Check out information on governance in UCs: from social participation to the pressures and challenges in these protected areas. What have people got to do with UCs? Information on Public Consultations, Management Councils, regulations and instructions for protected area management, the ecosystem approach, the management plan, monitoring of CUs and specific types of management, such as fire management. Aspects of management and resource allocation, not just financial, as well as the pressures and challenges associated with protected areas which pose the greatest threats to socio-biodiversity inside and outside the UCs: deforestation, invasive species, with more to follow.

Social Participation

The pressure of organized social movements, trade unions, academics and other actors, through much struggle and demands, intensifying from the late 1980s, channelled the construction and protection of universal public policies to ensure human rights, by establishing decentralized and participatory systems in public policies 1. The Federal Constitution of 1988 consolidated rights and, in multiple provisions, called for citizens’ participation in the formulation, implementation and social control of public policies. In particular, articles 198, 204 and 206 of the Constitution led to the creation of public policy councils in the areas of health, social assistance and education at all three levels of government - federal, state and municipal. Such experiments led to the multiplication of councils in other thematic areas at these three levels of government.

Social participation in environmental policy and management is provided for in several instruments, such as the national policies for the Environment, Water Resource Management, Environmental Education, Social Participation, and for Agenda 21, among others. The National System of Conservation Areas is another policy that presupposes transparency in management, engagement and social participation as a key aspect of its implementation.

“It is essential to strengthen and expand participatory planning processes for protected areas as a mechanism that actively engages stakeholders, generating a space for dialogue where concerns and expectations are analysed, and commitments and responsibilities established”

The Declaration of Bariloche, document resulting from the 2nd Latin American Congress of National Parks and other Protected Areas (2007)2.

“We recognise the importance of participatory processes and recommend the adoption of mechanisms that allow the representation and participation of all local actors involved with the Conservation Area”.

Durban Accord, adopted at the 5th Congress, held in South Africa in 2003 3.

The challenge of conserving biodiversity, even in limited areas such as Conservation Areas, cannot be achieved without partnership with society. It is even less possible without the recognition that, in most cases, traditional ways of life not only conserve biological diversity but, throughout human history, have been essential for generating and maintaining the many processes of biological diversity that we know today. Increasingly, conservationists, scientists and managers realize that the strategy of conserving biodiversity in protected areas, ignoring the broader social and political landscape, is ineffective. While misuse of land and resources outside these areas continues, the future of Conservation Areas and their biodiversity will be threatened. In addition, establishing protected areas without addressing the problems and rights of local populations creates conflicts and resentments that ultimately threaten the integrity of the biodiversity that it is intended to conserve. Given this framework, protected area management models focus on reconciling people and biodiversity.

One example is that of mosaics of conservation areas that bring together areas with different purposes and different levels of permitted uses, enabling continuity of the traditional activities of local communities and the generation of new income alternatives. Another example is that of extractive reserves and sustainable development reserves, which seek through zoning to harmonize the productive activities of local communities and the conservation of biodiversity. Although these new models represent a significant advance, much remains to be done in the search for common ground.

A number of these categories and models may function as examples of alternative, more rational and sustainable forms of natural resource use, to be followed even outside specially protected areas. It is interesting to note that these categories are still considered by many adepts of the preservation model that excludes human populations, as second-rate conservation areas, on the grounds that they have objectives other than protecting biodiversity. This argument, however, ignores the fact that the presence of indigenous, quilombola or traditional communities, defending their rights and territories, contributes extremely effectively to territorial integrity and environmental conservation; that complementary models enable an increase in the area covered by protected areas by increasing connectivity, which is fundamental for the maintenance of biodiversity; and that even sustainable use categories have zones designed exclusively for the protection of biodiversity.

Conservation as a possibility for social transformation

With the emergence of these new models, biodiversity conservation has acquired a new dimension: that of an agent of social transformation. Conservation efforts have begun to identify and promote social processes that allow local communities to conserve biodiversity as part of their livelihoods. Expressions of popular participation have become part of the language of many development agencies, from nongovernmental organizations to government institutions and development banks; but there are several possible interpretations for these terms.

During the colonial period, management was coercive, and populations regarded as an impediment to conservation. Until the 1970s, participation was seen as a way of achieving voluntary submission of populations to the protected area model. During the 1980s, participation was taken to mean encouraging interest in the protection of natural resources. Later, in the 1990s, participation came to be understood as the involvement of local populations in the management of protected areas. Clearly, there has been a growing recognition of the key role of local communities in biodiversity conservation.

Thus, conservationists and protected area managers – obliged to deal with surrounding communities, council members, residents and users of the areas – began to incorporate participatory processes into their activities. It is interesting to note that, while recognizing participation as something desirable and with the potential to make protected area management more efficient, several Conservation Area management bodies are afraid of real participation, along the self-mobilizing lines described above. Participation is seen as desirable only within certain controllable limits. Nevertheless, many participatory methods and approaches have been developed, to the point where it has become difficult to imagine conservation of protected areas without the involvement of local actors.

Despite the great potential participation offers, there are many difficulties: cultural differences and differing points of view between conservationists and local communities are great, and accommodating the different priorities of the various actors with local politics and economic reality is hard work. Respecting local social structures may in some cases be made difficult by decision-making processes in communities that marginalize women, young people or particular groups, making the context even more complex. Nevertheless, building effective participation and respect for the culture of local communities can bring benefits for conservation and to these communities.

The great challenge is not only to implement projects that integrate protected areas and local populations, but rather to achieve the engagement of individuals and organizations that can create the social, economic, legal and institutional atmosphere that ensures the protection of biodiversity. The Convention on Biological Diversity, based on the pillars of conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components and the sharing of benefits arising from its utilization, has consolidated the idea that only integration between the engagement and participation of local communities and scientific conservation strategies can ensure the future of biodiversity.

Public Consultation

Involving the public in Conservation Area processes is essential at all times. The rights of indigenous peoples, quilombolas and traditional communities to consultation and to prior, free and informed consent is generically provided for in Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization. Besides the importance of involvement and ongoing participation in the management of Conservation Areas, the SNUC establishes the obligation for prior consultation in the creation of all categories of protected areas, excepting biological reserves and ecological stations. In these cases this was because, as public consultations were not required for their creation by Law Nº 6.902/1981 which provided for the creation of Ecological Stations, nor by (Decree. Nº 99.274/1990), regulating them, both of which preceded the SNUC, the situation for these two categories was maintained unchanged. Given the specific objectives of these areas, designed to safeguard unique and endangered species or landscapes, it was considered a question of force majeure and the SNUC maintained non-mandatory public consultations for the categories of biological reserve and ecological station.

However, for the creation of any other type of Conservation Area, public consultation, preferably carried out in the community directly affected and with wide publicity, is an indispensable procedure. This should be one of the moments for the presentation of the proposal of its creation of the new area, of the technical documents that establish its size, boundaries and purposes, seeking to clarify all the doubts that the community may have about it. Consultation is also required to extend or to alter the category of the Conservation Area. As previously mentioned, the participation of and consultation with communities during the process of developing the management plan is also required 4.

The public consultation process should be planned and conducted in such a way as to enable the participation of all stakeholders; thereby ensuring the effective representation of society, without which certain people or particular groups may either be disadvantaged or benefitted. The lead must be taken by the legal body responsible or by another legally delegated institution. The process must be representative and transparent. In addition, the responsible public body should clearly present the arguments underpinning its recommendation for the creation or alteration of the Conservation Area, or when proposing the management plan. Finally, disclosure should be transparent and full. All interested parties should be informed of the consultation 5.

The public consultation should not be seen as a one-off, but rather should comprise a cycle of discussions and community involvement. Dissemination of information about the consequences of creating a protected area and the process of participatory management create opportunities for negotiation, forestalling conflicts and enabling alliances for environmental conservation. The process is an opportunity to gain understanding and address the difficulties of the different sectors involved in the Conservation Area.

Management Council

Another important innovation of the SNUC is the presumption of community participation through management councils that advise the area’s management body. The Management Council is a forum bringing together public, private and collective interests, and aims to promote the participative and integrated management of the area to be conserved.

