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Fortress Conservation

The Western model of creating parks and wildlife reserves – supposed to protect biodiversity and critical habitats – has forcibly removed local communities from their ancestral lands and driven widespread human rights abuses across the world. While this model of “Fortress Conservation” is most heavily funded by western governments and institutions, time has come for a radical shift to respect the land and lives of local and Indigenous communities and allow them to sustainably manage biodiverse areas – as they have for millennium.


Fortress Conservation fences off ecosystems and excludes local communities who depend on these areas for their livelihoods. In Africa and Asia, nearly every protected area was established against the will of local communities, resulting in their dispossession and forced resettlement. In many countries, protected areas are patrolled by militarized security forces, who subject local communities to fines, arrests, and various forms of violence – including torture, rape and murder – if they enter the areas they have stewarded for generations.

Removing local communities from their lands does not protect biodiversity. Encompassing 22 percent of the world’s land surface, traditional Indigenous territories coincide with areas that hold 80 percent of the planet's biodiversity, demonstrating that Indigenous Peoples provide effective and sustainable conservation. Many areas that are considered biodiversity hotspots are not “untouched wilderness,” but instead, have been preserved by the local communities – true stewards of the land.

Despite this evidence, the important role played by the Indigenous as environmental guardians still fails to gain due recognition. While protected areas remove Indigenous communities, they permit the entry of thousands of tourists and other harmful extractive industries such as trophy hunting, mining, and logging. In Tanzania for example, trophy hunting is permitted on over 80 percent of the country’s total protected land area.

In December 2022, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was adopted during the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15). A major target of the GBF is to place 30 percent of the planet into protected areas by 2030. While the Framework contains language recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ rights, it does not go far enough and risks becoming the largest land grab in history. This fear is legitimized by studies showing that meeting the 30x30 target could directly displace and dispossess 300 million people.

What we are doing about it
  • At the Oakland Institute, we work directly with Indigenous and local communities to support their struggles with research, advocacy, communication and legal strategies when their lands and livelihoods are threatened by conservation schemes.

  • Our research and publications document abuses, bring the local perpetrators and international accomplices to light, and serve as tools for communities to use as they push back against forces that intend to dispossess them to expand protected areas.

  • We conduct advocacy towards governments, donor agencies, and international institutions in order to hold them accountable so that their policies and programs respect human rights.

  • Our Legal Defense Fund provides urgent support to land defenders facing criminalization and powers landmark legal cases brought by communities to protect their rights to land and life.