BRAZIL: Indigenous reserves key to Amazon conservation, study finds

Using satellite images, a team of scientists from the Woods Hole Research Center and the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazonia has shown that indigenous reserves in the Amazon Basin are as effective as uninhabited national parks in stopping deforestation and forest fires. The study, which was published in the February 2006 issue of Conservation Biology, was unique in its comparison of inhabited versus uninhabited reserves as methods of forest management. The study points to indigenous communities’ commitment to conservation, local leadership, and the ability to patrol and protect their land as reasons for the preservation advantage. "Protecting indigenous and traditional peoples’ lands and natural areas in the Amazon works to stop deforestation," said Daniel Nepstad, lead project scientist of Woods Hole. "The idea that many parks in the tropics only exist on paper must be re-examined, as must the notion that indigenous reserves are less effective than parks in protecting nature."

Scientists analyzed satellite data from 1997–2000, looking for changes in land cover and fire damage—two indicators that usually indicate the presence of slash and burn agriculture, which is the most destructive threat to the forest. Overall, the study showed that parks and inhabitated lands appear relatively equal in their ability to inhibit deforestation. However, indigenous inhabited lands were more effective in protecting forests from incursions by farmers, ranchers, and land speculators. Indigenous peoples currently occupy one-fifth of the Brazilian Amazon, or five times the area of land that is under protection in national parks.