Wildlife Conservation Requires a Shift in Incentives

A recent study in Ecology Letters suggests that protected areas in Tanzania are becoming increasingly important as a climate change adaptation measure. When surrounding landscapes become degraded, the protected areas serve as islands of habitat for several species of dry-land birds. The authors of the study conclude that the protected areas should be maintained as an effective means for achieving conservation and climate change adaptation objectives.

While the targeted use of protected areas is likely to continue to be an important strategy to ensure the survival of bird species and other wildlife throughout the world, critics have long argued that the “fines and fences” approach is ineffective. Many governments lack adequate resources to manage, monitor or enforce rules in parks and reserves. Critics also contend that protected areas amount to a “land grab” by conservationists because they push out people who have long depended upon such areas for their livelihoods.

An emerging alternative approach is community-based natural resource management (CBNRM). CBNRM typically involves the devolution of resource and/or land rights to local communities in combination with the development of sustainable wildlife-based livelihood options. To achieve conservation objectives, the conservation community must consider these more inclusive and incentive-based natural resource management (NRM) models.

By supporting CBNRM and other more inclusive conservation models, USAID is working to ensure that wildlife conservation does not restrict the rights and existing claims of local communities. USAID supports models that include:
1. The devolution of land and natural resource rights to local communities – in particular the right to exclude and sanction unauthorized uses;
2. Incentives for the community to adopt local or co-management arrangements (in collaboration with wildlife authorities); and
3. The development of alternative income-generating strategies, such as ecotourism, that also support conservation objectives.

The CBNRM model has been successfully employed in Namibia and elsewhere in southern Africa. Namibians have formed community conservancies and are legally empowered to benefit from eco-tourism businesses. Importantly, both wildlife numbers and ecosystems are rebounding after decades of war and poaching, and conservancy members’ lives are improving.

Learn more about Namibia’s CBNRM model.

See also: “Tenure and Indigenous Peoples: The Importance of Self-Determination, Territory, and Rights to Land and Other Natural Resources.”