Forests must be well protected at various levels, but, in practice, this is rarely accomplished. Although it is essential, the planning of protected areas has been subject to political or economic pressures and has neither been systematic nor effective. Protected areas must be placed in regions where they will contain the full measure of biodiversity of that particular type of ecosystem. One can easily understand that this is not often accomplished, particularly since resource extraction seems economically more attractive in these rich areas. Unfortunately, the areas richest in biodiversity and ecological importance are also those which contain resources most desirable to humans. Thus, reserves are established in places which are relatively barren, or are difficult of access, or appear unviable for profitable development or extraction. There may also be conflicting goals among the advocates of reserves – some may wish remote areas to be preserved for aesthetic purposes, others may wish to preserve areas of high diversity or entire ecosystems. (For an excellent discussion of the issues involved in establishing reserves, see Margules & Pressey, 2000; also, Inamdar, et al., 1999.) Worldwide, only US$6.5 billion is spent annually on established reserves, and half of this is dispensed in the United States. Only a bit more than US$3 billion being spent by the rest of the world for this purpose, a trivial sum.
a. Protect some areas completely (and effectively): This is especially necessary for those areas with poor soils, those which are inherently fragile (such as slopes, which have great potential for erosion and degradation), and those with high degrees of biodiversity and endemism. Even though it is very difficult to preserve large areas of intact rainforest (for economic, political, and social reasons), it is absolutely essential. Huge areas need to be kept roadless, unmanaged, and untrammeled insofar as possible, although there is constant pressure to use forest land (even protected land) for every purpose – agriculture, aquaculture, logging, resource extraction, hunting. Unfortunately, protected areas are often so in name only, and are rarely well-monitored. Furthermore, they are ordinarily not large enough to maintain viable populations of large animals and trees. The case of the Wolong Nature Reserve for giant pandas in China is an instructive case. Since the establishment of this protected area, the situation of the panda has in fact worsened, due to continued forest loss and fragmentation. The number of pandas within the reserve dropped from 145 in 1974 to 72 in 1986. The increase in human population within the reserve has led to an increase in economic activity – agriculture, fuelwood collection, logging, road construction, tourism, and the collection of herbal medicines, with consequent habitat loss for the pandas. Since the people in the reserve are dependent upon wood for fuel, unlike people outside of the reserve who have switched to other forms of energy, such as coal and electricity, the situation within the reserve is actually worse than it is outside of its borders (Liu, et al., 2001).
b. Increase the size of protected forest areas: Rather than conserving numerous fragmented smaller areas, it is essential to protect large intact tracts of forest. Larger areas contain more species and can maintain viable populations of large animals and plants, while smaller areas are more prone to episodes of extinction and invasion. Very large conserved areas are required to ensure that disturbances affect only a small part of the forest area. Then, too, there are many species (both plant and animal) which cannot survive in disturbed areas or near forest edges, and which will be lost if forests are reduced to remnants. Other species, as previously mentioned, require great tracts of intact forest for their foraging, reproductive, and/or shelter requirements. The forest cannot maintain its many and complex levels of organization without large intact areas, although some smaller protected areas are needed to preserve a variety of habitats. The loss of some species may be relatively inconsequential, but loss of others which play key ecological roles is disastrous and results in the disruption of ecological webs. Particularly, forested areas around timber concessions should be preserved to sustain biodiversity and the structure of the original forest and to assist in forest regeneration. It has been estimated that, in Sarawak, protected reserves between 10 million and 100 million hectares would be necessary to preserve full biodiversity and forest functions, but none of the established reserves is larger than 170,000 hectares and most are much smaller, even tiny. Globally, only 3.3% of the natural forest cover lies in reserves (Amelung, Torsten and Diehl, 1992).
c. Protect forest edges against damage: Forest edges are particularly vulnerable, since they are exposed to such adverse occurrences as fire, extraction, hunting, and colonization by exotic species. They are conduits to the inner forest, and as they are damaged, the inner forest becomes more and more threatened. As noted above (Part II, G5f), large trees near edges tend to die at higher than natural rates, among other detrimental effects. It is helpful to establish buffer zones around protected areas to make transitions between natural forest and disrupted areas.
d. Establish “extractive reserves”: In such reserves, some limited resource extraction can take place. Rubber tapping, the collection of fruits and medicines, and perhaps even some limited hunting and selective logging might be permitted. These reserves must be managed carefully to prevent unsustainable extraction.
e. Restoration of damaged and disturbed habitats: Although many tropical areas have been converted to pasture or crop land or logged and abandoned, restoration is frequently possible (although not when the soil has become lateritic). Conservation needs to include restoration of damaged lands, which may otherwise become further degraded and useless either as farmland or forest. Often there are some forest organisms or remnants of forest within agricultural areas, and these have the potential for reforesting disturbed areas. For instance, tropical pastures contain many forest organisms (seeds, seedlings, microorganisms, small animals) which aid in restoration. To carry out such programs requires: i) finding areas which are capable of recovery ii) the enlistment of local people to aid in restoration iii) agreement on goals for restoration – whether the reforested area is to act as gene bank, botanical garden, watershed, refuge, or park, and iv) the replacement of private ownership with public, partly because private interests shift, and partly because there will be an economic burden to maintenance which cannot be supplied by the private sector. For such restorations large areas are necessary, as the remnant organisms have usually been scattered, and we have seen the consequences of fragmentation. The forest must be allowed to regenerate over lengthy time periods. Woody plants and many animals will begin to be reestablished within 10 or 20 years, but to restore mature forests takes a century or more. Even if the resulting forest is not identical with the original, it will be more complex than an agricultural system or a tree plantation which might otherwise replace it.
