Why forests in indigenous and TRIBAL territories have been better conserved

d. Land use restrictions – protected areas

Protected areas restrict land use changes and extractive activities and it is harder to legally privatize public lands that have been designated as protected areas. Consequently, protected areas tend to have lower deforestation.

Latin America’s indigenous and tribal territories heavily overlap with protected area. In principle, that alone might lead one to expect these territories would have lower deforestation. Almost half (47 percent) of the area that indigenous peoples occupy have been designated as protected areas, compared to only 17 percent of the non-indigenous areas (Garnett et al., 2018).24 Even when governments don’t recognize indigenous or tribal rights in these territories, their classification as protected areas sometimes help forestall external incursions.

While the great overlap between indigenous and tribal territories and protected areas explains some of the low deforestation in these areas it is only one of various relevant variables. Indigenous territories that do not overlap with protected areas also have lower deforestation rates than other forests (Blackman et al., 2017; Blackman and Veit, 2018; Walker et al., 2020). Panama’s indigenous territories that are entirely outside of protected areas reduce deforestation more than the indigenous territories that do overlap with protected areas (Vergara-Asenjo and Potvin, 2014). Moreover, protected areas that overlap with indigenous territories often have lower deforestation than other protected areas (de los Ríos Rueda, 2020). That implies that being an indigenous territory helps to conserve the forest, and that the protected area status alone is not enough to explain the results (Hayes, 2007; Stocks, McMahan, and Taber, 2008; Norman and Chomitz, 2011; Blankespoor, DasGupta, and Wheeler, 2014; Holland et al., 2014; Schleicher et al., 2017; Walker et al., 2020).25

©FAO / Cecilia Ballesteros
Mayantuyacu (Huánuco) in the Peruvian Amazon.
  • 24 In Central America, 37 percent of the area indigenous peoples “use and occupy” is in protected areas (See Map 2). The areas they use and occupy correspond to what this report refers to as “areas occupied by indigenous peoples”.
  • 25 Although Adeney, Christensen Jr. and Pimm (2009) did not find significant differences between the two types of protected areas in the case of forests fires in Brazil.