Impacts of Nature Reserves on Local People and Cultures

“The ultimate challenge facing conservationists today is not only to reconcile errors of the past but also to determine how to shape human interactions with nature in landscapes of which people are a part”.  Brockington, Igoe, and Schmidt-Soltau (2006)


Maasai Members - Tanzania

Maasai Members, Tanzania

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Omo National Park - Mursi boy fishing

Mursi Boy, Ethiopia

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Research Questions:

What are the definitions of fortress conservation and community-based conservation, and how are they different?

What are some examples of nature reserves that have benefited local people?

What are some examples of nature reserves that have harmed local people?



 The functions of protected areas benefit both the local and global community including: conservation of natural resources, ecosystem services, reducing/eliminating deforestation, providing  carbon sinks, protecting biodiversity, and protection from threats by local people, including fuelwood collection, slash and burn agriculture, and overgrazing.  Unfortunately throughout history the creation of natural resource reserves has often come at the cost of local people who utilize the area for everyday survival. The threats to local peoples are numerous, including: compromising local culture, infringement on local land rights, damage or destruction of local livelihoods, and threats to local survival.  Naturally in cases where these threats have materialized, animosity between local people and conservationists has arisen.

When conservation areas are planned in ways that incorporate the needs, knowledge, and skills of local people, they can provide the local community with sustainable income, stabilized food and fuelwood resources, and provide them with healthcare and technology.  Some argue that ecotourism-centered community-based conservation still promotes globalization, however those who encourage community-based conservation argue that globalization is inevitable, so it might as well be in a way that is environmentally beneficial.

This website will contrast two opposing methods of protected area development: fortress conservation and community-based conservation, as well as assess the positive and negative impacts of both approaches.

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Fortress Conservation

Fortress Conservation: "An approach that seeks to preserve wildlife and their habitat through forceful exclusion of local people who have traditionally relied on the environment in question for their livelihoods." (Brockington, 2002)

Fortress conservation is based on three assumptions: 1) wilderness is “asocial” and free from human impact and activity, 2) humans and nature are separate and humans are either uninvolved or dominant over nature, and 3) nature should be utilized by humans in whatever ways benefit them (Igoe 2004).  When fortress conservation is implemented, as will be illustrated by examples below, local people in an area designated as a protected area (such as a national park, nature reserve, or game area), are evicted from their homes and forcibly relocated.  This is done with little or no subsidies or assistance, usually leaving the people in poverty and with great resentment.  Often accused of being “green imperialism”, fortress conservation is often seen when conservationists (eg. biologists, NGOs, environmentalists) establish protected areas in developing nations; most examples of fortress conservation are seen in East Africa (Igoe 2004).

Examples of Fortress Conservation:




Tanzania: Tarangire National Park

  • The semi-nomadic Maasai people have occupied southern Kenya and northern Tanzania since the 1400s. Their population today is between 500,000 - 1,000,000
  • Cattle is very important to Maasai culture and economy
  • The Tanzanian government implemented eminent domain in 1970 to create Tarangire National Park, and in doing so took a large portion of the Maasai’s most important grazing land with no reciprocity or subsidies
  • Today the Maasai state that their largest loss of land "has been to national parks and reserves, in which the Maasai people are restricted from accessing critical water sources, pasture, and salt lick" (The Maasai Association, 2009)
  • When one does a general search for Tarangire National Park, the only sources found are those advertising the beautiful landscape and successful conservation; no sites appear about the impacts on the Maasai people

The Maasai Association

Tanzania National Parks

India: Project Tiger

  • Project Tiger began in 1973
  • In anticipation of the Project, the Indian government passed the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972, which required the police to remove all people living in areas that were to be designated as tiger reserves. Thousands of forest-dwelling citizens were removed from their homes.
  • The ecological successes of Project Tiger are under debate. The absense of people gave way to an influx in ciminal activity in the reserves, including poaching, illegal logging, and drug trafficking
  • Some people are now allowed to live within the reserves; however because they are still technically illegal residents, they receive no government aid such as schools, electricity, telephones or healthcare (Greenough, 2003)


Project Tiger homepage

The Wildlife Protection Act

United States: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • The US government began removing residents of the southern Appalachians in the late 1920s in anticipation of creating GSMNP and continued through the 1940s.
  • Those relocated were given no subisidies or goverment assistance. As this was in the midst of the Great Depression, many families were thrown into poverty
  • Homes, schools, and churchs inside the new park grounds were destroyed. A few families were resilient and remained in the park, but were essentially forced out after all resources (eg schools) had been removed.
  • Some believe that present-day anti-environmentalism sentiments in the GSMNP region stems from the descendents of those who were relocated from the park (Williams, 2002)
  • GSMNP was a conservation success; today it is the most-visited national park in the United States (NPS, 2009)

