Effectiveness of protected areas in mitigating fire within their boundaries: Case study of Chiapas, Mexico

Rosa María Román-Cuesta, Jordi Martínez-Vilalta

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Since the severe 1982-1983 El Niño drought, recurrent burning has been reported inside tropical protected areas (TPAs). Despite the key role of fire in habitat degradation, little is known about the effectiveness of TPAs in mitigating fire incidence and burned areas. We used a GPS fire database (1995-2005) (n = 3590 forest fires) obtained from the National Forest Commission to compare fire incidence (number of fires) and burned areas inside TPAs and their surrounding adjacent buffer areas in Southern Mexico (Chiapas). Burned areas inside parks ranged from 2% (Palenque) to 45% (Lagunas de Montebello) of a park's area, and the amount burned was influenced by two severe El Niño events (1998 and 2003). These two years together resulted in 67% and 46% of the total area burned in TPAs and buffers, respectively during the period under analysis. Larger burned areas in TPAs than in their buffers were exclusively related to the extent of natural habitats (flammable area excluding agrarian and pasture lands). Higher fuel loads together with access and extinction difficulties were likely behind this trend. A higher incidence of fire in TPAs than in their buffers was exclusively related to anthropogenic factors such as higher road densities and agrarian extensions. Our results suggest that TPAs are failing to mitigate fire impacts, with both fire incidence and total burned areas being significantly higher in the reserves than in adjacent buffer areas. Management plans should consider those factors that facilitate fires in TPAs: anthropogenic origin of fires, sensitivity of TPAs to El Niño-droughts, large fuel loads and fuel continuity inside parks, and limited financial resources. Consideration of these factors favors lines of action such as alternatives to the use of fire (e.g., mucuna-maize system), climatic prediction to follow the evolution of El Niño, fuel management strategies that favor extinction practices, and the strengthening of local communities and ecotourism. ©2006 Society for Conservation Biology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1074-1086
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2006


  • El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)
  • Fire management
  • Forest fires
  • Mesoamerican Biological Corridor
  • Parks
  • Tropical forests


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