There are two types of Conservation Area councils: advisory and deliberative. At the federal level, the categories of Conservation Areas with advisory councils are National Park, Biological Reserve, Ecological Station, Natural Monument, Wildlife Refuge and National Forest, while categories with a deliberative council are Sustainable Development Reserve and Extractive Reserve. There are some Conservation Area categories where the type of council is not yet specified: Environmental Protection Area, Area of Special Environmental Importance, Wildlife Reserve and Private Natural Heritage Reserve. The SNUC does not make clear what type of council applies in the case of Environmental Protection Areas (APAs) and ICMBio has so far assumed the function of an advisory council in APAs6.

The objectives of the advisory council are to guarantee transparency in the management of the Conservation Area through exercising social control, contributing to the development and implementation of the management plan, and integrating the area with communities, the private sector, research institutions, NGOs and government bodies, as well as with other neighbouring protected areas. Deliberative councils have additional functions, such as approval of the Management Plan and the letting of contracts with public interest civil society organisations (OSCIPs) for shared management.
Councils should have an equal representation of public bodies and civil society, contributing to the transparency of the area’s management. The table below provides a checklist of the attributions of these councils. It should be emphasized that, whether they are advisory or deliberative, these councils are above all "managers", in other words they should be directly involved in the day-to-day management of the conservation area.

According to Decree No. 4,340 of August 22, 2002 regulating the SNUC, the responsibilities of the councils are:

  • To draft its internal rules of procedure, within ninety days of its establishment;
  • To monitor the preparation, implementation and revision of the management plan of the Conservation Area, where applicable, ensuring its participative character;
  • To promote the harmonisation of the Conservation Area with other specially protected areas and territorial spaces and their buffer zones;
  • To endeavour to reconcile the interests of the various social groups that have a stake in the area;
  • To review the area’s budget and the annual financial report prepared by the executive body in light of the objectives of the Conservation Area;
  • To give its opinion, in the case of an advisory council, or to approve, in the case of a deliberative council, the contract and the provisions of the partnership agreement with an OSCIP, in cases of shared management of the area;
  • To monitor the management by the OSCIP and to recommend the termination of the partnership agreement, in the case of proven irregularity;
  • To provide warnings of any works or activities with the potential to have an impact on the Conservation Area, its buffer zone, mosaics or ecological corridors; and
  • To propose guidelines and actions to harmonise, integrate and optimize the relationship with residents of the surrounding area or inside the area, as appropriate.

In 2014, ICMBio updated the guidelines for procedures for the formation and functioning of advisory councils in federal Conservation Areas. Below are the main principles and guidelines relevant to the competencies of the Councils (IN 9/20141 7):

I - Principles:

  1. Ensure the conservation of the biodiversity, ecological processes and ecosystems that are part of the Conservation Area and its area of influence;
  2. Guarantee the objectives for which the Conservation Area was created;
  3. The legitimacy of representation and equal conditions of participation of the differing sectors of civil society and public authorities; and
  4. Recognition, valuing of and respect for the social and environmental diversity of traditional peoples and communities, as well as their systems of organization and social representation, territories and traditional knowledge.

II - Guidelines:

  1. Promote dialogue, representation, expression, conflict management, negotiation and participation of the multiple societal interests related to Conservation Areas;
  2. Ensure the transparency of the management processes of Conservation Areas, appropriate to the local context in each case and with the participation of different sectors of society;
  3. Seek the integration of Conservation Areas into the land-use planning of their area of influence, establishing relationships with the appropriate participation forums, public agencies and civil society organizations for the improvement of the quality of life and the environment;
  4. Seek the integration of environmental policy with policies explicitly guided by the three pillars of human development: education, health and income;
  5. Ensure the legitimacy of representation and equality of participation for the interested parties, taking into account their characteristics and needs, including traditional populations and economically vulnerable local communities, through their identification, mobilization, organizational support and capacity building;
  6. Promote the ongoing capacity building of the Area management team and its advisers, together with other training activities that strengthen the ability of stakeholders to better support the management and effectiveness of the Conservation Area;
  7. Ensure official response to and effective consideration of the views and deliberations of the Councils and support the search for the financial means for their ongoing functioning; and
  8. Ensure the public character of Council meetings and publicise their decisions and views.

Federal Conservation Area Councils

According to ICMBio's dynamic listing 8, in 2018, 278 of Brazil’s 327 federal Conservation Areas had management councils.

The SNUC requires the creation of deliberative councils for Extractive Reserves (Resex), Sustainable Development Reserves (RDS) and Biosphere Reserves advisory councils for Integrated Protection, National Forests (Flona) and Conservation Area Mosaics. In some Extractive Reserves, as their very origin is related to strong social movements, the practice of having a decision-making forum predates their creation. Some areas, such as Carijós Ecological Station (Santa Catarina), had management committees prior to the SNUC and transformed these into their management councils. See an assessment of such management councils in an ISA report here.

Below is a list of recommendations arising out of an analysis of problems relating to the establishment of Conservation Area management councils.

Recommendations for the establishment of Conservation Area councils 9:

  1. The composition of the council should be as balanced as possible between representatives of government, private sector and civil society - except in the case of sustainable use Conservation Areas, where there may be a proportionally greater representation of traditional populations having use rights over the area;
  2. Capacity building, training, and workshops for counsellors should be a continuous process;
  3. Appointments to positions of Conservation Area directors should take into account the profile, experience and qualification necessary to conduct council business effectively;
  4. The area councils may, on a case by case basis, establish thematic sub-committees. Depending on the specific issues, they may ask the management body to hold training workshops to prepare these and facilitate discussions on the drafting of rules of procedure and any other topic of concern to the council;
  5. The packed workload of social actors, resulting from their participation in multiple spheres of public management (for example, in Watershed Committees, Municipal Environmental Councils, Municipal Health or Education Councils, and other bodies) suggests that in some cases, there may be an overlapping of activities, which could be considered a positive way of achieving a cross-cutting dynamic between the different sectors;
  6. The councils of mosaics of areas should be composed of representatives of the councils of the protected areas that make up the mosaic together with other actors identified for this purpose;
  7. The forums for discussion and representation under the councils should reflect the aspirations of society for progress on issues such as gender and intergenerational, interethnic and multicultural relations, among others;
  8. Local, sub-national, national and international issues, together with liaison with other local organizational bodies concerned with participatory management, should, when related to the business of the council, form part of its agenda;
  9. Regardless of the category of the Conservation Area, it will be necessary to develop sustainable management plans for its surrounding area, in order to control, mitigate or reduce possible impacts on the Conservation Area;
  10. In full protection areas with resident traditional and other populations, procedures for drawing up the legal agreement dealing with the use of the area’s natural resources by such populations and the procedures for their resettlement, need to be discussed in the Councils and the process monitored by the Public Prosecution Service.

The role of these councils will tend to grow, as the democratization of management of the area grows, to become the main component of management. It is essential that certain principles are followed in the day to day business of the council, such as the legality, legitimacy and representativity of the council, the representativity of the councillors and the parity among board members, both as regards gender and sector, as well as government/non-government and employees/employers 10.

There are a number of benefits of an active Conservation Area council, such as increased dialogue and trust between the managing body, the local community, public agencies and civil society institutions; better governance and political support for the Conservation Area among local communities, the private sector, NGOs, research institutions, and other stakeholders; and greater understanding of the region and the political-institutional context in which Conservation Areas are located.

See more about Management Councils

Conservation Area councils - A guide to their creation and operations, by Imaflora and Imazon, 2009.
Conselhos gestores de UCs federais - A guide for managers and councillors, ICMBio, 2014.


Management tools

How to manage Conservation Areas and why?

