Protected, but how well? Evaluating management effectiveness of protected areas
Geldmann, Jonas, Lauren Coad, Megan Barnes, Ian D. Craigie, Marc Hockings, Kathryn Knights, Fiona Leverington et al. "Changes in protected area management effectiveness over time: A global analysis." Biological Conservation 191 (2015): 692-699. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2015.08.029
To meet global targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity, countries are creating new areas for protection or increasing coverage of existing ones. These protected areas provide critical benefits for species conservation. However, these areas need effective management in order to achieve the benefits they were created for. A new study published in the journal Biological Conservation, suggests that successfully protected areas are large, close to communities, and are targets for investment.
The researchers, led by Jonas Geldmann of the University of Copenhagen,assessed 722 protected areas from 74 countries to evaluate changes in management performance over time. To complete this global analysis, they used information from the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT), a 30-question survey that evaluates management elements including legal status, education, and enforcement activities. In the survey, managers and stakeholders assess these management elements in their protected areas on a scale from zero to three. Next, researchers classified the questions into six management categories to understand how management stages are evolving.
Overall, performance of protected areas studied increased over an average period of four years. Of the 722 sites assessed, nearly 70 percent improved their management scores, while 25 percent decreased and 5 percent experienced no changes in their scores. A closer look at management stages reveals that scores in the planning and user-rights categories increased significantly. In other words, management of protected areas is evolving from an initial planning phase towards a greater emphasis on implementation.
Since management performance depends upon the context of each specific protected area, researchers also investigated how socioeconomic settings and protected area attributes influenced final scores. Of all elements, the size of the protected area had the strongest relationship to positive change in scores. Larger protected areas attract more investments for conservation, providing additional resources for effective management. Likewise, proximity of human populations also improved management performance. This may be because people value and use these areas, therefore creating more pressure for effective protection.
Two additional factors contributed to improvement in scores. First, protected areas with low initial METT scores had the largest increase in effectiveness. This seems intuitive, since protected areas in early stages of management have more room for improvement than those with fully established and implemented plans. Second, researchers acknowledged a bias related to METT assessments. Evaluators often depend on external funding and need to show progress reports. Although some changes in scores may be attributed to bias, other studies support the findings that protected areas are being better managed.
These results suggest that protected areas are undergoing an adaptive management process. Because strongly managed areas are more likely to preserve species than unmanaged areas, governments should consider which areas to invest in and where to site new ones. Prioritizing protected area placement and providing enough resources for effective management is vital to slow species loss.