Living near a protected area can improve aspects of human wellbeing across the developing world, Oregon State researchers have found. Protected areas are defined as national parks, nature reserves or wilderness areas that are managed with the goal of long-term conservation.

But questions remain about how the establishment of protected areas affects the residents who live nearby and rely on the resources found in the newly protected space, says Drew Gerkey, an environmental anthropologist in Oregon State’s College of Liberal Arts.

Past studies have shown that protected areas sometimes deny people access to resources they depend on. Some protected areas are essentially off-limits to local people while others are multipleuse protected areas that permit limited harvests of natural resources. The new research found that those residents who stood to benefit most from their proximity to a protected area were those who lived near multiple-use areas, notes Gerkey.

Similarly, tourism associated with protected areas may provide a range of benefits to people living nearby. Many of the positive impacts of protected areas in this study were found in protected areas with established tourism.

In their analysis, the researchers found that households situated near protected areas associated with tourism had higher levels of wealth, by 17%, and lower levels of poverty by 16%, compared to similar households living far from the protected areas. And, unexpectedly that children under the age of 5 living near multiple-use protected areas had higher height-for-age scores, by 10%, and were less likely to have stunted growth, by 13%, than similar children living far from the protected areas.

“The multiple-use areas are where you see a lot of the positive impacts for people’s health and wealth,” adds Gerkey.

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