Concern about how to manage nature may initially provoke a number of questions: Should we really be concerned with managing nature? Why? How? Where? Answers do exist, but the questions should really be: Is nature not self-sufficient? Why can she not 'go it alone'? Nature does have the capacity to 'go it alone', if ecosystems are large enough and external changes are not too intrusive. For example, nature has already "managed by itself" after mass extinctions, regaining diversity in a few million years. The most appropriate question to ask would therefore be whether the human species would survive or perish by letting nature alone deal with our anthropogenic impact. Thus, the strongest reason to justify the need to manage ecosystems to be conserved in protected areas - or even outside them - is the level (in intensity and scale) of human impact and its consequences for our own species. Human activities have everywhere damaged the natural regenerative and self-sustaining capacity of various ecosystems. If we wish to mitigate the effects of phenomena such as conversion of natural areas, invasive species, expansion of pathogens, chemical and industrial pollution, then management is a fundamental tool.
In the specific case of Conservation Areas, it is possible to spell out direct reasons for their management 11:

  1. Protected areas are generally insufficient for the survival of all the species in the area and for the maintenance of its ecological processes; thus, management is often necessary to keep populations at viable levels;
  2. The areas are also too small to contain the normal regime of disturbances that control the processes that maintain diversity; so, management is necessary to simulate these disturbances;
  3. Protected areas are often so fragmented or so isolated that natural migrations are unable to counterbalance local extinctions; under these conditions, the translocation of individuals between areas may become necessary;
  4. Protected areas are generally surrounded by hostile anthropogenic environments that house invasive species and processes of degradation; management can reduce the effects of such a situation.

There is no single theoretical basis for management, but it is clear that it must be grounded on empirical theories and biological studies. Some principles are important; even in the face of the enormity of the challenge, the management approach needs to be creative, flexible and interdisciplinary:

  1. Critical ecological processes, the composition of biodiversity and the interaction between ecological groups need to be maintained;
  2. Species composition is not the only important element in the definition of biodiversity, so too are its structure and function;
  3. External threats should be minimized, and external benefits maximized;
  4. Evolutionary processes must be preserved; and
  5. Management should be adaptive and as minimally intrusive as possible.

Ecosystem or key species approach?

There is intense debate over what the main management approach to conservation should be. Some conservationists argue that ecosystem management is the appropriate approach. Such management is defined as an "approach to maintaining or restoring the composition, structure and function of natural or modified ecosystems for long-term sustainability. It is based on a vision of the desired future conditions that integrates the ecological, socioeconomic and institutional perspectives applied in an area defined geographically as the natural boundaries of the ecosystem" 12.

A report13on the scientific basis of ecosystem management developed for the Ecological Society of America lists the following elements:

  • sustainability: intergenerational sustainability must be a precondition for management, that is, ecosystems cannot simultaneously be degraded and be given the responsibility for providing goods and services for future generations;
  • these should mirror the 'desired future trajectories' and the 'desired future behaviours';
  • emphasis on ecological processes: the role of processes and interconnections in ecosystems are central components;
  • complexity and interconnectivity: recognized as inherent components of all ecosystems, should be maintained as widely as possible;
  • recognition of the dynamic character of ecosystems: it is a question of not managing to maintain a given status, but of expecting and allowing for the transformation of ecosystems over time;
  • context and scale: as ecosystem processes operate at varying spatial and temporal scales, there is no single scale suitable for management;
  • human beings as part of the ecosystem: people must be engaged in ecosystem management as participants in the whole process;
  • adaptive management: it is important to consider the ecosystemic and socio-political dynamics involved in the management, so flexibility and re-planning are important, and monitoring of the whole process supports the evaluation of activities and the need for new strategies. It should be understood that management objectives and strategies are hypotheses to be tested by the research and management practices themselves and modified where necessary.

The Convention on Biological Diversity adopted its decision on the ecosystem approach below.

Ecosystem approach

The ecosystem approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. Application of the ecosystem approach will help to reach a balance of the three objectives of the Convention: conservation, sustainable use and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

The approach is based on the application of appropriate scientific methodologies focused on levels of biological organization that encompass the essential processes, functions and interactions among organisms and their environment. In it, ecosystems are considered complex socioecological systems, encompassing the interaction and overlapping of social, environmental and economic-institutional factors. Thus, for the understanding of an ecosystem, it is necessary to consider the multiple factors related to it, such as human well-being, the space time context, institutional arrangements, ecosystem services and ecological functions.

This focus on the essential structure, processes, functions and interactions is consistent with the ecosystem definition of Article 2 of the Convention: "Ecosystem" means a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit". This definition does not specify any unit or spatial scale and may refer to any functional unit on any scale. The scale of analysis and action must be determined by the question at hand; it might refer, for example, to a grain of soil, a lake, a forest, a biome or the entire biosphere. Ecosystem processes are generally non-linear, and their results often show discontinuities, which leads to surprises and uncertainties. Ecosystems thus reveal complex and dynamic natures, about which we have incomplete knowledge, requiring adaptive management based on the ecosystem approach.

Adaptive management is defined as any "form of management that encourages, when necessary, periodic changes in management objectives and protocols, in response to monitoring data and other new information” 14. The idea is therefore to learn through errors and perfect through practice. The concept of adaptive management applied to the conservation of natural ecosystems is above all consistent with the complexity of these socioecological systems, which implies the unpredictability of certain situations, in which observation indicates that the ecosystem will not follow the expected course without some management intervention. 

This approach does not exclude other approaches to management and conservation, such as biosphere reserves, protected areas and species conservation programmes, as well as other approaches that exist in national policies. Its purpose is to integrate all these approaches and other methodologies to deal with complex situations. There is no single way to implement the ecosystem approach, as it depends on local, provincial, national, regional or global conditions.

  • Principles of an ecosystem approach
  1. The objectives of land, water and natural resource management are a matter of societal choice;
  2. Management should be decentralized to the lowest level appropriate;
  3. Ecosystem managers should consider the effects (existing or potential) of their activities on neighbouring and other ecosystems;
  4. Recognize the potential benefits of management, bearing in mind that, in general, there is a need to manage the ecosystem in an economic context;
  5. Conservation of ecosystem structure and functioning, aiming at the maintenance of ecosystem services, should be a priority target of the ecosystem approach;
  6. Ecosystems must be managed within the limits of their functioning.
  7. The ecosystem approach must be adopted at the appropriate temporal and spatial scales;
  8. Recognizing the changing temporal scales and the discontinuities that characterize ecosystem processes, the objectives of ecosystem management must be established for the long term;
  9. Managers must recognize that change is inevitable;
  10. The ecosystem approach should seek the appropriate balance and integration between the conservation and use of biodiversity;
  11. The ecosystem approach should consider all forms of relevant information, including scientific knowledge and traditional and local knowledge, innovations and practices;
  12. The ecosystem approach should involve all relevant sectors of society and scientific disciplines.

Other conservationists criticize this approach and recommend the use of key species as the most appropriate management approach. Some of these criticisms can be summarized as follows 15:

  1. emphasis on ecological processes: this emphasis ends up causing situations where processes are conserved, but species are lost, such as the replacement of primary forests with less diversified secondary forests or the preservation of energy flow and nutrient cycling in ecosystems with very few species;
  2. spatial scale: since ecosystems do not have easily identifiable boundaries, and because it is difficult to assess which ecosystems are similar for the purposes of representativity, it is possible that an area of importance for conservation is left outside management strategies, or that ecosystems that are already well represented among protected areas are privileged under conservation strategies;
  3. humans as part of the ecosystem: this component of the ecosystem approach has two problems, according to critics: it limits the role of full protection areas in biodiversity conservation and treats the use of natural resources by humans as a natural process and not as one dangerous to ecosystem integrity;
  4. adaptive management: critics question whether the continuous transformation of procedures and objectives effectively increases understanding of the system and question the scientific validity of this approach.

The concept of key species suggests that, at least in many ecosystems, certain species have greater impacts than others, meaning key species have a disproportionately larger ecosystem impact than their abundance would suggest. They are species that, when conserved in their natural environments, result in the maintenance of a significant number of other species of diverse taxonomic groups and in the functioning of natural systems. Thus, management of key species would combine the advantages of species management with those of ecosystem management: if the key species affects many other species in the community, protecting its reproduction and growth is a form of conservation of the other species that interact with it. The use of key species as the focus of management has in turn also been criticised, since, as well as the identification of key species being complex, the role they play is an assumption that is difficult to verify.

Management Plans

The Conservation Area management tool for used in Brazil is the management plan. This should be drawn up taking into account all the possible factors that affect the Conservation Area or are affected by it and identifying actions necessary for the full achievement of the area’s objectives16. According to the SNUC, the Management Plan is the "technical document by which, based on the overall objectives of a Conservation Area, its zoning and the norms that should govern the use of the area and the management of natural resources are established, including the implementation of the physical structures needed for the management of the area". It is, therefore, an essential tool for the effective administration of a Conservation Area, providing the guidance necessary for the fulfilment of its objectives. The plan is required by law and must be drawn up within five years of the establishment of the area. However, the challenges of developing and implementing them in Conservation Areas in Brazil are so great that some areas go for more than a decade without any planning document.

