Do National Parks Help Alleviate Poverty?

Costa Rica’s Tortugerro National Park, by MyShot user Aashit Shah

Do national parks help to alleviate poverty in developing nations or are they the cause of it? This is the question that shapes many conservation policy debates. Those in favor of national parks say that the protected areas bring tourism revenue and create jobs in the local community, while opponents say they prevent much needed agricultural development and the harvesting of natural resources. A study published this past week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) tries to put this debate to bed.

To start, they critique previous studies that show a link between poverty and national parks, saying that these studies don’t account for some confounding variables. For instance, most of the protected areas in question were extremely impoverished before the parks were founded.

Additionally, most of these places are situated in remote areas where economic progress is traditionally slow.

PNAS goes on to say that by using “comprehensive national datasets and quasi-experimental matching methods” they discovered that “the net impact of eco-system protection was to alleviate poverty.” In other words, national parks are the good guys.

To reach this conclusion, PNAS focused on parks and reserves created 15 or more years ago in Thailand and Costa Rica. They then matched “treated” areas with “control” areas. Treated areas had more than 10 percent of their land protected. Controls, less than one percent. However, both control and treated areas had had extremely similar geographic and economic characteristics before the reserves and parks were created.

What they found was that the communities around protected areas had markedly less poverty then the control areas. In Costa Rica, there was about a 10 percent reduction in poverty due to the presence of parks and reserves, and in Thailand there was around a 30 percent reduction.

Read More: Greg Carr, who was featured in Traveler’s One on One interview last month will certainly be happy with these findings. His mission for the past six years has been to revitalize Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park and “foster local economic growth through eco-tourism.”

–Christina Conrad