The epistemic community of conservation biology has a normative and epistemological engagement with human population growth and biodiversity conservation on the edges of protected areas (PAs). This article unpacks how this epistemic community frames, analyzes, and discusses the debate about human population growth around PAs. In other words, the community’s shared sets of causal and principled beliefs (normative commitments) and its consensual knowledge base (epistemology and methodology) (Bloodgood 2008) continue to influence how conservation science engages with questions driven by the issue of human migration and population growth on PA edges. Ultimately, despite advances in the analysis of intertwined moral commitments and metrics used in conservation biology and conservation science, engagement with the problem of human groups moving to, living near, and growing in PA buffer zones continues to be colored by fundamental assumptions about the threat human populations pose to conservation success. Furthermore, this issue highlights a continued debate regarding the most appropriate scales and analyses for understanding the demographic influences of PAs.
Over the past two decades, conservation biologists and policy makers have grown increasingly interested in analyzing the effectiveness and efficiency of conservation interventions, especially in PAs (see Chape et al. 2005; Lotze-Campen et al. 2008; Stem et al. 2005; J. Watson et al. 2016). In light of the continuing loss of global biodiversity (Butchart et al. 2010; Pimm et al. 2014), which is often equated to a sixth mass extinction (Bindé 2015; E. Wilson 2007), as well as the limited funds available to expand and maintain global conservation efforts (Adams et al. 2014; Salafsky and Margoluis 1999), the conservation community expresses considerable concern that efforts are not efficiently protecting biodiversity.
As a result, concerted efforts were made to develop measures for the relationships between PAs and biodiversity conservation. These efforts generally attempt to do one of the following: (1) determine where limited funds should be applied to help develop new or strengthen existing conservation efforts (e.g., Humphries et al. 1995; Shafer 1999; J. Watson et al. 2016; (2) analyze the effectiveness of existing PAs and integrated conservation and development projects (ICDPs) at protecting biodiversity (e.g., Salzer and Salafsky 2006); or (3) propose or develop plans for monitoring and measuring the risks/vulnerabilities/threats to biodiversity within and around PAs (e.g., Adams 2014; Kremen et al. 1994; Salafsky and Margoluis 1999; Sarkar et al. 2006). Caroline Stem and colleagues (2005) provide an excellent early overview of the various ways in which monitoring and evaluation was to be included in conservation planning and implementation. The issue of human population growth and migration on PA edges intersects with all three of these concerns and provides an exceptional opportunity to investigate how conservation analyses and planning intersect with on-the-ground issues.
Determining Conservation Priorities, Threats, and Impacts: Biodiversity or Human Well-Being?
Despite difficulties and vagaries in operationalizing biodiversity (see Agrawal and Redford 2006; Boyle and Sayer 1995; Heink and Kowarik 2010; Gillespie et al. 2008; Purvis and Hector 2000; Santana 2014; Sarkar et al. 2006; Zeide 1997, the concept still dominates conservation biology as both a science and a practice. With more than 25 years as a unifying measurement, biodiversity has significant momentum in both scientific and policy circles despite its known limitations. The urgent need to determine the best places and methods for conserving biodiversity is driven by the continued and accelerating decline of global biodiversity as a result of habitat conversion (Butchart et al. 2010) and is further constrained by the limited funds to engage the issue. In light of this continued decline in global and local biodiversity, PAs remain one of the central methods to combat the issue. For example, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020 call for the expansion beyond the 12 percent achieved by 2010 to “17 percent of terrestrial and inland water … conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures” (CBD 2016). Yet, despite the continuing growth of the PA estate, biodiversity continues to decline (Coad et al. 2015). This fact calls into question the effectiveness of PA placement and PAs themselves, which in turn has led to calls for increased efforts at monitoring PAs and their surroundings.
Considering several decades as the dominant mode of conserving biodiversity, it would be expected that PAs have been implemented in systematic ways to directly address areas of prime biodiversity that are threatened by habitat loss. However, despite global targets, and reporting of individual countries regarding their progress toward these targets in terms of raw area, few countries have systematically implemented PAs in order to protect areas that are representative of biodiversity priorities. Thus, countries often focus on PA expansion in areas with low social and economic costs but minimal conservation value in terms of protecting threatened or unique biodiversity (Joppa and Pfaff 2010, 2011; J. Watson et al. 2016). In fact, PAs are frequently not correlated with conservation priorities (Chape et al. 2005; J. Watson et al. 2016).