Clearly, the management plans for full protection Conservation Areas are different from those of sustainable use areas. In 2002 IBAMA, the body responsible for the management of Conservation Areas until 2007, when this responsibility was transferred to ICMBio, published a methodological roadmap for the National Park, Biological Reserve and Ecological Reserve categories aimed at guiding the preparation of management plans for full protection Conservation Areas and some sustainable use categories. In 2007, the ICMBio published its Normative Instruction No.01/2007, which regulates the guidelines, standards and procedures for the elaboration of a Participatory Management Plan for Federal Conservation Areas in the Extractive Reserve and Sustainable Development Reserve categories. This Instruction confirmed the Utilization Plan as an integral part of the Participatory Management Plan. A Utilization Plan should consist of "internal rules developed, defined and agreed by the population of the territory in respect of their traditionally practiced activities, the management of natural resources, the use and occupation of the area, and environmental conservation, in light of current legislation. It is the foundation document for signature of the Terms of Commitment between the beneficiary traditional population of the area, that will receive the concession of legal right of use, and the Chico Mendes Institute”. In 2009, it was the turn of the Methodological Roadmap for Elaboration of National Forest Management Plans to be disseminated, and in 2012, Normative Instruction No.29, which regulated at the federal level the guidelines, requirements and administrative procedures for the elaboration and approval of the Management Agreement in sustainable use Conservation Areas with traditional populations.

Then in 2015, the Methodological roadmap for the elaboration of management plans for federal Private Natural Heritage Reserves was published. In 2017, also at the federal level, Normative Instruction No. 7/2017/GABIN/ICMBIO laid down guidelines and procedures for the elaboration and revision of management plans.

However, the latest legislation regarding this is the ICMBio Ordinance No 1163 of December 2018 which approves a new methodological roadmap for the elaboration and review of management plans for federal Conservation Areas, repealing all previous versions, except for the methodological roadmap for Private Natural Heritage Reserves (RPPNs) of 2015, which continues in force.

Management plans should provide an environmental, social, economic and institutional summary of the area, as well as important programmes for its implementation and sustainability, monitoring and protection. On the other hand, the need for medium-term planning combined with flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances is also inherent in this procedure. Additionally, it is a basic assumption that the plan includes the participation, interests and well-being of the inhabitants of the region, key stakeholders in the management of the area.

Thus, in order to draw up a management plan in a democratic and participative way, one of the first steps is to identify the relevant stakeholders that strengthen the objective of the Conservation Area. In the case of Conservation Areas that acknowledge beneficiary traditional communities, such as Extractive Reserves, Sustainable Development Reserves and some Forests, these are evidently the most interested. Generally speaking, they have their own forms of representation, organizing themselves into groups or associations, but many relevant stakeholders do not have institutional structures through which to conduct their interests. Moreover, the equity of stakeholder representations is also fundamental. At the same time, other issues arise, such as the real possibilities for effective participation of the different stakeholders, given their cultural and social differences. Unfortunately, despite the regulations that govern such representativity, more challenges can always arise so, as well as adherence to the protocols, there is a need for continued transparency, respect and sensitivity by managers.

As has already been mentioned, in the case of the Extractive Reserve and Sustainable Development Reserve categories, as well as the management plans, there is also a need to prepare a Utilization Plan or a use agreement. The rules these contain should be drawn up in a participatory way, discussed with the residents and approved by the General Assembly of the Association, clearly highlighting the activities allowed and prohibited in the Conservation Area, as well as clarifying traditional practices. Respect for these usage rules will demonstrate the commitment of traditional communities to caring for their territory and resources, part of Brazil’s national socio-environmental heritage, in a sustainable way. The Management Agreement, made official in 2012 by ICMBio Normative Instruction No 29, regulates the use of natural resources and land use in Extractive Reserves and Sustainable Development Reserves and in areas used by traditional populations in National Forests, Environmental Protection Areas and Areas of Special Ecological Importance. The Agreement presupposes the environmental sustainability of the Conservation Area, the recognition of traditional territories as spaces for the social, cultural and economic reproduction of traditional populations, and recognition, valuing and respect for the socio-environmental and cultural diversity of traditional populations and their systems of organization and social representation.

Zoning the Unit of Conservation

SNUC views zoning as the “definition of sectors or zones in a unit of conservation with objectives of management and specific norms, with the purpose of proportioning the means and the conditions in order that all the objectives of the unit may be reached in a harmonious and effective manner.” As the diverse categories of units of conservation have various objectives, zoning is an important instrument in their completion.

In the table below it is possible to confer the zones presented by the Methodological Script for national parks, biological reserves, and ecological stations. The Script also brings a series of criteria to the definition of zoning, divided into criteria indicative of values for conservation and criteria indicative for the vocation of use. In the first category are representativeness, the diversity of species, the presence of areas of transition between environments, environmental susceptibility, and the presence of archaeological or paleontological sites. In the second, the criteria are visitation potential, potential for environmental awareness, presence of infrastructure, the existence of conflicting use, and the presence of populations.

The Script presents the following zones to be considered in the planning of the unit of conservation belonging to these categories:

  1. Intangible zone: Is the one dedicated to the full protection of ecosystems, genetic resources, and to environmental monitoring;

  2. Primitive zone: Is the one whose objective is the preservation of the natural environment and, at the same time, the promotion of scientific research activities and environmental education;

  3. Extensive use zone: Has the objective of maintaining a natural environment with minimum human impact, but with access to the public for means of recreation and education;

  4. Zone of intensive use: Area where the infrastructure of visitation to the unit is concentrated, such as visitor’s center, museums, and the establishment of services;

  5. Historical-cultural zone: Is the one whose objective is the protection of archaeological, paleontological, and historic sites, in a harmonious form with environmental conservation;

  6. Recovery zone: Is a provisional zone whose objective is the recovery of degraded areas. When the objective is completed, the area goes on to integrate another zone;

  7. Special use zone: Area where the administrative infrastructure of the unit is concentrated;

  8. Conflicting use zone: Spaces whose use, established prior to the unit’s creation, conflict with its conservation objectives. They are areas occupied, in general, by undertakings of public utility, such as lines of transmission, oil pipelines, antennas, dams, roads, and fiber optic cables;

  9. Temporary occupation zone: Areas where the resident populations are concentrated. Once these populations are resettled in another location, this area passes to another zone;

  10. Indigenous overlap zone: Areas where there are indigenous lands, official or not, overlapped with the unit of conservation. In this case, the Script recommends negotiation, case by case, involving the indigenous people, the Indian Foundation (FUNAI, Brazilian government entity), and the environmental body;

  11. Experimental interference zone: Specific zone for the ecological stations, it consists at the most of 3% of the unit, not to surpass 1,500 hectares. Its objective is the development of comparative research in protected areas.

Zoning of a unit can also be an element of conflict. In the case of the full protection units, where there are resident populations or users of natural resources, zoning is the key to lessening or increasing conflicts over the use of biodiversity. There are still the cases of overlapping of protected areas , such as units of conservation and/or with indigenous lands.

In the case of extraction reserves and reserves of sustainable development, zoning should be defined with the communities, seeking to integrate the available technical-scientific instruments and ethnic know-how, in such a way as to identify the diversity of the ecosystems, of species of flora and fauna present, and the existing modifications in the natural landscapes in the area, describing the possible uses and restrictions for each zone to be created. This is not always possible, and the major challenge is to understand zoning as a dynamic document, a process in continuous transformation, reflecting in the possible measure, the dynamic of nature itself in the area of the reserve.

Monitoring of Conservation Areas

Monitoring of conservation units and their management is needed, as protected areas face continuous threats and the biodiversity that is to be conserved is dynamic. In general, monitoring is performed to support adaptive management, improve planning and/or verify the efficiency of the area. Adaptive management is a cyclical process where information about the past feeds back and enhances the way in which management should be conducted in the future. Therefore, evaluating the effectiveness of the management activities adopted is a fundamental step. The improvement of planning ranges from evaluation of the design of the area and its connections with environments beyond its boundaries, to analysis of the programmes carried out within the area. Finally, verification of its efficiency, a growing demand of society, allows us to examine how, and if, the objectives of the area are being fulfilled and at what cost.

