Paying for Forest Conservation Where Land Ownership is Unclear – Lessons from Ecuador
Lisa Naughton is a professor in the Geography Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests concern the social dimensions of biodiversity conservation, with particular emphasis on protected areas and land use conflicts in the tropics. She has long-term field studies in Uganda, Ecuador and Peru, and has taught at Uganda, Chile and Ecuador as a Fulbright fellow. She served as PI (for UW Madison, WCS lead) on a USAID award focused on land tenure issues in tropical forest carbon payment programs. In addition to her work in the tropics, Dr. Naughton studies public attitudes toward wolf recovery in the upper Midwest states. She directed UW-Madison’s Land Tenure Center (2009-2013), Chaired the graduate program in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development (2007-2010) and now Chairs the Geography Department.
Much of the world’s most carbon-rich and biodiverse forests are found in regions where land ownership is uncertain or contested. Insecure land tenure presents a challenge for Payment for Ecosystem Service (PES) projects, namely, whom to pay? And will PES participants be able to exclude others from using their forest? Conservationists in Ecuador are working to secure tenure and promote PES around protected areas. Research at a deforestation ‘hotspot’ in Ecuador reveals that some newly titled landowners opt to enroll in PES projects, but others choose capital-intensive land uses to the detriment of forests. In short, securing tenure, without sufficient incentives to individuals and communities to conserve forest, can hasten deforestation in places where competing land uses undermine forest conservation motivations. Ultimately there are strong human rights arguments for promoting tenure reform in tropical countries, irrespective of the potential impacts on forest conservation.