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Conserv Biol. 2011 Apr;25(2):259-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2010.01608.x. Epub 2010 Nov 17.

Acknowledging conservation trade-offs and embracing complexity.

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Center for Environmental Policy and Administration, Maxwell School of Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244-1020, USA.


There is a growing recognition that conservation often entails trade-offs. A focus on trade-offs can open the way to more complete consideration of the variety of positive and negative effects associated with conservation initiatives. In analyzing and working through conservation trade-offs, however, it is important to embrace the complexities inherent in the social context of conservation. In particular, it is important to recognize that the consequences of conservation activities are experienced, perceived, and understood differently from different perspectives, and that these perspectives are embedded in social systems and preexisting power relations. We illustrate the role of trade-offs in conservation and the complexities involved in understanding them with recent debates surrounding REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), a global conservation policy designed to create incentives to reduce tropical deforestation. Often portrayed in terms of the multiple benefits it may provide: poverty alleviation, biodiversity conservation, and climate-change mitigation; REDD may involve substantial trade-offs. The gains of REDD may be associated with a reduction in incentives for industrialized countries to decrease carbon emissions; relocation of deforestation to places unaffected by REDD; increased inequality in places where people who make their livelihood from forests have insecure land tenure; loss of biological and cultural diversity that does not directly align with REDD measurement schemes; and erosion of community-based means of protecting forests. We believe it is important to acknowledge the potential trade-offs involved in conservation initiatives such as REDD and to examine these trade-offs in an open and integrative way that includes a variety of tools, methods, and points of view.

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