Monitoring of protected areas can take place on two scales and through at least two approaches. The first scale is that of the Conservation Area itself: the evaluation of a particular area. The second scale is that of the protected area system - national or regional. In this case, areas are examined as part of a system that has broader goals and complementary impacts. With regard to approaches, the first relates to management efficiency and the second, to efficiency in the conservation of biodiversity. Of course, these approaches overlap, since management aims, among other objectives, to ensure the conservation of biodiversity. Nevertheless, the indicators for these approaches should be different, since it is possible to have management that meets its pre-established goals, without necessarily ensuring the maintenance of biodiversity.

There are numerous monitoring initiatives for Conservation Areas. In Brazil, some complementary methods of monitoring and evaluating area management are used, such as Rappam (Rapid Assessment and Prioritization of Protected Areas Management). This is a method of rapid assessment aimed prioritizing Conservation Area management. Under ARPA (Amazon Region Protected Areas Program) another monitoring and evaluation tool used is the FAUC (Ferramenta de Avaliação das Unidades de Conservação), an adaptation of the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool developed by the World Commission on Protected Areas as part of the forest initiative of the World Bank and WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature.

Recently, the System for Analysis and Monitoring of Management (SAMGe), established by the Management Monitoring and Evaluation Division of the Directorate for Creation and Management of ICMBio and formalised by Administrative Order no. 306 of 31 May 2016 has become the official tool for analysing and monitoring the management effectiveness of federal Conservation Areas. According to ICMBio 17, itself, the SAMGe is based on the relationships between resources and sums allocated to objectives, their relationship to society by means of uses, and how the institution responds to territorial management challenges. These elements determine management effectiveness, which is the fulfilment of public policy within a territorially protected area. The tool has already been used as a resource for drawing up and revising Management Plans, as well as for decision making in different sectors of the institution. Likewise, the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) has used the SAMGe as a tool for measuring the effectiveness of Conservation Area management under the umbrella of several projects, and is evaluating other ways of applying the methodology as a tool to support the allocation of resources and management efforts.

There is also the monitoring carried out by ISA, which is done from a different perspective, that of civil society, and which aggregates official information, information gathered from daily media monitoring and from other sources. Read more about our activities by clicking here.

It should be emphasised that these initiatives do not directly assess the protection of biodiversity or the processes that maintain its integrity. In order to evaluate the conservation of biodiversity in Brazilian federal protected areas, the National Biodiversity Monitoring Programme was established in 2017, following the issue of Normative Instruction No. 3 of 4 September, to monitor the status of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services. There are, therefore, ICMBio monitoring initiatives, some still in the experimental and planning stages. These initiatives are being developed, tested, improved and implemented, given the importance of monitoring for the management and effectiveness of the Conservation Areas. Among the guidelines of the Programme is the "encouragement and recognition of the importance of participatory monitoring in the various stages of the Programme, such as planning, data collection and analysis, interpretation of results and sharing of learning, the strengthening of the role of local communities in the management and sustainable use of natural resources, through their integration into conservation area management". In this context, the Participatory Biodiversity Monitoring Programme arose, with the aim of bringing together monitoring and the maintenance of protected areas with social participation.

Participatory monitoring with involvement of local communities brings significant socio-environmental gains: enabling the collection of data from remote areas; agility in the application of the information to local management, being, therefore, useful and influential in the practice of biodiversity management and conservation; bringing together people living near conservation areas, increasing their affinity with conservation and assisting with shared management and conflict reduction; enabling verification and re-adaptation of management activities; reducing data collection costs, which can at the same time build capacity among local actors involved; investing in social mobilization and capacity building; besides making possible long-term monitoring, through stronger links to ongoing management activities.

Joint assessment of biodiversity and the collaborative presumption of adaptations based on the information collected is an important and efficient form of socio-environmental development. However, consolidating local participation is not a simple or quick task. It depends on transparency and commitment and is a process whose progress will involve proactive engagement by local communities and institutions and success in management and conservation.

There is also the whole world of the social, cultural and economic impacts that protected areas exert on local communities and which have not been monitored or evaluated. This is not a new issue, but one continually on the agenda. There are, however, emerging civil society initiatives to assess and monitor the social impacts of protected areas. Examples are the Assessment of Social Impacts in Protected Areas (AISAPS), led by the International Institute of Education of Brazil (IEB) and WWF and the social and environmental protected area monitoring system, an ISA initiative.

Fire management

In addition to the financial challenges, other difficulties must be faced following the creation of a conservation area. These difficulties are related to decisions about the procedures to be adopted for the management of the area. In this context, the challenge lies in the lack of knowledge about the sum of the processes that generate and maintain its biodiversity, whose integrity must be preserved, and the concomitant need for action. This is the challenge of all conservation biology: it is not possible to wait for full data to be collected before beginning to start managing, because biodiversity is continually threatened, including - albeit less - in protected areas.

The deliberate presence or absence of fire in conservation areas clearly illustrates the need for action by clashing with the limitations of knowledge on the complexity of ecosystems. In several African parks, for example, fire was part of the dynamics of the ecosystem before the creation of the protected area. With the establishment of parks, came the policies of suppression of fire and consequently, changes in vegetation, which culminated in changes, often undesirable, in the fauna. One example is the Kruger National Park in South Africa, whose creation led to the exclusion of natives and hunters, which decreased the frequency of fires. As a result, previously open areas have been invaded by shrubs, reducing the possibilities for herbivory and, therefore, fauna. The reintroduction of fires was needed for the fauna to return 19.

There are other cases, such as medium and high-altitude conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, where fire protection, adopted since 1890, has made the area denser and more shaded, causing a reduction in the number of sequoia seedlings. This strategy has also transformed the chaparral present in lower areas where vegetation has increased in density, fuel quantity has increased, fire-intolerant species have spread, and plant diversity has declined.

Although fire has impacts on several ecosystems (see in fires and burning), its importance cannot however be ruled out in some environments. In the Cerrado, the Brazilian savannah, two thirds of the species, which constitute the herbaceous stratum, are adapted to frequent burnings and many of them may disappear in the total absence of fire. Thus, it is important to study ecosystems and evaluate the importance of controlled burning, since fire can be responsible for maintaining biodiversity, as is the case in the Cerrado

In the acidic and nutrient-poor soil of the savanna biome, vegetation tends to accumulate large quantities of lignin, a structural substance of difficult decomposition, in the foliage. Fire, in this case, accelerates the process of nutrient recycling, allowing these to be reused faster by trailing species. In addition, the thermal shock caused by fire breaks the vegetative dormancy of the seeds, causing fissures that favour water penetration, stimulating germination. As a result of millions of years of evolution under the influence of fire, herbaceous vegetation sprouts in a short period, attracting various herbivores, and the trees present adaptive defences, such as the thick corks that cover the trunk and provide thermal insulation 20.

Although fire is considered a determinant of the Cerrado's landscape diversity, in many cases the strategy adopted has been the total suppression of fire in conservation areas. This strategy alters the characteristic fire regime of the Cerrado and, therefore, threatens its biodiversity, broadly speaking in two ways: interfering with processes such as colonization, establishment of new individuals and competition; and through the inevitable occurrence of large fires, due to the excess of accumulated organic material, which behaves like fuel, spreading the fire. These fires, which have been frequent, can cause the death of individuals unprepared for such fire intensity.

The controversy over the desirability of suppressing or not supressing fires is fuelled by the relative lack of data on the role of fire in the Cerrado, coupled with the lack of adequate management structure. The structure needed for the activity involves a trained and equipped fire brigade, to ensure safety if the fire gets out of control. However, protected areas, both federal and state, have a great lack of human and material resources, which makes it even harder to obtain a licence from environmental agencies for fire management. However, despite this scenario, conservation area managers need to make decisions and adopt certain management practices. This whole picture corroborates the importance of planning based on studies specific to each protected area, through a management plan, plus strengthening of the environmental agenda and ensuring financial investment in the management of protected areas. In the case of fire, in recent years the concept of integrated fire management has gained prominence, ranging from the ecological characteristics of each biome to its traditional use, and can be seen as beneficial or harmful depending on how, where, when and why it is used. Thus, Integrated Fire Management seeks a balance between these various aspects with a focus on biodiversity conservation and climate protection, as well as offering benefits to local communities.

