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Causal Mechanisms of Protected Areas on Poverty

Another presentation in the 2012 EfD-CA Seminar Series at CATIE.

To estimate the effects on poverty from the establishment of protected areas, a study should incorporate pre-protection measures of poverty (or proxies for them) and explicitly control for the non-random nature in which protected areas are established. Few studies satisfy these criteria, and the few studies that satisfy them fail to answer the question of how protected areas affect poverty. Armed with this answer, decision-makers could better design protected area networks to foster the mechanisms that alleviate poverty and to discourage the mechanisms that exacerbate poverty. Unfortunately, identifying causal mechanisms is much more difficult than identifying average causal effects. To demonstrate how causal mechanisms of protected areas on poverty can be identified and quantified, we build on a rich data set from Costa Rica. Our analysis suggests that nearly half of the poverty reduction associated with the establishment of protected areas is attributable to tourism. Infrastructure development accounts for a relatively small proportion of the estimated poverty reduction. Ecosystem services from changes in forest cover account for no net effect on poverty, but may help to counteract the negative effects on the poor from restricted access to protected resources. The remaining estimated poverty reduction comes from unidentified mechanisms, which may include mechanisms other than the three we identified or pathways not captured by our mechanism proxies.