Tennesse Encyclopedia: Information about the removal of residents from GSMNP

Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
Project Tiger, India
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, United States

Elephants in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

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Tiger in Project Tiger Reserve

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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For a list of links about fortress conservation, see below:

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Community-Based Conservation

Community-based Conservation: A conservation approach which "seeks to protect larger areas of land by encouraging local stewardship and integrating social and environmental priorities." (Future Generations, 2009)

Community-based conservation is based on the idea that conservation and development can be simultaneous achieved (Berkes, 2004). It began gaining popularity in the 1980s in response to outrage over the detrimental impacts of fortress conservation. Community-based conservation can be initiated through subsidies or ecotourism.  There have been successful community-based conservation projects, however it is not yet a flawless system.  Subsidies in some projects have proven to be unsustainable (Gezon, 1997).  Altering a local economy to being tourism-based can make it vulnerable to the potentially-fluctuating tourism market (Stronza, 2009).  In general, however, it is considered by social scientists as well as many conservationists to be more ecologically and socially just and sustainable than fortress conservation.

Examples of Community-Based Conservation:




Peru: Posada Amazonas

  • Posada Amazonas is an ecolodge located in Madre de Dios, Peru that was built in 1999
  • The lodge was built as a joint effort between Rainforest Expeditions and the local community Infierno. Mangament is split between them 50-50
  • The majority of the profits (60%) go directly to Infierno, whereas 40% go to Rainforest Expeditions
  • A 20 year contract was signed between Rainforest Expeditions and Infierno, afterwhich ownership will belong solely to Infierno.
  • Infierno has had positive impacts, such as an average 25% increase per family annual income, and a renewed interest in traditional language, stories, and culture (Stronza, 2005; Stronza, 2009). There have been negative impacts, as well as impacts that are debatebly positive or negative. The community has become increasingly economically stratified as those more involved with the lodge have become wealthier. The majority of lodge employees are men, and as a result women have had to take on the traditional roles of their husbands - such as maintaining and selling crops - in addition to their own roles. As a result of the increased income and influx of tourism, the community is becoming increasingly "Westernized", with t.v.s, radios, and karoke machines (Stronza, 2009).

Posada Amazonas site

Critical Ecosystem article about Posada Amazonas

Economic Impacts of Posada Amazonas

Ghana: Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary

  • The Tafi people believe that the local mona and potas monkeys are sacred and have been protecting them for over 200 years
  • In the 1990s the forest was threatened by logging, hunting, farming and invasive pest species and the Tafi community sought help to protect it. Several clans in the community donated their forest area to become a sanctuary.
  • The National Conservation Research Center, a Ghanaian conservation NGO, worked to recieve a grant from the Japanese government, which was used for reforestatoin and to build a visitors center.
  • In 1995 Peace Corps volunteers assisted with building and infrastructure. From 2002-2004 USAID assisted with providing new facilities, marketing and training.
  • Members from the local community work as tour guides and attend the visitors center, gift shop, and ecolodge (NCRC, 2009; Zeppel, 2007).
  • Proceeds from the operation are said to be enough to support the entire Tafi community.

National Conservation Reserach Center Website

History of Tafi Atome

Forestry Commission of Ghana - Information on Tafi Atome

China: Wolong Nature Reserve

  • Wolong was established 1975 as a joint effort between the Chinese government and several international conservation groups including the World Wildlife Fund
  • It covers over 200,000 ha and contains more than 10% of the world’s panda population
  • Wolong was not originally a traditional CBC project, although it did anticipate tourism benefiting the local people.  The influx of tourism did bring increased revenue to the people, who in response increased their demand for fuelwood.  They began illegally harvesting this fuelwood from the Reserve, and by the 1990s it was in worse condition that before it had become a Reserve
  • In 2001 the Chinese government began paying the community around Wolong two subsidies: the first to monitor illegal logging, and the second to help families install and afford electricity to reduce fuelwood dependency.  As a result, Wolong is improving and is considered an ecological success (Lehrer, 2008).

Conservation Magazine Article on Wolong

Travel China Guide - Information on Wolong

Panda breeding colony in Wolong


Posada Amazonas, Peru
Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary, Ghana
Pandas in Wolong Nature Reserve, China

Posada Amazonas, Peru

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Mona Monkey in Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary, Ghana

Image by C. Jane Anderson

Pandas in Wolong Nature Reserve, China

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For a list of links related to community-based conservation, see below

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Future Implications

There is agreement nowadays that ‘getting people out of parks’ should give way to a growing…view that certain kinds of humans – those with acceptable low technologies and benevolent motives- may be necessary for the long-term conservation of animals, forests, and biodiversityGreenough (2003).

