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Systematic reassessment of Laos' protected area network

Kukkonen, Markus O., Tammi, Ilpo
Biological conservation 2019 v.229 pp. 142-151
agricultural land, biodiversity, conservation areas, deforestation, developing countries, expert opinion, forestry, land management, models, monitoring, multi-criteria decision making, planning, protection forests, regression analysis, Laos
Protected areas (PA) cover an impressive 62% of Laos' land surface, however there are a lot of low biodiversity value residential and agricultural areas within the protected area network (PAN). The Government of Laos is aiming to re-delineate the PAN in order to exclude these areas. We support this aim by estimating how efficiently different protected area categories have reduced deforestation, by modeling priority areas for conservation and by evaluating the mismatch between these and the current PAN. Protection effectiveness was analyzed via combined matching and regression method, which indicates that only National Protected Areas have actually reduced deforestation, while the remaining PA categories have had negligible impacts. Spatial multi-criteria decision analysis supported by local and international expert knowledge on conservation, forestry and land management was used to model conservation priority areas, which were compared with the current PAN. The results indicate that vast overprotected low conservation priority areas exist inside the PAN, especially within Protection Forest Areas. Based on these findings, we argue that the current PAN is ineffective and inappropriately targeted. We recommend that Laos re-delineates and downsizes its PAN to ensure sufficient management of remaining high conservation priority areas both inside and outside the PAN. We further discuss potential methods and co-benefits of PA re-delineation in Laos' context. The findings are also globally linked to limitations of systematic conservation planning in data-scarce developing countries and the need to improve both quality and coverage of biodiversity data alongside protected area monitoring and management.