In addition to the known failure of PAs to protect representative biodiversity, the monitoring of their actual impact in comparison to a no-protection scenario is largely nonexistent (Lotze-Campen et al. 2008; J. Watson et. al 2016). Not only is the data scarce (Lotze-Campen et al. 2008), but the motivation, pressure, and money to conduct impact evaluations has been largely nonexistent until relatively recent calls for accountability developed (Adams et al. 2014). Conservation nongovernment organizations (NGOs) have been at the forefront of developing and adapting techniques for impact assessment vis-à-vis biodiversity (Stem et al. 2005). There were also early calls for ecological monitoring to assess the significant international investment in ICDP programs that began during the 1990s (Kremen et al. 1994).
In addition to simple analysis of what impacts PAs have on biodiversity itself, there is also growing interest in analyses of whether and how PAs are coping with vulnerabilities and/or threats to the integrity of the biodiversity within and outside PAs (see Salafsky and Margoluis 1999; K. Wilson et al. 2005). Calls for increased measurement of whether PAs are actually protecting priority biodiversity areas, the effectiveness of individual PAs and PA networks, and the threats posed to PAs (and their biodiversity) are juxtaposed against the backdrop of continual decline of biodiversity (J. Watson et al. 2016). The continuing failure of isolated PAs to prevent biodiversity loss, desires for the development of connectivity between PAs to stem genetic isolation of species within PAs, and calls for grappling with threats to PAs have necessarily extended the vision of PA policies, measurement, and concerns beyond the borders of PAs to areas usually referred to as buffer zones. Along with this increased attention to biodiversity effects within buffer zones, a renewed focus on human population dynamics, particularly migration, as a result of ICDP policies has developed in these same spaces. More specifically, recent analyses using case studies, demographic data, and spatial technologies have attempted to determine the biodiversity threat posed by growing human populations on PA edges.
What Is Conservation Biology and What Is Conservation Science?
Before delving in to a discussion of PAs and human migration, it is important to clarify what is meant here by conservation biology, discuss a few of its foundational assumptions, and highlight how the field has changed in the recent past. First, conservation biology is a rather young “discipline” founded in the 1970s and institutionalized by the mid-1980s. It is a “multidisciplinary science that has developed to address the loss of biological diversity” (Gerber 2010: 14). While it is often characterized as the application of biology and ecology to the management of parks and protected areas, conservation biology is also involved in development planning, habitat restoration, exotics species control, and work with endangered/threatened species (Gerber 2010; Soulé 1985). While its work is similar to wildlife and natural resource fields, a key difference at the time of its foundation was conservation biology’s explicit commitment to the intrinsic value of all species, whereas natural resource fields tend to focus on those species with the most economic or aesthetic value (Adams et al. 2014; Gerber 2010; Soulé 1985).
This commitment to the intrinsic value of all species points to one of the key distinguishing elements of conservation biology’s foundation: that it is a “crisis discipline.” As such, “ethical norms are a genuine part of conservation biology, as they are in all mission- or crisis-oriented disciplines.” Therefore, conservation biology compares to biology and/or ecology in a way that is “analogous to that of surgery to physiology and war to political science” (Soulé 1985: 727). An effect of conservation biology’s activist, normative, and crisis orientation is that conservation biologists must act before knowing the facts. As a result of this position, conservation biology was largely focused upon increasing the number of PAs and the amount of land/ocean under PA management that either removed or restricted human interference in those spaces. Put more simply, the focus for conservation biology was on the preservation of nonhuman “nature,” which often emphasized its intrinsic value (Palomo et al. 2014).
Over the past 20 years, conservation practice has moved away from this unidimensional approach due to the stark realities facing conservation efforts outlined above. Conservation science has arisen as a dominant force over the past 10 years. It is particularly concerned with creating effective conservation efforts in light of the increasing human populations, increasing consumption, increasing habitat loss, continuing loss of biodiversity, decreasing land availability for conservation, and concerns regarding the role of conservation in both creating and/or alleviating poverty (Kareiva 2014; Kareiva and Marvier 2013; Marvier 2014; Petriello and Wallen 2015). One of the more significant splits from traditional conservation biology found in conservation science is its deprioritization of the intrinsic value of nature and the perspective that conservation should not be a “crisis discipline” focused only on the preservation of biodiversity regardless of evidence for the efficiency or effectiveness of such interventions.
Put another way, conservation science strives to create effective conservation interventions and reprioritizes human needs in its analysis. As Peter Kareiva and Michelle Marvier (2013 962) put it, “ecological dynamics cannot be separated from human dynamics … Unlike conservation biology, conservation science has as a key goal the improvement of human well-being through the management of the environment.” Thus, conservation science seeks to improve conservation outcomes by reemphasizing the human drivers of biodiversity loss and creating interventions that employ current socioeconomic systems in an attempt to improve the likelihood of conservation success. For conservation science, part of this success hinges on demonstrating how conservation benefits people via the identification of ecosystem services it provides to humanity (Kareiva and Marvier 2013; Palomo et al. 2014). Conservation science also brings increasing attention to locations outside the boundaries of protected areas and to larger-scale, landscape-level initiatives, which is in direct contrast to the PA-based approach of conservation biology.