 Conservation professionals and park planners must work to ensure that the needs and livelihoods of indigenous cultures are protected when designating and designing conservation areas.  A code of standard ethics should be developed to ensure that all projects are operated in ways that are environmentally and socially just. Additionally future projects should incorporate the expertise of biologists, economists, anthropologists, sociologists, and local people to ensure that projects are sustainable and locally feasible. Brockington, Igoe, and Schmidt-Soltau (2006) Write that the following questions should be considered for future conservation initiatives: “What are the impacts of current human use on the landscape and different taxa? What are the long-term trends of patterns of human resource use? Will currently benign forms of use continue? How can coexistence with diverse aspects of nature be promoted?”


Related Links:

Fortress Conservation:

Brockington and Igoe, "A global overview of eviction for conservation"

Impacts of forced expulsion on native people

Simon Ward, "The End of Fortress Conservation?"

Mark Dowie, “The Hidden Cost of Paradise”

First Peoples Worldwide, “Conservation Evictions”

Information about the AFP Administration of Omo and Mago


Community-Based Conservation:

Community Conservation, Inc

Canaima National Park: How The Nature Conservancy is working with the Pemón people

Fikret Berkes, "Rethinking Community-Based Conservation"

Community-Based Conservation in Tanzania and Zimbabwe

Mexican Community Forestry

Community benefits from conservation


Other Related Links:

Information from the World Wildlife Fund about Protected Areas

Does your summer vacation impact indigenous people?

Impacts of Yasuni Park, Ecaudor, on the ancestoral Huaorani people

Patricia Waak, "Human Impacts, Biodiversity, and Protected Areas"

H. Zeppel, "Indigenous Ecotourism Sustainable Development and Management"


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Community-based Conservation: A conservation approach which "seeks to protect larger areas of land by encouraging local stewardship and integrating social and environmental priorities." (Future Generations, 2009)

Ecotourism: "Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." (TIES, 2009)

Eminent Domain: "The power of the federal or state government to take private property for a public purpose, even if the property owner objects." (Nolo, 2009)

Fortress Conservation: "An approach that seeks to preserve wildlife and their habitat through forceful exclusion of local people who have traditionally relied on the environment in question for their livelihoods." (Brockington, 2002)

Green Imperialism: “A case of Western scientists declaring the environment a ‘global resource’ to justify seizing control over other countries’ territory” (Stille 2002)

Globalization: "A process of interaction and integration among the people, companies, and governments of different nations, a process driven by international trade and investment and aided by information technology. This process has effects on the environment, on culture, on political systems, on economic development and prosperity, and on human physical well-being in societies around the world." (The Levin Institute, 2009) Essentially globalization is the homogenization of ideas, traditions, knowledge, etc accross cultures. Globalization is typically regarded as negative, as it reduces cultural distinctiveness.

Protected Area: An area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and of natural and associated cultural resources, managed through legal or other effective means. (UNEP, 2009)

Tarangire National Park Tanzania

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Brockington, D., Igoe, J., and Schmidt-Soltau, K. 2006. Conservation, Human Rights, and Poverty Reduction. Conservation Biology 20(1): 250-252.

Gezon, L. (1997). Institutional structure and the effectiveness of integrated conservation and development projects: A case study from Madagascar. Human Organization 56 (4): 462-470

Greenough, P.  2003.  Bio-ironies of the fractured forest: India’s tiger reserves.  In C. Slater (Ed.), In Search of the Rain Forest (pp 168 – 203).  Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Igoe, J. (2004). Fortress conservation: A social history of national parks. In J. A. Young (Ed.),
Conservation and Globalization: A Study of National Parks and Indigenous Communities from East Africa to South Dakota (pp. 69-102). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth / Thompson Learning.

Lehrer, J.  2008.  Ecological Freakonomics.   Conservation Magazine. 9.3 (2008)

The Maasai Association. (2009). An All-Maasai Organization. Retrived March 15, 2009, from

National Park Service. (2009). Great Smoky Mountains. Retrived April 16, 2009, from

Stille, A.  2002. Protecting species in Madagascar.  The Future of the Past.  (ch. 5).  New York: Picador 123-154

Stronza, A.  2005.  Hosts and hosts: The anthropology of community-based ecotourism in the Peruvian Amazon.  NAPA Bulletin 23.1 (2005): 170-190.

Stronza, A. 2009. Personal communication 4/6/09.

Williams, M.  2002.  When I can read my title clear: Anti-environmentalism and sense of place in the Great Smokey Mountains.  In B.J. Howell (Ed,), Culture, Environment, and Conservation in the Appalachian South (pp. 87-99).  Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Zeppel, H. (2007). Indigenous ecotourism: Sustainable development and management. Oxford University Press. pp. 308


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