Financial Sustainability

Given the challenges of selecting areas and the political difficulties involved in establishing conservation areas, it might be thought that the greatest obstacle regarding protected areas is their creation and that, once established, everything becomes very simple. However, the challenges of implementation and management are even greater, albeit of a different nature. This scenario is compounded by the fact that public policies are more focused on the creation than on the maintenance of the areas, something reflected even in the allocation of resources. In other words, it is easier to obtain resources for the establishment of new conservation areas than for the implementation or management of those already created.

In addition to limited resources, there is the issue of the management procedures to be adopted to ensure the maintenance of biological processes, and consequently, of the biodiversity of the area. In short, there are two types of difficulties in this phase: those of a resource nature, generally more related to the establishment of the area, but which also determine the management activities, and those of an ecological nature, relating to the management decisions for the area, ranging from the management of animal or plant populations to the relationships between the area and its surrounding communities.

In addition to these direct contributions and investments, it is very important to stress the importance of socio-environmental production chains linked to extractive livelihoods for the local and regional economy: açaí, Brazil nuts, rubber, fish, shrimp and crab are just a few examples of the many chains for which these territories are indispensable. 

The financial sustainability of the National System of Conservation Areas, that is, the source and form of provision of the necessary resources for the maintenance and expansion of the SNUC and its requisite implementation and effective management, is one of the great challenges for the full realization of its objectives: ensuring the conservation of biodiversity, landscapes, ecological and geomorphological processes, archaeological and paleontological heritage, and the valuation and dissemination of traditional knowledge.

Due to the complexity of the theme, accentuated by the differentiated objectives of conservation area categories, the specific context of each region of the country in which each area is located and its socio-political meaning, the search for financial sustainability requires the adoption of a different set of principles and guidelines to harmonize the planning, management and financial monitoring of conservation areas. The combination of sources of financing, such as the ICMBio budget for conservation areas, bodies such as the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) - still responsible for the Program for Prevention and Combating Deforestation, Burning and Forest Fires, which allocates resources for SNUC-related activities, the Brazilian Forest Service, international cooperation and special programmes, such as ARPA (Amazonia Protected Areas Programme), environmental compensation, fines, donations, tourism (tickets, service concessions, product and image sales) or Ecological ICMS revenues, ought to result in the strategic planning of resource allocation, which could greatly contribute to more effective management of Brazilian protected areas.

In addition to investments in resources, there is also the financial return linked to protected areas. Although research into conservation costs and monetary returns is not so common, recent studies21 e 22 seek to relate financial gains to the maintenance of these areas, aiming to value and provide more resources for such conservation initiatives.

According to a recent study22, in 2010 logging generated more than R$1.8 billion in revenues. But production has been declining over the last decade, reflecting the lack of incentives and investments in the sector, linked to deforestation, which reduces the possibilities of using this resource, which decreased by 36% between 2006 and 2016. The extraction of non-timber products, such as açai, increased by 112% between 2006 and 2016, while Brazil nut production increased by 20.4% in the same period.   Protected area visitation stands out, with around 17 million registered visitors in 2016, with an economic impact estimated at between R$ 2.5 and R$ 6.1 billion per year, corresponding to the creation of between 77,000 and 133,000 jobs. In relation to the monetary benefit generated by water resources affected by the presence of conservation areas, this was estimated at R$ 59.8 billion annually, distributed into protection of rivers for hydroelectric generation (R$ 23.6 billion annually), consumption uses (R$ 28.4 billion annually) and avoided erosion (R$ 7.8 billion annually).

However, in Brazil the 'environmental sector' has historically carried little political weight. One of the factors corroborating this is that the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) was only created in 1992 - although from 1973 the Special Secretariat for the Environment, which shared much of the Ministry's current responsibilities, was attached to the Ministry of the Interior. One of the consequences of this is that MMA is one of the least favoured ministries as regards the allocation of funds from the public budget.

Despite the socio-ecological and even financial returns of conservation areas, investments in the environmental sector have still declined. A survey showed that in five years the MMA budget dropped by more than R$ 1.3 billion. In 2013, when the investment reached its peak, the earmarked budget was about R$ 5 billion – whereas by 2018, the approved budget was R$ 3.7 billion.   In 2018, this reduction represented a reduction of about 44% in the transfer of funds to ICMBio - the budget forecast was R$ 708 million for the year, against R$ 1.25 billion in 2017.

In 2017, the budget allocated to conservation areas and actions such as combating deforestation, species conservation, titling of rural properties and implementation of the National Water Resources Policy was close to R$ 2,216 billion. As early as 2018, the budget for all these areas decreased to R$ 2.123 billion. In addition, funds transferred directly to conservation areas were reduced by more than R$ 15.7 million – from R$ 252 million in 2017 to R$ 236 million in 2018. Reductions in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications also impacted the environment, since monitoring of deforestation in the various biomes suffered a 60% cut. The proposed budget for the action was cut from R$ 5.4 million in 2017 to R$ 2.2 million in 2018 23.

Resource challenges also extend to the scarcity of human resources. According to the TCU (federal audit office)24, in 2008 Amazon conservation areas had one employee for every 3,268 km². The Terra do Meio Ecological Station in Pará for example, whose area is equivalent to almost six times that of Brazil’s Federal District, had only two employees for its management, although it is located in the “arc of deforestation” - a region that continues to be under extreme pressure from illegal logging and land grabbing. Another example also from Pará, the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve, had a staff of three to manage a territory with more than 18,000 inhabitants in an area of ​​677,000 hectares5. The country's federal conservation area scenario was a little better, but still below conservation area needs for effective management: they had one employee for every 430 km².

According to ICMBio24, in December 2014 there were 361 employees assigned to federal conservation areas in the Brazilian Amazon, of which 287 were in the environmental area, including professional posts, analysts or special appointees, and 37 in the administrative area, including technical and analyst posts. On average, this corresponds to about 2.6 employees for each of the 136 federal conservation areas in the Brazilian Amazon that year; in other words, a team very much smaller than what is needed. In addition, staff allocation does not follow a systematic pattern: for example, while the Tapajós National Forest had a team of 18 people that year and the Jaru Biological Reserve had 12, a further 24 conservation areas had only one employee, such as the Terra Grande-Pracuúba, Arapixi and Mapuá Extractive Reserves and the Serra da Cutia National Park.

See more information on the map published in 2015 showing pressures and threats on Conservation Areas in the Brazilian Amazon.

This scenario of budget deficits and insufficient staff clearly directly affects routine activities in the conservation areas, thus compromising activities for the management and conservation of socio-biodiversity. It is therefore essential to strengthen the environmental agenda, which impacts directly and indirectly on human life, to enable the management of all conservation and management activities, which are ultimately responsible for the maintenance of essential ecosystem functions and services, including to human life.

In addition, the lack of investment in environmental management impedes an annual injection of billions of reais into the Brazilian economy from protected green areas. Conservation areas have a high potential to contribute to the national economy, through activities like sustainable resource extraction, such as timber, fishing, energy generation and mitigation of the effects of climate change. These are some of the areas that could generate more wealth and job opportunities in the country if there were more investment in environmental management. Thus, once again, conservation areas prove themselves to be important elements of social, economic and environmental development and are fundamental for the future of Brazil.

Pressures and Challenges

Conservation areas are one of the main instruments for conserving biodiversity and maintaining natural resources. However, they suffer from weaknesses such as a lack of financial and human resources, discontinuity of actions, political interests contrary to nature conservation and conflicts involving traditional and local communities, the private sector and public authority.


Predatory deforestation is still one of the most alarming threats to Brazilian conservation areas. Illegal logging and ranching can be seen as the determining activities in this process, responsible for inducing a number of other processes of degradation, such as loss of environmental integrity, reduced quality of life and increased violence associated with these illegal practices25. This situation continues to persist, despite current knowledge about the capacity of the areas already deforested to maintain economic activities, such as agriculture and livestock - also one of the great causes of this suppression of native vegetation.

