Monitoring Conservation Investment Outcomes by Curan Bonham & Michael McGreevey

Friday, Feb 27 2015

Conservation of the world’s natural capital has been achieved through myriad mechanisms: chief among them is the establishment of protected areas systems (CBD, 2005). While protected areas have been considered the quintessential building blocks of many natural capital conservation strategies, their effectiveness in achieving the goals for which they were intended has been contested (Joppa and Pfaff, 2009, Bonham et al., 2008, Bruner et al., 2001, 2004, Ghimire et al., 1997). 

Recently, a study published in Global Environmental Change about park performance in Mexico showed mixed results in an analysis of the effectiveness of parks in reducing deforestation. This study focused on the subject of paper parks, where the government had officially declared an area as protected, but in which the parks were “short of the financial, human, and technical resources needed for effective management.” This study found, among other things, that protected areas that were “large, new, mixed use, and relatively well-funded” were more effective at stemming deforestation inside their borders (Blackman et. al., 2015) but had less encouraging results on the parks that lacked these characteristics. Donors may not be able to easily influence whether a park is large new or mixed use, but they can certainly play a key role in ensuring that conservation management activities are well-funded.

A principle strategy to ensure a regular stream of funding for conservation activities is to establish a conservation trust fund (CTF) in support of a park or network of protected areas. But an ongoing concern of donors and governments is the question: have Conservation Trust Funds (CTFs) resulted in tangible impacts on biodiversity and conservation outcomes?  In spite of these questions, CTFs have historically put less emphasis on measuring impact and evaluating their contribution to maintaining biodiversity (Spergel and Taieb, 2008).  Without proper verification of the impacts resulting from CTFs investments, further financial support may be at risk.   

Recently, however, there has been an increasing recognition of the importance of biodiversity monitoring by CTFs, which is highlighted by work done by the Network for Environmental Funds in Latin America and the Caribbean (RedLAC, 2012) and the Conservation Finance Alliance (Spergel and Mitikin, 2014). While momentum is building to develop robust systems that guide conservation investments and effectively capture their impacts, very few data have been collected, and evidence is still lacking.    

Despite the nascent data collection efforts, a unique effort to support global CTFs provides a case in which substantial impact data already exists: Conservation International’s Global Conservation Fund. The Global Conservation Fund (GCF) was established in 2001 by a long-term $100 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF) to support the establishment and recurrent management costs for protected areas.  The GBMF grant to GCF has enabled GCF to become one of the leading global sources of technical expertise for designing CTFs.  This investment has also has allowed it to compile one of the most comprehensive integrated global data sets on protected areas management effectiveness and conservation outcomes.

With data collected over the last 5 years (2008-2013), a recently published paper (Bonham et. al., 2014) attempts to answer 2 key questions: 1) What is the relationship between GCF investment and the enabling conditions needed to achieve conservation outcomes? 2) Does stable funding (i.e. regular GCF and CTF contributions) correlate with a stable or improving deforestation rate?

In order to provide a more integrated analysis of protected areas effectiveness this paper incorporated analysis of financial variables, biological state outcomes, and management effectiveness. Analysis of these data sets over multiple time periods suggests that protected areas, when supported by long-term financing mechanisms which provide adequate financing for effective management, can yield durable conservation outcomes.

Additionally, it was found that the protected areas in the GCF portfolio steadily increased their management effectiveness over time and that deforestation declined as funding levels increased.  Results also indicate that higher scores on management effectiveness were associated with lower deforestation rates. This suggests that monitoring the enabling conditions for effective protected area management provides a reasonable proxy for conservation outcomes. Taken together, these results make a compelling argument that Conservation Trust Funds (or other regular long-term funding sources) are a valuable tool to help protected areas deliver on their objectives and ultimately contribute to global conservation targets.

The criticisms and controversies on the subject of protected area effectiveness are often based on the false assumption that all protected areas function in the same way. The truth is that protected area management falls across a spectrum of not only IUCN management categories, but also the effectiveness of management activities, which are often contingent upon funding levels.  In order to explore these relationships and build upon previous findings, Conservation International is now developing research that will look at protected area investments spanning 25 years.  This expanded scope of investments will allow us to identify determinants of protected area conservation outcomes.  Our hope is that this research will provide insights that allow us to target the most effective and efficient interventions to achieve conservation goals.



Blackman, A., Pfaff, A., & Robalino, J. (2015). Paper park performance: Mexico's natural protected areas in the 1990s. Global Environmental Change,31, 50-61.

Bonham, C., Sacayon, E., Tzi, E. (2008). Protecting imperiled “paper parks”: potential lessons from the Sierra Chinajá, Guatemala, 1581-1593. Biodiversity and Conservation 17 (7).

Bonham, C., Steininger, M. K., McGreevey, M., Stone, C., Wright, T., & Cano, C. (2014) Conservation Trust Funds, Protected Area Management Effectiveness and Conservation Outcomes: Lessons from The Global Conservation Fund.

Bruner, A. G., Gullison, R. E., Rice, R. E., & Da Fonseca, G. A. (2001). Effectiveness of parks in protecting tropical biodiversity. Science291(5501), 125-128.

Bruner, A. G., Gullison, R. E. and Balmford, A. (2004) Financial costs and shortfalls of managing and expanding protected-areas systems in developing countries. BioScience 54: 1119–1126.

K. B . Ghimire, M. P. Pimbert, Eds., Social Change and Conservation: Environmental Politics and Impacts of National Parks and Protected Areas (Earthscan, London, 1997).

Joppa LN, Pfaff A (2009) High and Far: Biases in the Location of Protected Areas. PLoS ONE 4(12): e8273. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008273

RedLAC. 2012. Monitoring the Impact of Environmental Fund Projects on Biodiversity Conservation in Protected Areas. RedLAC

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2005). Handbook of the Convention on Biological Diversity Including its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, 3rd edition, (Montreal, Canada).

Spergel, B., and Taieb, P. 2008. Working Group on Environmental Funds Rapid Review of Conservation Trust. Second Edition. CFA, Washington, D.C.

Spergel, B., and Mikitin, K. 2014. Practice standards for conservation trust funds. Conservation Finance Alliance, Washington, D.C.


Curan Bonham is the Director of Project Monitoring and Evaluation, responsible for impact evaluation of investments within the portfolio of funds in Conservation International’s Ecosystem Finance Division. Prior to joining CI in 2011, Curan worked for Bioversity International in India and Italy.  He also worked as a forestry technician in the Intermountain West for the U.S. Forest Service and as an agricultural extension agent for Cornell Cooperative Extension. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Chile and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. Curan became a CFA member in 2015.

Michael McGreevey is the Senior Grant Manager for CI’s Global Conservation Fund. Michael has worked with CI for 7 years, with a focus on strategic partnerships to advance GCF's work on sustainable financing for conservation investments. As GCF Senior Grant Manager, Michael has helped oversee the strategic allocation of over $25m in project investments while also playing a key role in monitoring and evaluation, technical assistance, and strategic planning. Prior to his position at GCF, Michael worked on climate policy with the Environmental Defense Fund and indigenous issues at Ecotrust. Michael McGreevey has been a CFA member since 2013.



The article is also available in a PDF format at the Members Only section.

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Monitoring Conservation Investment Outcomes by Curan Bonham & Michael McGreevey
Friday, Feb 27 2015


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