Ultimately, conservation science signals a shift away from what is often labeled the “biocentric” approach of conservation biology to an “anthropocentric” approach. Conservation science relies on evidence-based approaches that are often based on scaled-up meta-analyses of conditions, inputs, and conservation outcomes. Perhaps the shift to conservation science is best summed up by Marvier’s (2014: 2) when she states: “conservation absolutely needs protected areas, but it also needs new solutions that tackle the systemic root causes of planetary degradation. In light of this, my colleagues and I advocate that conservation must expand its toolbox and experiment with new approaches.”
The issue of human population growth via migration to PA edges is clearly a concern to both perspectives within conservation. The task, then, is to provide the reader with an overview of scholarly engagement with the interrelationship between PAs, population growth, and migration. Ultimately, this history will provide a backdrop for an analysis of how scholarship in the wake of George Wittemyer and colleagues’ (2008) meta-analysis on migration to PA edges demonstrates the pervasiveness of biocentric ideals despite the conservation science intervention.
Ideological Roots of Conservationist Stances on Human Population and Protected Areas
Conservationist perspectives were clearly framed in the eighteenth century by Thomas Malthus’s ( 1998) interpretation of human population growth and its impacts on the environment. Conservation biology was undergirded by neo-Malthusian thought regarding the existential threat to the environment posed by human population growth, particularly in the developing world (e.g., Ehrlich 1968; Hardin 1968; Meadows 1972). The rise of conservation biology coincided with the global push for PA amplification as a primary tool to combat the loss of biodiversity. International targets for formal protection as PAs began in earnest with the first World Parks Congress in 1982 (Naughton-Treves et al. 2005). Yet, global initiatives for conservation via PAs, particularly national parks, were built on the ideologies and context of the early conservationists, primarily those located within the United States. A thorough review of the history of the connection between national parks and the conservation movement is not feasible.1 Many have dissected how US National Park development was steeped in intellectual, economic, and political conditions of the late nineteenth century (see Cronon 1995; Igoe 2004; Shafer 1999; Spence 1999). However, it is important to point out that this model for intervention was underpinned by a perspective that saw human population growth as a scourge and prioritized conservation based on the preservation of humanless wildernesses.
The intent of this article is not to contend that human activity does not impact and endanger species and ecosystems. However, it remains clear that these early preservationist attitudes continue to cast a long shadow on how growing human populations on PA borders are perceived, measured, and engaged.
Population, Growth, and Migration: An Existential Threat
Beginning in the 1970s, a number of scholars began to openly discuss the threat to ecosystems and/or “wild nature”—what would be now called biodiversity—posed by population growth. The general concern was that population growth threatened unaltered systems and was creating a “fin de siècle environmental crisis,” particularly in the tropics (Robinson 1991: 8). Early commentary referenced population-induced threats to ecosystems and endangered species as a rationale for the continued expansion of PAs. A. V. Hall (1978) references Max Nicholson’s (1970) survey on human numbers suggesting that they were witnessing a “Great Siege of Nature” that could only be stemmed via conservation. As Hall (1978: 38) puts it: “The invasion of wild nature by man was shown to be an accelerating process that would continue for many years, driven mainly by the rising pressures caused by human population growth … only relicts of the rich fabric of wild nature would remain in most parts of the world. These relicts would survive only in refuges sternly defended by conservationists.” This early work characterizes humans and human population growth as existential threats to PAs and the endangered species they protect. Thus, both population monitoring and ecosystem research were deemed necessary for nature reserve management.
Literature specifically focused on the dynamic interactions between population growth and PAs was sparse throughout the 1980s but gained momentum in the 1990s. This surge of interest coincides with the signing of the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. In Rio de Janeiro, the international target of 10 percent of global terrain in PAs was set, and funding mechanisms, particularly the World Bank’s Global Environmental Facility (GEF), were developed. As global PA expansion gained momentum the potential for conflict from simultaneous population expansion became a more prominent concern. David Harmon and Steven Brechin (1994: 113) connect the issues of PA expansion, population growth, and human development, stating, “People who are concerned with protected areas must be concerned with population issues.” More plainly, James Ypsilantis (1992: 64) says, “Demographic factors will pose an increasing threat to protected areas and it is essential to consider these in the planning and management of protected areas.”
