Surprising Impacts? Forests Gain Ground When Rights to Extract Natural Resources are Given to Smallholders and Firms in the Peruvian Amazon


It makes sense to protect forests by limiting access. However, these two studies showed that strict public restrictions, perhaps surprisingly, limit access less than allowing private extraction. While the extraction rights varied across these studies, the explanation is that the government’s presence on the frontier is not always sufficient to outperform how private actors limit others.

In the first study, researchers examined how government-regulated logging concessions and independent eco-certifications have affected forest loss in the Peruvian Amazon. In principle, concessions can balance economic development with forest conservation, and such regulated timber activities have grown rapidly—they now cover over 123 million hectares in the tropics. In practice, however, logging activities within these concessions are not always well regulated, and certifications may or may not succeed in improving sustainable practices and outcomes. This leaves unclear whether policymakers should expect concessions and certifications to raise or perhaps lower forest losses.

In the second study, the researchers examined the impact of allowing small shareholders to perform limited agricultural activities within protected forest areas (PAs). This clearly could generate more forest loss. However, if there are local incentives to exclude others, forest loss could fall.

The researchers found that both types of private extraction rights led to at least as effective forest conservation. Private incentives and capacities appear to ward off external pressure.

Methods and Results

In both studies, researchers examined annual forest loss between 1986 and 2018, in and out of protected areas and logging concessions in Peru's Amazon (Madre de Dios, Loreto, and Ucayali). The first study examined 525 logging concessions covering 7.1 million hectares—which includes 10% of all forests and roughly 90% of logging concessions in Peru, a major development policy. The second study included 21 protected and reserved areas, the leading conservation policies.

To estimate impacts, researchers used control sites outside both concessions and PAs. Applying improved econometric models (difference-in-difference estimators) with new, longer-term data on forests, the researchers show concessions and multiple-use PAs if anything lower forest loss. For impacts of certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), comparing certified with uncertified concessions showed no additional forest-loss reductions due to the certifications.



"Forest concessions and eco-certifications in the Peruvian Amazon: Deforestation impacts of logging rights and logging restrictions"

  • Jimena Rico-Straffon (University of California Santa Barbara), Zhenhua Wang (University of Missouri), Stephanie Panlasigui (Duke University), Colby J. Loucks (World Wildlife Fund), Jennifer Swenson (Duke University), Alexander Pfaff (Duke University)

"Comparing Protection Types in the Peruvian Amazon Multiple-Use Protected Areas Did No Worse for Forests"

  • Jimena Rico-Straffon (University of California Santa Barbara), Zhenhua Wang (University of Missouri), Alexander Pfaff (Duke University)

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Climate & Sustainability, Environment, Governance, Latin America and Caribbean, Sustainability