Sustainability Research Institute

Private protected areas and networks of global conservation governance: From San Francisco Bay to Patagonia

QUEST

Funding body: Leverhulme Trust

Amount: £200,000

Duration: 1st March, 2011 - 28th February, 2013

Abstract

Recent research has highlighted changes in global conservation governance, particularly a changed and reduced role of the state, the rise of civil society and NGOs, and the increased involvement of capitalist rationales and actors, which are often described as neo-liberal trends. This project explores private conservation as an understudied process that epitomises many of these trends, and can answer important questions about the drivers of these changes, and how global conservation works. It considers the social networks of philanthropists and NGOs located in California driving the expansion of private protected areas in Patagonia.

Aim

One of the fascinating aspects of conservation organisations and movements is how they have become large and powerful organisations, despite an ongoing worldwide crisis of biodiversity loss. Protected areas cover nearly 10 percent of the world’s land surface area, the largest conservation NGOs now have multi-billion dollar budgets and conservation goals form part of many international treaties and initiatives. Conservation organisations and movements have become truly global – they can take money and influence earned in one part of the world and use it to protect biodiversity in others far away. A key factor in increasing the influence and power of conservation in recent years has been its increasing integration into political structures such as international aid programmes, the state, and into the networks of global capitalism. Much of these connections work through personal relationships between influential individuals in conservation and those working in the state, donor agencies and corporations. At the same time, there has been a general shift in conservation practice away from seeing the state as the key driver towards viewing markets and capital as the foundations for effective conservation. The aim of this research is to look at how webs of personal connection can underpin these newer forms of conservation, by looking at networks of individuals located largely in the San Francisco Bay Area who are creating private protected areas in Patagonia.

This project is theoretical informed by the growing literature on neo-liberal conservation, which analyses several themes. Firstly, the role of the state in conservation is shrinking and changing, and the influence of community organisations and NGOs is rising, pushed by international development thinking, amongst other things. Secondly, conservation is increasingly pushed to develop new ways of paying for itself, through payments for ecosystem services, carbon off-setting, ecotourism and other strategies, to make protected areas and conservation justify themselves in financial terms. Market forces are used to achieve what had largely been the job of state. Consequently, large corporations are increasingly integrated into conservation, providing both money and ideas on best practice and organisational management, particularly to large NGOs.

Privately owned protected areas, where the philanthropy of rich individuals or organisations buys and administers tracts of land managed privately for conservation, are increasing, reflecting the increased power of private financial capital, rich elites and civil society in conservation. Dependent on private funding, they are at the forefront of developing new ways of earning money from conservation. They may work differently from other forms of conservation, raising important questions about their contribution to key debates within conservation, such as the relationship between poverty and conservation, particularly as such areas grow in extent. Whilst they may occur within a wider context of a conservation movement that is neo-liberalising, case study evidence indicates that there are networks of personal contacts underpinning and driving private protected areas, where they occur, how they work, and who is involved.

This project is theoretical informed by the growing literature on neo-liberal conservation, which analyses several themes. Firstly, the role of the state in conservation is shrinking and changing, and the influence of community organisations and NGOs is rising, pushed by international development thinking, amongst other things. Secondly, conservation is increasingly pushed to develop new ways of paying for itself, through payments for ecosystem services, carbon off-setting, ecotourism and other strategies, to make protected areas and conservation justify themselves in financial terms. Market forces are used to achieve what had largely been the job of state. Consequently, large corporations are increasingly integrated into conservation, providing both money and ideas on best practice and organisational management, particularly to large NGOs.

More information:

George Holmes