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On November 12, 2023, Paige West, the Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology, and colleagues published a new article in the journal Annual Review of Environment and Resources, titled “Governance and Conservation Effectiveness in Protected Areas and Indigenous and Locally Managed Areas.”

West and her colleagues explain that in an age of increased conservation action to protect natural habitats and species, there is a steep increase in debate about the relative effectiveness of different sorts of protected areas. 

To address these questions, West and her colleagues reviewed literature that compares the effectiveness of protected areas managed by states and areas managed by Indigenous peoples and/or local communities. The researchers assert, however, that these can be hard comparisons to make. Robust comparative case studies are rare, and the epistemic communities producing them are fractured by language, discipline, and geography. West and her colleagues highlight the necessity for caution and care in deciding how to value these sorts of comparisons, pointing out that the consequences of different forms of conservation for people and nonhuman nature can be multifaceted and diverse. 

Acknowledging the potential limitations of the literature, the researchers chose to report on findings observed by multiple study groups focusing on a variety of different regions and issues. Overall, their review found a tendency in the data for community-based or co-managed governance arrangements to produce beneficial outcomes for both people and nature. These arrangements are often accompanied by struggles between rural groups and powerful states. Still, West and her colleagues emphasize that these studies’ findings are highly context-specific, and as such global generalizations on their data have limited value.