Further evidence of the growing concern about population-induced threats to PAs is found in the discussions at the fourth World Parks Congress in 1992. At that meeting, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) put together a special workshop entitled “Protected Areas and Demographic Change: Planning for the Future.” Workshop members lamented the scarcity of literature linking demographic factors to PA threats and/or ecosystem vulnerability (Ypsilantis 1992). Despite a paucity of actual data, they manage to paint a grim future for PAs. For example, one paper states that population increases will make it difficult to single out areas rich in species, and “as a result parks and protected areas may become institutions of the past, unless human populations are allowed to inhabit them” (Van den Oever and Suprapto 1992: 37). Ypsilantis (1992: 47) states, “In numerous areas experiencing population growth, pressures to reduce the size of protected areas are growing while reports of illegal hunting, or other extractive activities; and encroachment upon, or cultivation within; protected areas are increasing.” Put more simply, John Rowley (1992: 6) says, “Protected areas of all sorts are under human pressure.” It is clear that, by this time, experts already determined that demographic growth was a principle threat to conservation, which reinforced the “crisis mode” perspective advocated by conservation biologists.
To their credit, workshop participants recognized that PA threats were also driven by increasing global consumption in the developed world and poverty in many lesser-developed countries. Despite this acknowledgment, most placed crude population growth first in their list of drivers of environmental change and threats to PAs (see Rowley 1992; Van den Oever and Suprapto 1992; Ypsilantis 1992: 47). This early engagement also suggests that demographic pressures around PAs were not solely linked to natural growth. Ypsilantis (1992) suggests that in-migration, driven by economic/environmental issues in distant areas or by the positive environmental and economic conditions found around PAs, could influence demographics and threaten PA integrity. Finally, these authors recognize that PA management should not solely be a biological concern, but that attention should also be paid to the social, political, and economic context of PAs (Aramburú et al. 1998). Harmon and Brechin (1994) implore conservationists to include economic and social justice issues in their approaches, stating that investing in women’s education and family planning should be a conservation policy.
At this same time, the potential for conflicts between PAs and the needs of growing, impoverished populations was recognized, which led to emergence of the integrated conservation and development projects (ICDPs) as a means to cope with conflicting interests, reduce environmental degradation, and encourage sustainable development. In theory, ICDPs increased local participation in PA management, local livelihood benefits from alternative economies via nonextractive use of PAs (e.g., ecotourism), and the maintenance of sustainable community resource use in buffer areas. It was theorized that this increased attention to local needs would increase PA legitimacy in the minds of locals and reduce threats to biodiversity within and around PAs (Wells et al. 1992). In other words, ICDPs are meant to give local communities “greater stake in protecting or sustainably using resources with the protected area” (Aramburú et al. 1998). Concern regarding PAs’ socioeconomic impacts on “local” people and the effectiveness of ICDPs became an area of vigorous advocacy, scholarship, and policy within conservation biology and associated disciplines (Borgerhoff-Mulder and Coppolillo 2004).
Some systematic analyses of early ICDP efforts called into question the effectiveness of ICDPs at conserving biodiversity (Barrett and Arcese 1995). In particular, there were immediate concerns expressed about the demographic effects of ICDPs and other “people-focused” conservation interventions. More specifically, concern arose regarding the potential links between human in-migration to PA borders and the development benefits provided by ICDPs in the form of economic opportunities, infrastructure, and government support (Aramburú et al. 1998; Peter Scholte 2003; Sherbinin 1998; Sherbinin and Freudenberger 1998). This situation is often referred to as the “conservation catch-22,” indicating ambivalence and concern that this interaction between PAs and in-migration will lead to negligible biodiversity outcomes (Joppa 2012; Terborgh and Peres 2002). The title of Peter Scholte’s (2003) article encompasses this concern by calling immigration “A Potential Time Bomb under the Integration of Conservation and Development.” Carlos Aramburú and colleagues (1998) unequivocally state that the biggest demographic impact on PAs is from migration, particularly of adult males. Furthermore, multiple authors express particular concern for ICDP success and the attraction of poor migrants that would exacerbate the utilization of resources by existing poor communities, and thereby threaten biodiversity because of overuse and habitat degradation (Salafsky 1994; Peter Scholte 2003).
These early writings on the links between ICDPs, PAs, and the “pull” effects they would create are strong in rhetoric but weak in data. In fact, ICDP implementation had not included demographic analyses as part of their impact measurements (Peter Scholte 2003). Thus, “authoritative” scholarship and the supposed universality of ICDP-induced migration were based on a few regularly cited cases. The cases frequently cited as indicative of this trend include: the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador (Peter Scholte 2003; Sherbinin and Freudenberger 1998), the Waza-Logone ICDP in west central Africa (Peter Scholte 2003; Sherbinin and Freudenberger 1998), Guatemala’s Peten region (Harmon and Brechin 1994; Ypsilantis 1992), and the PAs of the Serengeti region of Tanzania and Kenya (Harmon and Brechin 1994).
