Titling indigenous communities protects forests in the Peruvian Amazon

Edited by Jonah Busch, Center for Global Development, Washington, DC, and accepted by Editorial Board Member Ruth S. DeFries February 14, 2017 (received for review February 26, 2016)
April 3, 2017
114 (16) 4123-4128
Letter
Community land titles alone will not protect forests
Brian E. Robinson, Margaret B. Holland, Lisa Naughton-Treves
Letter
Reply to Robinson et al.: Building the evidence base on the forest cover effects of community titling
Allen Blackman, Leonardo Corral [...] Gregory P. Asner

Significance

Developing countries are increasingly granting local communities legal title to forests. Almost a third of forests in the global south are now managed by local communities, more than twice the share currently found in protected areas. However, we know little about the effects of titling on forest clearing and disturbance, which remain urgent problems. We use community-level longitudinal data derived from high-resolution satellite images, along with statistical techniques that control for confounding factors, to measure the effect of titling indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon. Results indicate that titling significantly reduces both clearing and disturbance, at least in the short term. The implication is that awarding formal land titles to local communities can protect forests.

Abstract

Developing countries are increasingly decentralizing forest governance by granting indigenous groups and other local communities formal legal title to land. However, the effects of titling on forest cover are unclear. Rigorous analyses of titling campaigns are rare, and related theoretical and empirical research suggests that they could either stem or spur forest damage. We analyze such a campaign in the Peruvian Amazon, where more than 1,200 indigenous communities comprising some 11 million ha have been titled since the mid-1970s. We use community-level longitudinal data derived from high-resolution satellite images to estimate the effect of titling between 2002 and 2005 on contemporaneous forest clearing and disturbance. Our results indicate that titling reduces clearing by more than three-quarters and forest disturbance by roughly two-thirds in a 2-y window spanning the year title is awarded and the year afterward. These results suggest that awarding formal land titles to local communities can advance forest conservation.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Peter Vail, Jessica Chu, Sam Stolper, Adam Stern, David McGlaughlin, and Roberta Martin for expert research assistance; Manuel Glave, Karla Vergara, and Juan José Miranda for assistance in collecting and assembling our data; Heidi Albers, Ivan Brehaut, Juan Chaver, Salvatore DiFalco, Erica Field, Nancy McCarthy, Julio Postigo, Richard Smith, Elizabeth Sodevilla, Rodolfo Tello, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions; and Sally Atwater for editorial assistance. Funding for this research was provided by the InterAmerican Development Bank; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration through the SERVIR Applied Science Team; and the Swedish Research Council, Formas, through the Human Cooperation to Manage Natural Resources program. G.P.A. was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 114 | No. 16
April 18, 2017
PubMed: 28373565

Classifications

Submission history

Published online: April 3, 2017
Published in issue: April 18, 2017

Keywords

  1. tenure reform
  2. decentralization
  3. deforestation
  4. degradation
  5. REDD

Acknowledgments

We thank Peter Vail, Jessica Chu, Sam Stolper, Adam Stern, David McGlaughlin, and Roberta Martin for expert research assistance; Manuel Glave, Karla Vergara, and Juan José Miranda for assistance in collecting and assembling our data; Heidi Albers, Ivan Brehaut, Juan Chaver, Salvatore DiFalco, Erica Field, Nancy McCarthy, Julio Postigo, Richard Smith, Elizabeth Sodevilla, Rodolfo Tello, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions; and Sally Atwater for editorial assistance. Funding for this research was provided by the InterAmerican Development Bank; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration through the SERVIR Applied Science Team; and the Swedish Research Council, Formas, through the Human Cooperation to Manage Natural Resources program. G.P.A. was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Notes

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. J.B. is a Guest Editor invited by the Editorial Board.
*Prior to 2000, Landsat data needed to generate fine-scale annual maps of forest loss and disturbance are sporadic. As a result, our forest cover change panel begins in 2000. Our fixed effects design requires that for every community in our regression sample, we have at least 1 y of pretitle data on forest cover change. That requirement (along with our inclusion of a 1-y lagged titling dummy variable) implies that we can estimate treatment effects only for communities titled after 2001.
*However, estimates from lagged dependent variable dynamic models that omit fixed effects (Eq. S1) and fixed effects models that omit lagged dependent variables (Eq. 1) can be thought of as bounding the “true” causal effect, given certain assumptions about the nature of the selection bias: Lagged dependent variable models will have an upward bias when time-invariant confounders are important, and fixed effects models will have a downward bias when time-varying confounders are important (69, 71). Hence, taken together, our fixed effects results and our lagged dependent variable model results shed light on the robustness of our results to a range of unobserved confounders.

Authors

Affiliations

Allen Blackman1 [email protected]
Resources for the Future, Washington, DC 20036;
Climate Change and Sustainable Development Sector, InterAmerican Development Bank, Washington, DC 20577;
Leonardo Corral
Office of Strategic Planning and Development Effectiveness, Strategy Development Division, InterAmerican Development Bank, Washington, DC 20577;
Eirivelthon Santos Lima
Climate Change and Sustainable Development Sector, Environment, Rural Development, and Disaster Risk Management Division, InterAmerican Development Bank, San Isidro, Lima 27, Peru;
Gregory P. Asner
Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, CA 94305

Notes

1
To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: [email protected].
Author contributions: A.B., L.C., and E.S.L. designed research; A.B. and L.C. performed research; G.P.A. contributed forest cover change data; A.B. analyzed data; and A.B. wrote the paper.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Titling indigenous communities protects forests in the Peruvian Amazon
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 114
    • No. 16
    • pp. 4029-E3367

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