The Nature Conservancy - Parks in Peril
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As perhaps the longest-running and most far-reaching program to improve conservation of protected areas in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Parks in Peril (PiP) program has marked an evolution of society’s perspective towards natural areas.  Begun as an emergency effort to build local capacity for the management of parks and reserves – and rescue the biodiversity they contain – PiP has participated in, and in many aspects led a conversion from a focus on regulating access of local populations to protected biodiversity, to an approach recognizing the crucial role that parks and reserves play in local livelihoods, health, and governance structures.

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Cynthia Gill of USAID's Biodiversity Team in Washington, DC, says, "The [PIP] scorecard is a landmark. It identified the critical things you needed to be working on to succeed. And it prompted the Conservancy and its partners to be creative in finding sustainable funding for these parks. That in itself is an achievement: These sites don't rely on USAID money forever."

PiP’s evolution began in 1990 with a focus on individual sites, and it eventually protected 45 parks and reserves covering 44.8 million acres in 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries using a science-based approach for planning actions, strengthening linkages between park management and local residents, and developing long-term funding mechanisms.  By 2002, PiP was also targeting entire systems of protected areas: 

  • It assisted 19 countries to comply with the Programme of Work on Protected Areas of the Convention on Biological Diversity, facilitating national assessments and strategic plans for biological representation, capacity building, and conservation finance.
  • Since biodiversity and the human benefits of natural ecosystems are not confined to national protected area systems, PiP helped local partner organizations to establish private and indigenous reserves that complement the national system. 
  • Recognizing the regional trend towards decentralization of governance – as well as the galvanizing influence of natural resources in governance – PiP pioneered municipal parks for biodiversity conservation, tourism and protection of ecosystem services, and it set up new governance structures to administer them.
  • PiP has been a leader in developing local partnerships with influential organizations and governments, and it worked to empower local groups, regardless of ethnicity or gender, to participate in and benefit from natural resource management. 
  • Through debt-for-nature swaps, valuation of ecosystem services, management and extraction of biodiversity resources, payment and compensation systems for conservation, and establishment of trust funds and local businesses such as ecotourism and compatible agriculture, PiP created new financial mechanisms to support biodiversity conservation. 

After 17 years, the management structure of the Parks in Peril program is coming to an end.  However, its far-reaching influence will serve as a foundation for future conservation in the form of protected areas, individuals and institutions strengthened, and tools and processes developed throughout the region. 

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Photo: Reserve staff, El Ocote Biosphere Reserve © Lynda Richardson


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