The use of these case studies to explain and predict the impacts of PAs and ICDPs on in-migration is not surprising, because reliable metadata on this relationship was, and is, sparse. Evidence from case studies, while not problematic in terms of their authority to discuss local contexts, was used to support divergent explanations of the ICDP-population relationship. Most of the authors did recognize that teasing out the effect of ICDPs on migration is difficult and that close contextual analyses of the migration drivers, both “push” and “pull,” must be understood by PA managers and policy makers (Sherbinin and Freudenberger 1998).
Despite this contention, awareness of the need to understand demographic, economic, and ecological changes outside of PAs and in relation to ICDP implementation became increasingly important. As Sherbinin (1998: 1) put it, “If protected areas are islands, sometimes arranged in archipelagos called ‘networks,’ and if the bioregional approach demands attention to the state of biological resources immediately surrounding them, then the rising tide of human population in buffer zones and even within protected areas themselves needs to be taken into account in parks planning and management.” It is precisely the sticky problem between consistent, explanatory measurement and anecdotal, contextual data regarding the relationship between PAs, biodiversity, and their interactions with human populations bordering them that is the focus of the rest of this article.
Analyzing Human Population Growth on PA Edges
As was developed earlier, concern regarding the impacts of population growth on biodiversity within and outside PAs developed simultaneously with increasing investment in PAs to stem biodiversity loss, especially in the tropics. Conservation biologists and PA managers have employed limited evidence to indicate that human migration into and near PAs can cause the loss of PA biodiversity due to pressure on resources in buffer zones (Bilsborrow 2002; Carr 2008; Haenn 2005; Oglethorpe et al. 2007; Paul Scholte and Groot 2010). Only a handful of authors have attempted to develop theoretical models explaining the oft-observed relationship between PAs and population growth, particularly via migration. Employing multiple case studies, Judy Oglethorpe and colleagues (2007) emphasize understanding both the “push” and “pull” factors that drive migration. “Push” factors are those that drive someone to migrate away from a community; “pull” factors are those conditions that would draw a migrant to live in an area. Oglethorpe and colleagues (2007) suggest that each PA will have its own unique set of “push” and “pull” factors that motivate migrants’ decisions, and that many of these factors are driven by extralocal conditions and policies. They argue for a contextual approach, which does not provide an explanatory model of the role that PAs play in attracting migrants. It is precisely this lack of explanation that has driven others to study and attempt to model this interaction.
Paul Scholte and Woutert de Groot (2010) suggest two additional models that may describe migration toward PAs, the “frontier engulfment” and “incidental mechanisms” models. In the former, the buffer zones of PAs established in remote areas are engulfed by an extraction frontier (e.g., logging) and subsequently by an agricultural frontier because they offer resource conditions unavailable in migrants’ home communities. As they and others (Hoffman et al. 2011) point out, the “frontier engulfment” model is a “push” model that has little to do with the attraction and direct opportunities produced by the PA. Instead, the lack of resources at home “push” people to migrate in search of these resources, and PAs happen to be established near resource frontiers that migrants are seeking out. In other words, the PA itself plays little role in actually attracting people other than its proximity to a resource frontier. In the “incidental mechanism” model, Scholte and Groot (2010) highlight that factors outside of direct PA opportunities (attraction/“pull”) and resource conditions outside of PAs (resource frontier/“push”) drive human migration to park buffer zones. An example of such an incidental mechanisms would be refugee and/or other resettlement programs.
However, as Scholte and Groot (2010) point out, research into these phenomena continues to be largely unsystematic. Until recently, most analyses of the relationships between PAs, human migration, and biodiversity impacts/threats were based on a case study approach (Joppa 2012). However, over the past few years, more systematic approaches for theorizing and measuring migration to PA buffer zones have been developed. For example, Wittemyer and colleagues’ (2008) demographic analysis of 306 PAs in Latin America and Africa showed human populations growing significantly faster within the 10-kilometer buffer zones than in similar rural areas without a PA. Their analysis of global demographic data suggests a strong role of PAs in the stimulation of population growth, and they hypothesize that parks function primarily in “pull” or “attraction” mode. The authors attribute measured growth in the buffer zones of 245 of these PAs to 20 years of “park-focused integrated conservation and rural development,” and hypothesize that PAs provide economic opportunity and environmental services that function as “pull” factors.