The term "deforestation" has been criticized in the associated literature, because it implies impacts exclusively on tree-covered areas, where there are "forests". As it does not cover the suppression of native vegetation in other non-forest biomes, such as the cerrado and the pampas for example, the term has been substituted and the expression "suppression / loss of native vegetation" or "conversion of native vegetation" adopted.

The impacts of the removal of native vegetation include loss of opportunities for sustainable use of environmental resources, impacts on water dynamics, biodiversity and the carbon cycle, and sacrificing the opportunity to capture the value of ecosystem services provided by nature conservation, and even extend to the spread of disease. In addition, deforestation emits carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Although part of the CO2 is reabsorbed by secondary forest regrowth in deforested areas, other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide are not and contribute to climate change.

The loss of native vegetation is also related to other diverse human activities, such as fires, the timber trade, expansion of agricultural production, urban expansion, construction of roads and other forms of transportation, large-scale livestock farming, expansion of the agricultural frontier and mining. Thus, other impacts may also be associated with the removal of vegetation, which increases the importance of monitoring the situation and thinking about ways of mitigation.

Monitoring pressures

 Monitoring of deforestation in Amazonia since 1988 has been carried out by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), of the Ministry of Science and Technology, in partnership with the Ministry of Environment (MMA). Its purpose is to quantify deforestation in areas with native vegetation and, based on this, to provide a baseline for applied public policies. In addition, monitoring allows measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through illegal deforestation, which also guides policies, mainly related to climate change, in order to meet targets for gradual reduction of GHG emissions by 2020 adopted by the Brazilian government 26.

For this there are two satellite monitoring systems: PRODES and DETER. The Brazilian Amazonian Forest Monitoring Programme by Satellite (Prodes) follows by satellite clear-cut deforestation in the legal Amazon. The data are published in the second half of each year, in the form of an estimate, and then, in the first half of the following year, the consolidated data are published. With this information, annual rates of deforestation can be calculated, projections made and a historical geographic database built up.

The  Deforestation Detection in Real Time (Deter) system, used since 2004, maps on a monthly basis the areas of clear-cutting and the progressive process of deforestation by forest degradation. It identifies warning areas for rapid deforestation control actions. The system only detects deforestation in areas larger than 25 ha, but provides data by selection filters, such as by municipality, state, IBAMA operating base and conservation areas, as well as producing daily alerts, which facilitate and expedite surveillance operations.

On the basis of the evidence of the increase of Amazonian forest degradation provided by the Deter data, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has also developed the Forest Degradation Mapping in the Brazilian Amazon (Degrad) system, designed to map areas experiencing deforestation where the forest cover has not been completely removed. This program has been replaced by Deter-B. Data from 2007 to 2013 can be accessed here.
The DETER-B project was developed to respond to the demand for better spatial resolution images that allow deforestation of less than 25 hectares to be identified, given the reduction in size of deforested areas in the Amazon. DETER-B is able to identify and map, in almost real time, deforestation and other changes in forest cover with a minimum area of ​​approaching one hectare.
Another project, called TerraClass, a partnership between INPE and Embrapa, aims to map systemic use and coverage of deforested lands in the Legal Amazon, seeking to understand the dynamics of regional usage and coverage. The spatial data assign deforestation into twelve categories, with emphasis on: annual agriculture, urban settlements, mining, mosaic of occupations, pasture (exposed soil, clean or dirty) and pasture undergoing regeneration, reforestation and secondary vegetation, as well as areas not observed and others.
Finally, there is the Map Biomas, an initiative involving universities, NGOs and technology companies, which aims to contribute to the understanding of the transformations of the Brazilian territory from the annual mapping of land cover and use throughout the country. Thus, despite not directly and exclusively monitoring deforestation, it is also a tool to support public policy making and important for land management and the maintenance of socio-biodiversity.

According to the Summary for Decision Makers of the 1st Brazilian Diagnosis of Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services 27: "despite the reduction in annual rates of habitat loss due to deforestation in Brazilian biomes over the last decade, especially in the Amazon, the conversion of natural ecosystems remains high, especially in the Cerrado (236,000 km² between 2000 and 2015) and the Caatinga (conversion of 45% of the original coverage). Even in the Atlantic Forest, the deforested area - about 29,000 hectares from 2015 to 2016 - substantially outstrips the area restored in the biome over the same time period.

Check here the data of systemic deforestation of some Brazilian biomes

PRODES Amazônia

PRODES Cerrado

SOS Mata Atlântica Mata Atlântica

Acess the interactive map.

Resisting pressures and threats

The creation of Conservation Areas and the recognition of Indigenous Lands are the most effective actions for the prevention of deforestation 28, 29 e 30, thus contributing to the maintenance of vegetation cover, biodiversity and socioecological processes. Such information comes from specific studies and a systematic process of monitoring this pressure, essential for the effective assessment of the socio-environmental situation and the contribution of protected areas to the socio-ecological stability in the Amazon.

The simple fact of designating these territories already contributes significantly to stopping removal of native vegetation: according to the latest consolidated data of 2018 on clear-cutting in the Amazon, more than 85% of deforestation occurred outside Indigenous Lands and Conservation Areas. When we exclude Environmental Protection Areas (APAs), the percentage is even higher, more than 90%¹. With regard to accumulated deforestation and vegetation integrity within state and federal conservation areas, only 4.77% of their areas was deforested. Leaving aside APAs, in which conversion of native vegetation at greater levels than in other area categories is assumed, the figure is even lower, reaching only 1.88% 31.

In the Amazon, most deforestation occurs in the immediate vicinity of highways, and it is estimated that approximately 90% of the suppression of native vegetation occurs within a radius of up to 100 kilometres from this transport network 32. Studies also argue that, within a radius of up to 50 kilometres of these networks, deforestation levels range from 67% 33 to 85% 34. Research from 2014 35 also demonstrates that 94.9% of deforestation in the Legal Amazon occurred in a much smaller area, at a distance of up to 5.5 kilometres from highways and one kilometre from rivers. This same research also concluded that protected areas were responsible for avoiding between 34,000 and 39,000 km² of deforestation.

Going against the pressures and threats to socio-biodiversity, there is the adoption of strategies that aim at managing and conserving ecosystem processes, functions and services. In the context of deforestation, there are command and control actions and management actions and agreements with local communities. In order to achieve zero deforestation, there are as well four main lines of action to be adopted: implementation of effective and ongoing environmental public policies, support for sustainable resource use and agricultural and ranching best practices, market restriction for products associated with new deforestation and the involvement of voters, consumers and investors in joint efforts to reduce this pressure.

The gains from zero deforestation are multiple and justify the struggle for and insistence on this agenda. Among the benefits are reductions in various issues, such as greenhouse gas emissions, pollution-related diseases and deaths, consequences of climate change, fines and embargoes for companies and rural producers, concentration of income and violence in the countryside. In addition, they are associated with the preservation of the rights of traditional and indigenous peoples, opening new commodity markets and diversifying sources of income in protected areas, such as tourism, sustainable logging and extraction of non-timber products, environmental compensation, etc.

Biological invasions

Autoria: Michele de Sá Dechoum (Biologist, UFSC)*

The introduction of plants and animals outside their area of natural distribution has risen dramatically as a result of the increased opportunities for transportation, trade, travel and tourism between different countries and continents. New, quick and safe transportation methods provide vectors for plants, animals and other groups of living organisms to cross biogeographical borders that would otherwise impede their natural movement 36. Very often these species are introduced deliberately for a specific purpose, whether for commercial use, food production or even scientific research; others arrive accidentally, carried on boats or stored with produce and goods shipped to Brazil.

Every species located outside its area of natural distribution is denominated an alien species. The natural distribution of a species is determined by the combination of abiotic factors, such as relief and climatic conditions, with biotic factors, related to the characteristics of each species and its interactions with other native species.

Geographic limits established by ourselves, like the borders of municipalities, states and countries, cannot be used to define whether a species is native to a region or not. We use the biogeographical regions covered by different biomes and ecosystems, and the differences determined by the climate in different regions to determine species distributions. Based on this formula, a species from the Amazonian region, for example, found in a state in the south of the country, located in the Atlantic Rainforest biome, should be called an alien species, and can be called invasive if capable of causing environmental impacts.

