The Vital Role of Indigenous Peoples in Forest Conservation

The Amazon rainforest, which houses the largest area of intact forest landscape which lies within indigenous lands (Image Credit: David Evers, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

Importance of Indigenous Peoples’ lands for the conservation of Intact Forest Landscapes (2020) Fa et al., Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment,

The Crux

Pristine forests remain not only a home for a huge range of biodiversity, they are also important resources for carbon storage, meaning their protection will become crucial as temperatures rise globally. Yet the term ‘pristine forest’ can be subjective. With this in mind, Peter Popatov et al., defined an IFL (Intact Forest Landscape) as a seamless mosaic of forest and associated treeless ecosystems that do not display obvious human activity or fragmentation. These areas are capable of housing entire species, including those that have expansive ranges.

The intent of this paper was to try and determine what proportion of that land intersects with land owned by Indigenous Peoples, to see how significant a role Indigenous Peoples could play in both conservation of biodiversity and the mitigation of climate change.

What They Did

The researchers were able to obtain geospatial data on both Intact Forest Landscape and land owned by Indigenous People for 50 different countries. They also calculated what percentage of the total forest landscape the IFLs made up, both in and outside of Indigenous Peoples’ lands.

Did You Know: Indigenous Australian Lands

The recent Australian bushfires have left the lands of many Indigenous peoples destroyed. The land plays a huge role in their cultural heritage, as well as everyday lives. Fortunately Yorta Yorta man Neil Morris has organised a fundraiser which has raised over $1.4 million AUD for the cause. If you would like to help people rebuild after the tragedy, follow this link.

What They Found

Of the 50 million square kilometres of forest zone included in the survey, about 23% was estimated to be IFL. Of that intact forest, just over a third lay within Indigenous Peoples’ lands, and the proportion of Indigenous lands that contained IFLs was considerably higher than the proportion of non-indigenous land. This was the case in just below two thirds of the countries sampled.

The researchers also showed that 84% of the world’s IFLs occur in either Tropical/Subtropical Most Broadleaf Forests or Boreal Forests/Taiga. Reduction of IFLs in these biomes has been smaller inside Indigenous lands than outside them.


This news is good, as highlighted below, but the fact remains that there are few countries worldwide who have made viable commitments to expanding the land rights of their Indigenous people. Hopefully studies such as this one will help reverse that trend.

So What?

This shows that if we are to ensure that the world’s forests remain intact, cooperating with and understanding the world’s Indigenous Peoples will be incredibly important. Whilst these results show that Indigenous Peoples have a huge role to play in helping preserve global biodiversity, they make up less than 5% of the global population. Partnering with Indigenous Peoples and granting them legal titles to ancestral forests will go along way in mitigating climate catastrophes.

Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist currently completing his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who has had way too much coffee today to make up for a lack of sleep. You can read more about his research and the rest of the Ecology for the Masses writers here, see more of his work at Ecology for the Masses here, or follow him on Twitter here.

You can read more about the role of Indigenous Peoples in conservation at the link below.

Indigenous peoples are crucial for conservation – a quarter of all land is in their hands


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