Each type of forest requires a different method of restoration – what works for dry forests may not be effective for rainforests. In areas where much vegetation has been removed, it may be useful to plow the land to loosen the soil, and to provide fertilizer and mulch to restore soil fertility. Elsewhere, simply permitting natural regeneration is justified.
There are many obstacles to renewal, both natural and human. There is the possibility of recurrent fires, of the introduction of foreign organisms, of the loss of many organisms and ecological webs from damaged forests, and there is additionally the long time frame (from a human perspective) required for reforestation to occur. There will be human objections to removing “productive” land from usage, a lack of psychological flexibility about restoration, the low priority most governments hold for restoration, the lack of government interest in rural areas, and a concomitant lack of funds for restoration activities. Many poor tropical countries have few funds available for forest conservation, much less restoration, and international agencies have been reluctant to fund restoration and conservation projects, preferring development schemes such as dams and large agricultural operations. Much money accrues to governments and well-connected individuals from exploiting rainforests, much less from restoration and conservation.
Moreover, we must remember that restoration is uncertain, and will generally result in a forest that is less complex than the original one, at least for a time, and which has a somewhat different species composition. The fact that many previously-forested areas can be restored to some degree should not, however, be a justification for the obliteration of the remaining primary forests.
f. Establish well-protected “zooparks,” refuges and botanical gardens: These could act as sanctuaries for a variety of indigenous animal and plant species.
g. Support agroecosystems and agroforestry projects: These are managed systems which can coexist with native species to a greater or lesser extent. Indeed, many agroforestry projects seek to utilize native species rather than to introduce exotics, which can generate many unforeseen difficulties. (See above under reform of agricultural systems)
h . Establish effective and permanent management regimes for protected areas, with adequate resources for protection and prevention of illegal incursions.
i. Establish “corridors” to link protected areas, to provide passage for animals between populations and exchange of genetic material among organisms which would otherwise be isolated: Many reserves and parks are too small to provide adequate space to maintain populations of certain species. There is presently a multinational effort (the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor) to establish corridors among conservation areas in Central America. This is based on the sad expectation that most rainforests which are not protected will be lost. Little has so far been accomplished, and corridors are only being established in a few places, partly because there is inadequate funding for the protection of existing parks. The problems, even in setting aside small areas, are great. Politicians have begun to use this project as a means for rural development, rather than conservation, since peasants and indigenous groups feel that they should obtain some benefit from the establishment of corridors. The government of Costa Rica, heretofore a model for conservation in Central America, is currently disinterested, and refuses to make land purchases or to support such ideas as municipal water taxes to pay landowners to reforest watersheds. In some of the proposed corridors, such as one within the Maya Biosphere Reserve (Guatemala/Mexico) illegal logging is uncontrolled, and a route for illegal immigrants to the US and for drug runners lies within it. Mexico also plans to pave a road running through the proposed corridor, although it, as well as Belize, has at least begun to discuss the establishment of corridors (Kaiser, 2001a).
How much land can realistically be preserved? It would be highly desirable to protect 50% of the earth’s terrestrial area, but this would lead to considerable conflicts with human use; even a goal of 1% preservation would do so in some parts of Africa, Asia, and Oceania. But areas of this magnitude would be too small to conserve rainforests in any meaningful (and functional) sense of the word. Several years ago several Central African countries agreed upon the “Yaounde Declaration,” which commits them to – among other things – the protection of at least 10% of each country’s forests, as well as to conservation and sustainable forest management. While it is not clear whether or not these goals can be attained, it is remarkable that at last tropical countries are beginning to recognize the problem of deforestation, and, to date, more than 40,000 km2 of previously-unprotected forested land has been placed under protection.
As mentioned elsewhere in this document, there are many problems with set-aside areas, from inadequate protection to poaching and other encroachments. A recent study by Bruner, et al.(2001b) assessed the effectiveness of parks in protecting forests. Most parks surveyed had substantially prevented clearing activities, although they did suffer from illegal activities – logging, hunting, grazing and burning. Nevertheless, park areas suffered less impact from these activities than surrounding unprotected areas, particularly with regard to hunting and logging. Those parks which were more effectively guarded and which had other deterrents were in significantly better condition than any non-park areas in the vicinity. Those parks in which local communities were compensated for the demarcation of the park or otherwise benefited from the park were also more successful in preventing encroachment. Since these parks are of considerable benefit to conservation, they need significant increases in support – for personnel, particularly.