Tracking the Impact of the Wittemyer Model
What follows is an analysis of how Wittemyer and colleagues (2008) have been cited and the ideas the article has been used to support in the conservation literature. A Google Scholar search shows that the article was cited 390 times, and a Scopus Sciverse search results in 240 citations between its publication and February 2017. It is important to not confuse citation numbers with approval or agreement, but an analysis of the overall collection of articles demonstrates that Wittemyer et al. (2008) has been employed to support seven general arguments: (1) PAs attract people; (2) the trend of population growth in PA buffer zones is a global phenomenon; (3) people threaten biodiversity inside PAs; (4) people threaten biodiversity outside PAs; (5) migrants and more people will cause more conflict; (6) PAs are not effective; and (7) conservation must manage people and resources beyond the borders of PAs. The following are examples from the research sample that illustrate these trends.
The first and second categories demonstrate the Wittemyer hypothesis that PAs attract people is frequently employed in an uncritical manner and applied globally (see Balme et al. 2010; Cawthorn and Hoffman 2015; Gaston et al. 2015; Heinen 2010; Larson et al. 2016; Paschoal et al. 2016; Rosenblatt et al. 2016; Ryan et al. 2015; Suzuki and Parker 2016; Urbina-Cardona and Loyola 2008). Hoffman and colleagues (2011) point out that scholarly articles, especially in those fields aligned with conservation biology, quickly “black-boxed” Wittemyer and colleagues’ (2008) claims and hypotheses about the causes of population change and treated them as decisively proven facts. This is despite the fact that their hypotheses were presented as likely to be “context-specific, and [requiring] data collection at local scales” (Wittemyer et al. 2008: 124). For example, Joel Heinen (2010: 148) references Wittemyer when he states, “Lastly, many PAs in developing countries, and especially those in which CBCs and tourism operations have been implemented, act as employment draws for people from other areas.” This statement is likely to be true in some contexts, including Heinen’s description of migration to Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. However, this is not universal, and the continued use of simplistic explanations demonstrates that blanket statements of this type can easily become replicated and reified.
The third and fourth categories demonstrate that the Wittemyer model is frequently used to support a corollary assumption that PA buffer zone population growth necessarily impacts biodiversity within PAs negatively (see Bradshaw et al. 2015; Cawthorn and Hoffman 2015; Critchlow et al. 2015; Dahlberg and Burlando 2009; Hartter et al. 2015; Jones et al. 2009; Paschoal et al. 2016; Spracklen et al. 2015; Van Meter et al. 2009; F. Watson et al. 2014). For example, Corey Bradshaw and colleagues (2015: 117) state, “High human populations surrounding protected areas directly compromise their biodiversity.” Page Van Meter and colleagues (2009: 330) employ the piece to support the statement that “burgeoning human populations near many African wildlife reserves have put increasing pressure on protected lands and resources.” While this is likely to be factually true in some particular cases, many uncritically apply unproven hypothetical relationships stated in Wittemyer et al. (2008) to global conservation contexts. Danielle Jones and colleagues (2009: 1347) epitomizes this process when they declare that land use change “and the resulting threats to resources within the borders of these areas are a global phenomenon.”
The Wittemyer article is also used to support the notion that population growth in PA buffer zones threatens resources and biodiversity outside most, if not all, PAs (see Critchlow et al. 2015; Gutiérrez et al. 2017; Lambin and Meyfroidt 2011; Mercat et al. 2016; Miranda et al. 2016; Monahan et al. 2012). For example, Piran White and colleagues (2009: 275) employ the piece to support the notion that “in many countries, wildlife outside of protected areas and in the areas immediately surrounding protected areas is under greater pressure than ever before.” While their wording avoids universalizing, others are not as cautious. Jones and colleagues (2009: 1347) state, “Change in LULC [land use and land cover] and the resulting threats to resources within the borders of these areas is a global phenomenon.” Again, these trends may occur, but this use of Wittemyer et al. (2008) misses the nuance in their argument, which never states that PAs lead to disproportionate land use intensification and fragmentation ipso facto.
A further extension of similar assumptions is found when authors employ their manuscript as evidence that human-animal or human-human conflict over resources is increasing or will increase (see Heinen and Shrivastava 2009; Holekamp and Dloniak 2010; Selier et al. 2016; Sepúlveda et al. 2015; Taylor et al. 2016). For example, Tien Ming Lee and colleagues (2009: 157) cite Wittemyer et al. (2008) to support the following statement: “the probability of wildlife extinctions and wildlife-human conflicts appears to be positively associated with human densities fringing PAs.” Others assume that combining conservation with development around PAs universally improves the cost-benefit ratio of living on PA edges, which will “increase competition for grazing land and other resources and result in increased settlement and land conversion in wildlife-rich areas all of which can reinforce poverty traps” (Dickman et al. 2011: 4).
