How do property rights and land tenure shape tropical forest conservation?

Many of the world’s most carbon-heavy and biodiverse forests exist in tropical regions where land ownership is ill-defined, contested, or insecure. This uncertainty presents a challenge for conservation and risks for local forest-dependent people. In Ecuador I’m collaborating with a team of researchers, NGO leaders and lawyers to study the impact of land titling projects on forested lands lying in and around protected areas. We’re also assessing how payments for conservation are affecting local land use. Beyond Ecuador, I’m also part of a research group supported by The Nature Conservancy that is investigating linkages between land tenure systems, governance and forest conservation in a range of tropical sites.

How can we balance wildlife conservation goals with local livelihood concerns?

Populations of large wild animals, like elephants, have declined precipitously in most of the planet. Where these animals persist, they often come into conflict with local people. The stakes are particularly high in a country like Uganda, where threatened populations of elephants, chimpanzees and other wildlife persist in parks and reserves surrounded by poor, smallholder farmers. I have been monitoring wildlife crop damage in farms neighboring Kibale National Park, Uganda so as to better understand how the risk of crop loss to wildlife shapes land use and livelihoods. In turn, I’m also interested in how land use changes affect patterns of wildlife foraging beyond park boundaries.

I’ve also been engaged in research on public opinion regarding wolf recovery in Wisconsin. Of late I’ve been particularly interested in understanding if and how wildlife monitoring technology (e.g. satellite collars that deliver precise locations of wolves) and livestock damage compensation programs shape public attitudes toward wolves. These management strategies may improve rural tolerance to wolves during critical recovery periods, but they potentially reinforce the belief that the ‘default’ landscape is wolf-free.