Do Colombia’s protected areas really protect forests? A study using Terra-i’s near real-time monitoring system

Mike Harvey Salazar

Evaluating the effectiveness of protected areas and indigenous reserves in preventing deforestation is becoming more and more important as the crucial role that forests play in climate change mitigation becomes evident. Near real-time remote sensing like Terra-i’s is proving a useful tool for detecting forest cover change trends and identifying the level of protection provided by set-aside lands.

Figure 1. Caño Cristales, or “The River of Five Colors," is located in Sierra de La Macarena National Park and considered one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. Research using Terra-i data from 2005-2011 places this protected area in the “very dissatisfactory” category of conservation effectiveness. Photo: Mario Carvajal.

Information on how effectively Colombia’s protected areas network represents global and national conservation priorities is essential for developing and implementing policies that conserve forest habitats and support development goals.

Mike Salazar-Villegas, Master’s student at the Institute of International Forestry and Forest Products, recently completed his thesis work making use of Terra-i data. His main objectives were 1) to quantify the effectiveness of the Colombian protected areas network in preventing annual forest cover loss from 2005 to 2011, and 2) to identify effective and ineffective protected areas as compared with adjacent, unprotected buffer areas across Colombia.

In his research, Mike evaluated the effectiveness of 80 Colombian protected areas in preventing forest loss under three forest conservation management strategies. He mapped annual forest cover change from 2005 to 2011 using Terra-i’s near real-time remote sensing capabilities (250 m resolution) in combination with GlobCover 2005 (300 m resolution) both inside the protected areas and in a 10 km buffer around them. He used GlobCover to re-classify and identify the extent of evergreen forest cover, and based on these data developed an effectiveness index that included the percentage of forest loss inside protected areas, the annual rate of loss inside protected areas and the comparison of annual rate of loss inside and outside of protected areas.

Not all protected areas are created equal

Mike found that the total forest cover area lost between 2005 and 2011 comprised 0.3% of the protected areas network and 1.1% nationwide, equivalent to 57,000 hectares of forest. Forest loss occurred in 20% of protected areas categorized as National Parks, Natural Monuments or Habitat Management Areas with strict management regimes (categories II-IV of the IUCN’s Protected Areas Categorization System). Indigenous reserves experienced the highest occurrence of forest cover loss, both inside (55%) and outside (60%) the reserves.

More than 50% of Colombia’s protected areas were classified as providing satisfactory or very-satisfactory protection levels. Protected areas with strict management schemes (categories II-IV of the IUCN system) were found more effective at preventing forest cover loss than multiple-use protected areas (indigenous reserves and IUCN category VI).

Figure 2. Spatial distribution of Colombian protected areas by IUCN category (left) and their effectiveness in preventing forest cover loss. Maps: M. Salazar

These findings suggest that loss of evergreen forest cover in the Colombian protected areas network could be substantially lower than countries in Central Africa, South and Southeast Asia. However, they do not explain how factors such as elevation, slope and socio-economic conditions may contribute to the conservation performance of individual protected areas.

The application of other empirical methods such as matching techniques is needed to control for landscape characteristics that can influence deforestation, thus providing a more holistic picture of why some protected areas are more effective than others.

Forest protection strategies can contribute both to biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation goals. Research like Mike’s is helping to inform and influence these strategies to make sure forest cover loss both inside and outside of protected areas is understood and, ultimately, prevented.

Further information about Mike’s work can be found on the Terra-i website in the Publications (External studies) section.

The Terra-i team invites its users to share other research or initiatives making use of its data. In addition, The Terra-i team is grateful to Mike for sharing the details of his work.

Blog post by Mike Salazar. Revision of English-language version by Caitlin Peterson (CIAT / CCAFS visiting researcher).

Mike Salazar is a Master’s student at the Institute of International Forestry and Forest Products, Faculty of Forest, Geo and Hydro Sciences. He recently submitted his thesis in pursuit of a Master’s of Science degree in Tropical Forestry and Management.

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