These broad-stroke, unidimensional explanations of the relationship between conservation interventions, population growth, human migration, resource degradation, and conflict are then used to suggest that PAs are not effective and fail to protect biodiversity (see Dewi et al. 2013; Hull et al. 2012; Paschoal et al. 2016). For example, Baruch Rinkevich (2008: 1822) states, “Protected areas exacerbated the threats to ‘protected’ biodiversity that they aimed to alleviate.” Others note that “burgeoning human populations in surrounding areas (Wittemyer et al. 2008) militate against the long-term persistence of many species within reserve boundaries” (Peres 2011: 1127).
Finally, others utilize this work to suggest that conservation must extend beyond PAs (Balme et al. 2010; Cripps and Gardner 2016; Tang et al. 2010). Thus, Toby Gardner and colleagues (2010: 562) argue, “the future of much of tropical forest biodiversity depends more than ever on the effective management of human actors and their impacts on landscapes.” Guy Balme and colleagues (2010: 321) support the notion that population growth on park edges necessitates “approaches that manage human activities on both sides of administrative borders” as essential for successful conservation.
Systematic and Contextual Analyses of the Population-Migration-PA Nexus
Despite the problematic citation trends noted above, the Wittemyer article has also inspired research into the relationships between PAs, migration, and human population growth. In a general sense, these studies can be divided into two separate but overlapping analyses that reflect the biocentric versus anthropocentric tensions produced by the turn to conservation science, as well as the methodological and epistemological variations rooted in the ideological commitments of particular academic disciplines. Thus, systematic approaches are being brought to comparative meta-analyses of global data sets, the compilation of case studies, and the analysis of particular case studies (Gupta 2015). Considerable debate regarding the quality and explanatory power of these varying analyses has emerged (Brockington and Wilkie 2015).
At the meta-analysis scale, analyses of human population increases at PA borders actually contradict one another (Ament and Cumming 2016). Wittemyer and colleagues’ (2008) methods have been critiqued as inappropriate because of the use of incompatible population data sets in their comparison between PA buffer zones and similar rural areas (Joppa et al. 2010). In fact, reanalysis of this same issue using only a single data set rather than two yielded no measurable migration impact created by PAs (Joppa et al. 2010; Joppa 2012). Furthermore, spatially explicit analyses comparing growth rates both near (within 10 kilometers) and further away (beyond 10 kilometers) have been conducted on both international (Joppa et al. 2010) and national (Salerno et al. 2014) levels. The assumption here is that areas closer to PAs will show higher growth if, in fact, the PAs and the community development they offer are drawing migrants. However, this effect was not measured in either study. Bradshaw and colleagues’ (2015) multinational analysis found that the proportion of conservation areas in higher levels of protection better predicted biodiversity loss than whether the socioeconomic context in buffer areas of PAs drew migrants. Furthermore, Joshua Cinner and colleagues’ (2016) systematic analysis of marine PAs found that fish biomass was actually higher where local populations were growing due to migration.
On the other hand, many authors question whether these types of meta-analyses are appropriate for describing what are likely to be extremely context-dependent phenomena and the product of a plurality of factors (Ament and Cumming 2016; Brambilla and Ronchi 2016; Guerbois et al. 2013). A. Clare Gupta (2015: 52) notes that case studies “illuminate the shortcomings of relying on global data sets.” For example, Jonathan Salerno and colleagues’ (2014) national-level analysis suggests that, for the case of Tanzanian PAs, measured growth is more likely an effect of people seeking available lands for agriculture. Similarly, Andrew Bamford and colleagues’ (2014) systematic data collection among migrants to PA edges of a Tanzanian game reserve also found that benefits from the PA itself did not drive migration and that the availability of productive agricultural land was a more important factor. These findings align with other contextual analyses that refute the connection between migration and PA development (Davis 2011; Fay 2011; Hartter et al. 2015; Hoffman 2011; Hoffman et al. 2011; Estes et. al 2012; Zommers and MacDonald 2012) and those that instead highlight the costs of living near PAs (Davis 2011; West et al. 2006). Garth Cripps and Charlie Gardner (2016) also point out the difficulty in reconciling the varying scales at work here. In particular, they emphasize that influences on PAs and their biodiversity are by their very nature “local” and contextual, whereas the drivers of human migration can often be working at much larger global, regional, and national scales.
