroach on protected forest, or indirectly, when companies are occupying land and in doing so, forcing local small farmers to settle in protected areas for subsistence farming, Buřivalová said.
She added that scientists and forest planners should take into account the needs of the latter even if they prioritize conservation efforts. “They deforest for a reason, they don’t do it for fun… I urge people to use our results [to do so] in collaboration and agreement with local communities rather than [use the] results against them, ”she said.
Buřivalová said she was first inspired to conduct her research 10 years ago, during a trip to Madagascar that focused on newly created protected areas. “I was talking to people who live nearby, and they said that they had been placed in the buffer zone of this protected area, and it was much smaller than what they had counted on for their [future] agricultural needs, ”she said.
“People were worried [that if they ran out of land] they should start entering the protected area, ”she added. “As a conservation scientist I obviously want everyone to protect forests, but I was really worried about these families.
“I felt [bad] that by doing conservation we would potentially be harming someone… and that kind of conflict and compromise is exactly what we need to work on in conservation, ”she said. . “If we ignore them, we will not be able to move forward.
Banner image of residents of Ambanizana village near Masoala National Park in Madagascar 10 years ago. Image courtesy of Zuzana Buřivalová.
Buřivalová, Z., Hart, SJ, Radeloff, VC & Srinivasan, U. (2021) Early warning sign of forest loss in protected areas. Current biology, 31 years old 1-7. doi: 10.1016 / j.cub.2021.07.072
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