Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Parks can help the people they keep out

Local herders in northern Kenya, share protected areas and scarce water with elephants during periods of drought. While over 60% of cattle in this primarily pastoralist region died during two recent droughts, herding communities on the borders of Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves fared far better as a result of their legal access to parklands. [Image courtesy of George Wittemyer]

Creating nature preserves, where elephants, gorillas and other endangered animals and plants can live without being killed or disturbed by humans, is probably our best bet for keeping these species alive.

But, what happens to the people who lived on or used the land before it was turned into a preserve? Some people worry that creating parks or preserves is basically saying that wildlife is important than people.

A new study shows, however, that nature preserves can help local people by providing jobs and other opportunities, while also protecting wildlife. The study appears in the 4 July issue of the journal Science.

Justin Brashares of the University of California Berkeley and his colleagues wondered if critics were right when they said that creating national parks or wildlife preserves in the developing world would create hardship for the people living in the area. If this were true, people would probably move away to different regions in search of better opportunities.

The researchers studied population data from 45 African and Latin American countries, looking specifically at changes in population growth right around 306 protected areas in these countries.

They found that the parks and other protected areas actually tended to attract human settlement, rather than drive people away. The authors think this is because the agencies that help establish the parks also need to employ local people to maintain the parks. Also, by living near the parks, people have access to new roads and some of the natural resources in the parks.

The authors also say that planners will have to be careful to make sure that people are benefiting from parks but also that their activities, like logging for example, or hunting, aren't harming the plants and animals inside.