For a species to become invasive, there are determinants such as vulnerability of the new environment, species characteristics and propagule pressure (repetition of the invasive event, for example). Species characteristics such as high reproduction capacity, short life cycle and numerous offspring facilitate invasion, as well as characteristics of the invaded community, such as high availability of resources, disturbed environments and strong ecological interactions 37.

Biological invasion causes impacts at various levels of organization of the organisms (individual, population, community, ecosystem and biota), through various mechanisms, such as disease spread, absence of predators, competition with native species, etc. The negative consequences may reflect changes in the productivity of the system, in the water and water cycles in the soil, in the availability of light, nutrient cycling, food chains, in interspecific relationships, causing extinctions and changes in the structure and function of the ecosystem.

The impacts of biological invasions are global and invasive alien species are today considered one of the leading global causes of loss of biological diversity, second only to the direct conversion of natural environments. It is estimated that the introduction of species into new environments may lead to the extinction of half of the mammals inhabiting the planet today, promoting the homogenization and impoverishment of the global biota 38.

Recognition that invasive alien species pose serious threats to biological diversity at global scale occurred in a politically comprehensive form in 1992 at ECO-RIO 92, where the grounds were established for the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). According to the Convention, an invasive alien species is any alien species whose introduction or dispersal threatens biological diversity. The definition is valid for animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms and the species so defined may affect any kind of ecosystem. Around 200 countries or parties are presently signatories to the CBD, including Brazil, which recognizes the urgent need to acknowledge the impacts caused by invasive alien species. Article 8, which addresses in-situ conservation, states in item h that the signatory countries to the Convention must “prevent the introduction of, control or eradicate those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or species.” The CBD must establish global priorities and directives, collect information and help coordinate international actions on invasive alien species.

Among the decisions taken at the meetings of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Decision VI/23, issued in 2002, sets out principles guiding the implementation of Article 8(h) and directives to the signatory governments and organizations for developing strategies to minimize the dissemination and impacts of invasive alien species.

The national database on invasive alien species currently contains 353 animal and plant species, with occurrences recorded in all Brazilian States 39. Around 60% of the invasive alien species in terrestrial environments in Brazil were intentionally introduced. The problem is particularly complex given that many activities with economic and social objectives lead to the introduction of invasive alien species. These activities can be grouped in:

  • intentional introductions of species for use in productive systems (agriculture, forestry activity, fishing) and for ornamental and recreational ends, in direct contact with natural environments;
  • intentional introductions of species for use in systems of containment or captivity (zoos, aquiculture, mariculture, aquariums, horticulture and the pet trade) that are known to pose a risk to natural environments if they escape; and
  • non-intentional introductions of species, organisms or pathogens through trade and travel routes and vectors (parasites of commercialized produce, organisms stuck to ship hulls and vehicle wheels, organisms transported in ballast water).

Ballast water is the sea water captured by a ship in order to ensure its operational safety and stability. Used since the nineteenth century to increase the stability of ships, ballast water is essential to the safety and efficiency of modern navigation, providing equilibrium to cargo-less ships. At the same time it represents a serious threat to the maritime environment, the economy and human health due to the fact that many alien species are transported in the water filling the ship tanks.

Introductions can also occur as the result of environmental alterations at different levels, including disturbances to ecosystems, alterations in land use practices and climate changes 40. Consequently biological invasions can occur as a result of other changes rather than themselves being agents of change 41 e 42.

As frequently occurs in feedback cycles, environmental degradation – whether by overexploitation or habitat conversion – causes imbalances, which allows the establishment of new alien species that invade and generate a process of impoverishing biota and natural cycles (water, nutrients, etc) 43. These alterations in turn generate further degradation and expose spaces to secondary invasions, facilitated by pre-established invasive species – and so on.

Biological invasions act as agents of change at various scales and in diverse spheres. While global trade is the main cause of organism transportation, the biggest consequences are observed first at a small scale with negative effects on fishing, for example, by small communities that depend directly on local resources for their survival 38, 44 e 45. iven the above, it is clear that policies, tools and procedures are needed at international, national and local levels to provide the bases for evaluating the risks associated with the introduction of invasive alien species and establish an equilibrium between legitimate socioeconomic activities and safeguards appropriate to the health of communities and ecosystems and the well-being of the human population 36.

In responding to biological invasions, preventing the voluntary or accidental introduction of species is the best option in terms of the costs and efforts needed to manage natural areas. If prevention does not take place and a potentially invasive alien species reaches a new environment, early detection and rapid control response can solve the problem in a short space of time and at low costs. Delayed actions for controlling invasive alien species can lead to extensive invasion processes that require long-term structured control plans, though in many cases it is impossible to contemplate eradication.

Thus, it is important to carry out research and monitoring of invasive species, involving surveys, detections and management strategies. In addition, information about invasion should be disseminated to the population, through educational campaigns, in order to raise awareness and mitigate this problem. It is also important to highlight the importance of and need for human and financial resources for effective conservation actions to resist pressures from biological invasion.
The Brazilian federal government and some state governments are working on the development and implementation of strategies for this problem. The objective is to put in place public policies aimed at preventing the introduction, controlling and monitoring species already present and undertaking and supporting training, education, public information and research activities. In order to do so, it has been fundamental to involve and coordinate with other government education, health and agriculture agencies, organized civil society and the economic sectors directly involved, to discuss possible measures that reconcile different interests and that can be implemented through public management instruments.

One of the government policies was the publication of the plan for implementing the National Strategy for Invasive Alien Species in 2018, aiming to minimize impacts on biodiversity. The plan will be in effect for 12 years and establishes implementation tools, such as plans for prevention, eradication, control and monitoring of invasive alien species; early detection and rapid response systems; risk analysis and a database.

Threats and the opportunity for prevention in Amazonia

In Amazonia the pace of deforestation is alarming, driven by illegal logging, the construction of new highways and hydroelectric plants, population growth and urbanization, accompanied by a weak or non-existent socioeconomic infrastructure. However there are still extensive and dense areas of forest that have survived the frenetic process of devastation. Some natural areas remain more isolated and thus undisturbed. Their traditional populations still pursue their own ways of using the territory and resources with associated practices that cause much less impact than conventional uses and forms of production. All these factors are the only tools of preventative and mitigating action in the fact of the problematic invasion of alien species.

This regional context offers a rare opportunity in the contemporary world, namely the chance to design and establish a regional program for preventing the impacts caused by invasive alien species on natural environments, as well as the problems posed to the economy, human and animal health and the unique cultural aspects of the region. In parallel there is an opportunity to develop at regional level forms of natural resource use and modes of production founded on the vision of social, economic and environmental sustainability.

These opportunities have already been lost in most parts of the country where the introduced models are now consolidated and, though not irreversible, have already modified much of the landscape and consumed a significant portion of the natural resources originally available. As part of the focus on the opportunity to work preventatively in the Amazonian region against the biggest threats, it is considered of extreme importance that activities such as aquiculture and biofuel production are closely controlled and monitored.

Brazil has the world’s most biodiverse freshwater environments and yet we are repeating the use of technological models and packages with alien species in aquaculture production, used across the country and across the world: these include species like tilapia, carp and catfish, which cause various impacts to the native aquatic ecosystems and bring little financial benefit to the people who breed them. The impacts of invasive alien aquatic species are almost irreversible in most cases, and today some countries, such as South Africa, no longer permit the introduction of fish for any purpose in their territory and encourage the production of native fish instead.

The wholesale conversion of natural areas into dendê palm tree plantations (Elaies guineensis), especially in forest gallery areas, including as part of agroforestry systems in Permanent Preservation Areas, comprises a series threat to the conservation of terrestrial biological diversity, due to the conversion itself and due to the processes of biological invasion that can originate from these areas. It is estimated that in the State of Bahia alone, 20,000 hectares of subspontaneous dendê palm groves exist 46, that is, trees that were not planted. The potential for the species to invade the Amazon region is high and the commercial benefits are not worth the potential loss of the biological diversity of plants and animals in the largest and best conserved biome remaining in Brazil.



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