Mongabay.com is considered a leading source of information on tropical forests by some of the world's top ecologists and conservationists. TROPICAL RAINFORESTS: Saving What Remains
Lowland rainforest in Borneo
Lowland rainforest in Borneo. Click image for more rainforest photos. (Photo by R. Butler)


By Rhett Butler   |  Last updated April 1, 2012

After taking note of high-diversity areas and species at greatest risk of extinction, park planners must consider other factors before designating a protected area. It is always important to monitor human use of forest lands before the designation of a national park. The presence of trails, the location of current and predicted human settlement, and land and resource use are all consequential in determining whether the forest land is suitable for protection. If local people are unhappy with restricted access to parklands, chances are they will not respect park boundaries. Along these same lines, planners generally attempt to measure the economic potential of natural forest management of the area as an alternative to deforestation. Also of great importance is the spatial distribution and quality of habitat, Clearly, when given a choice between degraded and natural habitat, it is better to protect the higher-quality area. Researchers also look at species distributions when determining what areas to declare off-limits.


Studies of isolated forest reserves have shown (Lovejoy experiment, Barro Colorado Island, and others) that it will not be possible to conserve all or even some of their species diversity, genetic resources, and ecological processes. Therefore approaches to that link protected areas to surrounding lands (buffer zones) are necessary. Land management must not be only planned for the reserve, but also the land surrounding it. If the land around a reserve is stripped or sanctioned for exclusive use by a corporation, locals will have no choice but to seek out game, fuelwood, and more fertile soils in the reserve. Therefore it is essential that protected areas to accommodate the local populations. The best approach for accommodation is to design and manage a range of protected areas, known as a multiple-use reserve.

A multiple-use reserve consists of several zones with varying degree of human occupation. The outermost zones, known as buffer zones, are areas to be used sustainably by the inhabitants. Here they can harvest (ideally in a sustainable manner) fuelwood, animals, and native plants and practice a degree of small-scale agriculture. The outermost zone could be the site of commercial activities like low-impact logging. The area beyond the buffer zone can serve as the site of reforestation projects with seeds and seedlings provided from the reserve. Eventually the outer regions could again support forest and the expanded area could be used for further sustainable practices. The inner zones could be set aside for indigenous peoples, who could continue their traditional way of life, without interference from outsiders, should they so choose. Also in this zone could be an area for forest-friendly eco-tourism with indigenous peoples and members of local communities serving as guides. Access to the core area could be restricted to all but research scientists. The core area would only make up a small portion of the total protected area, but be placed so as to protect the forest's "hot-spots."

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has devised eight categories of protected area, in order to protect biodiversity, yet contribute to sustainable development. These follow a structure like the one mentioned above with buffer zones around the park slated for partial development and two small, strictly protected categories (I and II) set aside for research only. Such a core area is exemplified by Manu National Park in the Manu Biosphere Reserve which serves as a reserve base for scientists and as a storehouse for information on the rich biodiversity of the Amazon Basin. In the surrounding buffer zones are areas for tourist activities and local use.

Review questions:

  • What is a multiple-use reserve and how does it help save rainforests while providing economic benefits to local people?

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Reserve Size

Other pages in this section:

Solutions Introduction
Sustainable Forest Products
Large-scale Forest Products
Medicinal Drugs
Logging (con't)
Conservation Priorities
Reserve Size & Valuation
Intergovernmental Institutions
Communication, Education
Indigenous people
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References (1)
References (2)
References (3)
References (4)
References (5)
Foods & Genetic Diversity
Medicinal Drugs & Pesticides
Logging (con't)
Increasing Productivity
Types of Reserves
Developing nations
International Organizations

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Kids version of this section
- How can we save rainforests?
- Education
- Rehabilitation
- Sustainable development
- Parks
- Eco-friendly companies
- Ecotourism
- What you can do

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