Making room for people in Amazonian conservation: Who benefits from protected areas—and how?

The past few decades have seen a shift in the relationship between traditional peoples and the protected areas they inhabit in Peru and throughout the Amazon. No longer considered bastions for conserving flora and fauna by excluding humans, protected areas are increasingly seen as reservoirs of biodiversity that contribute to human welfare on local, regional and global scales—and which are protected by traditional people who use them.

A decade has passed since anthropologist Mac took international environmental organizations to task for seeking to conserve Latin America’s forests but ignoring the people living in them. Instead of viewing the Amazon as “wilderness,” a concept that disregards the indigenous people, farmers and river dwellers who have inhabited the basin for generations, planners increasingly seek to make local communities partners in

Results have been mixed. In some places, community members complain that park rules limit their access to traditional hunting grounds or their ability to gather medicinal plants or use other resources. In others, local people participate in planning for parks, tourism or sustainable use of renewable resources. A growing network of private conservation areas throughout the region helps connect government-designated parks.

While many governments and non-profit organizations in the region tout the benefits of protected areas, there are virtually no scientific studies of their effects on local people or of people’s perceptions of whether protected areas are a boon or an obstacle to their aspirations. This grant will make it possible to explore those often-conflicting attitudes through the words and experiences of many different people living in and around protected areas.

Over the past two decades, Barbara Fraser’s reporting in South America has taken her from remote Amazonian Indian villages affected by oil pollution to the foot of a glacier 15,000 feet above sea level, where Quechua people dance before a sacred image for three days and nights, to shantytowns ringing some of the region’s largest cities. As freelance journalist based in Lima, Peru, she puts a human face on current events and public policy, with special emphasis on environmental, public health, indigenous and social issues.

She has written for Nature, Scientific American, EcoAmericas, The Daily Climate, The Lancet, Ensia, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Environmental Science & Technology, Environmental Health News, Science World, National Catholic Reporter, Catholic News Service and other publications. She also worked for seven years as director and English-language editor of Latinamerica Press, a bilingual bulletin of news and analysis from Latin America and the Caribbean. She won the Eileen Egan Award for reporting on humanitarian issues, national circulation category, in 2005, 2008 and 2010.

Barbara is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, the National Association of Science Writers and the Foreign Press Association of Peru.