We need more rangers, protected areas

Ahead of the global meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Montréal, Canada, which decides new targets for nature, the first-ever study of its kind outlines an urgent need for larger numbers and better-supported protected area staff to ensure the health of life on Earth.

In a new scientific paper published today in the journal “Nature Sustainability”, an international team of scientists – including two members of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Berlin – argue that there are not enough rangers and other staff to manage even the current protected areas around the world. The authors urge governments, donors, private landowners and NGOs to increase the numbers of rangers and other staff five-fold in order to meet global biodiversity conservation goals that have economic, cultural and ecosystem benefits.

Governments around the world will come together at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (in Montréal, Canada, from Dec. 7 to Dec. 15) with the intention to commit to protecting 30% of the planet’s wild lands by 2030 (widely referred to as ‘30 by 30’). This scientific investigation published now finds that there are nowhere near enough rangers and other staff to effectively manage and safeguard even the current protected areas. “Our protected areas system is the life support of the planet, providing people with water and clean air, storing carbon and preventing biodiversity loss,” says Mike Appleton, Re:wild’s director of protected area management and lead author of the paper. “Yet there are more people employed at golf courses and country clubs in the United States than there are rangers in the world. The 30 by 30 target is an important goal. It becomes meaningless if we aren’t also willing to invest in people to effectively and equitably manage these places.”

Co-author Andrew Tilker, Asian species officer at Re:wild and scientist at the Leibniz-IZW, adds: “The world needs rangers – to protect biodiversity, to maintain essential ecosystem services and to make sure that wilderness areas stay wild. Our findings should serve as a wake-up call for the world. It is essential that we scale up the ranger workforce to ensure the health of protected areas worldwide.”

Using data from 176 countries and territories, the study estimates that there are only 555,000 protected area personnel[1] worldwide responsible for 17% of the world’s land surface (over 20 million square kilometres). Only 286,000 of them are rangers, who directly manage protected areas, uphold laws, work with visitors and local communities and monitor wildlife. Rangers act as tour guides, firefighters, environmental defenders and play many other roles. Examples of protected areas include national parks, nature reserves, landscape reserves, conservation areas, natural monuments, state parks and certain areas under sustainable indigenous and traditional management.

Co-author Alexandre Courtiol from the Leibniz-IZW, who led the statistical analyses, says that “analysing the data was challenging, exciting, but also depressing. Our results revealed the deplorable inadequacy of the current situation. But the good news is that we now have established a baseline from which to move forwards.” Courtiol and the team of scientists calculated that the effective protection and management of 30% of the planet’s land surface by 2030 will require a workforce of at least 2.9 million people, including 1.53 million more rangers. Alongside government protected areas, many new types of areas will need to be conserved by personnel in the private and non-profit sectors and, vitally, by indigenous and local communities managing their own territories.

This is the first estimate of the global number of protected area personnel since 1999 and the first ever to specifically include rangers. The scientific investigation was led by a collaboration between Re:wild, the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, the Leibniz-IZW, WWF, Game Rangers Association of Africa, International Ranger Federation and the Ranger Federation of Asia.

“This critical work is timely as our continued existence on this planet is becoming increasingly fragile because of the human-induced crises, climate change and biodiversity loss,” said Madhu Rao, chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. “For any country or region to stand a chance of attaining the ambitious global targets that are being set to mitigate these detrimental effects, there needs to be a significant investment in the people tasked with securing wildlife, natural ecosystems, natural resources and the communities and cultures that have sustained them for millennia. For ambitious global targets to be meaningful and effective, we need more committed, competent and well-supported personnel on the ground.”

The analysis also emphasizes the need not only to bolster the workforce, but to recognize protected area management as a vital professional service, similar to medical personnel and first responders. Other studies have shown that protected area personnel in many countries are underpaid, under-supported, under-trained, and endure inadequate working conditions.

“The effectiveness of the planet’s life support system isn’t just about numbers of hectares protected, but about investing in good and skilled people”, says Chris Galliers, president of the International Ranger Federation. “While we are working hard to ensure that our global ranger workforce is more representative, professional and accountable, they need far greater capacity and support as respected stewards of our wildlife and wild places. Rangers can and do play a key role in reducing the threats to the territories and livelihoods of local and indigenous communities, including mitigating the effects of climate change. However, a firm commitment that puts rangers central to achieving any of the global targets, including the 30 by 30 goal, is urgently required.”

In addition to protecting biodiversity and cultures, protected area personnel sustain vital ecosystem services and deliver substantial economic benefits to local people and to the wider economy. According to the analysis, each new protected area staff person could generate economic benefits worth at least USD$28,800.

“Society needs to recognise the vast economic benefits that protected areas bring to communities, economies and our living planet”, says Wes Sechrest, chief scientist and CEO of Re:wild. “When we do so, we can pay the modest costs of employing and supporting people to protect our planet, communities can benefit from the areas they steward, and countries can move quickly toward nature positive and sustainable environmental practices.”

Publication

Appleton MR Courtiol A, Emerton L, Slade JL, Tilker A, Warr LC, Malvido MA, Barborak JR, de Bruin L, Chapple R, Daltry JC, Hadley NP, Jordan CA, Rousset F, Singh R, Sterling EJ, Wessling EG, Long B (2022): Protected area personnel and ranger numbers are insufficient to deliver global expectations. Nature Sustainability. DOI: 10.1038/s41893-022-00970-0


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