This review began with an introduction to the foundations of the epistemic community of conservation biology, demonstrating that, from its inception, the field has been a normative project intended to protect the intrinsic value of all species from human forces that threaten their extirpation. Further, the article provides a brief overview of the recent shift to conservation science and its critique of the traditional biocentric approach of conservation biology. After establishing conservation’s intellectual and epistemological terrain, the article shifted to an overview of conservationists’ engagement with the interactions between PAs, migration, and human population growth. The culmination of this section was a thorough overview of the ways in which Wittemyer and colleagues’ (2008) article has been employed in the conservation literature. Finally, this article reviewed the analyses and conclusions of various authors inspired to further investigate human population growth in PA buffer zones.
Elizabeth Bloodgood attempts to tease apart the sequential relationship of norms and information in epistemic communities. Like most epistemic communities, that of conservation biology hinges on a “strong norm about the acceptability or desirability of this physical phenomenon” (Bloodgood 2008: 22). What becomes rather clear in the review presented here is that the epistemic community of conservation biology remains largely committed to a biocentric, PA-based conservation as its central tenet despite conservation science’s critique of the effectiveness of such a stance to truly conserve biodiversity.
As Michael Petriello and Kenneth Wallen (2015: 1550) state, conservation biology remains a “‘mission-driven discipline’ fueled by a set of functional and normative postulates” that is built on the notion that biodiversity has intrinsic value. Engagement with the question of human migration to PA edges demonstrates that the intellectual landscape, despite the conservation science intervention, remains considerably influenced by this normative position. In particular, the uncritical replication of Wittemyer and colleagues’ (2008) hypotheses as conclusions demonstrates that many members of the community are willing to accept certain propositions with questionable scientific underpinnings. In some ways, it seems that this biocentric perspective is so ingrained that it is difficult, if not impossible, for conservationists to perceive of human migration as anything other than a threat to biodiversity. A notable example of this is the bias illuminated by Cinner and colleagues’ (2016: 418) statement that “somewhat counter-intuitively, fish biomass was higher in places with high local human population growth rates.” By logical extension, the intuitive position is that migration-driven population growth is inherently connected to biomass loss. Thus, it is evident from this review that there is little resolution of the classic debate between biocentric approaches focused on PAs, biodiversity, and humanless landscapes versus anthropocentric approaches focused on linking PAs to development beyond PAs.
This review also sheds light on the relative merits of nomothetic versus ideographic approaches to understanding the links between PAs, development, in-migration, resource use, and biodiversity loss. As Lucas Joppa (2012) points out, a critical and contentious divide remains regarding the use of meta-analyses to answer conservation questions. The Wittemyer article and the scholarship it has inspired demonstrate that meta-analyses of global phenomena are useful for asking big questions and providing generalizable explanations. However, these generalizations, as Wittemyer and colleagues (2008) themselves point out, are unlikely to capture the context-specific relationships between PAs, migration, and population growth. Importantly, and perhaps problematically, despite conservation science’s anthropocentric leanings, it also seems to prioritize meta-analyses and models over contextual, descriptive understandings of conservation problems. As this analysis points out, prioritizing meta-analyses in conservation science may seriously impede the sorts of progress that it hopes to promulgate.
Finally, this review, particularly the analysis of how the Wittemyer article has been employed, unveils a pernicious perspective among some conservationists toward the combination of conservation and development. Again, despite its significant shortcomings, the Wittemyer article is cited frequently and employed in ways that belie the attitude that many conservation biologists, ecologists, and development professionals have regarding conservation, biodiversity, and human populations. It is clear that how the Wittemyer model has been used in conservation literature demonstrates Alicia Davis’s (2011) conclusion that conservationists do not see PAs themselves as inherent failures but rather place the blame for continued threats to biodiversity on the combination of PAs and development in the interest of local populations. As Davis warns us, the erosion of the links between local development and conservation is a serious blow to 30 years of just and moral conservation praxis intended to overcome the neocolonial nature of conservation interventions. Despite some questions regarding the actual mechanisms employed in the conservation science approach, it seems that if we do not resolve the driving mechanisms, particularly questions of poverty and human livelihoods, we will not stem migration and population growth on PA edges. This being said, it is encouraging that recent work analyzing the impacts of PAs on human well-being (Woodhouse et al. 2015) and the relationship between PAs and poverty (Barrett et al. 2011; Ferraro et al. 2011) demonstrates a growing awareness of and attention to these dynamic interactions.
I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the editors at Environment and Society for their thoughtful and thorough critiques of earlier versions of this article. Their concerns, comments, and suggestions made this a much stronger and more effective article. I would also like to thank the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University for providing research support and office space during my sabbatical in the fall of 2017 during which the bulk of this article was written.
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