The Botanical Review

, Volume 76, Issue 2, pp 140–164 | Cite as

The Importance of a Social Science Research Agenda in the Management of Protected Natural Areas, with Selected Examples

  • Joel T. Heinen


The advent of the modern protected area movement began in 1872 with the creation of Yellowstone National Park in the United States. For a century thereafter, as more nations began to set up protected area systems, the movement was largely western-dominated and adhered to ‘fences and fines’ forms of conservation. As many more developing nations gained independence in the latter half of the twentieth century, it was increasingly recognized that strict forms of conservation based on western ideals of nature could not be sustained in the long term. Specifically, many rural people in developing countries are dependent on local natural resources, and the conservation rules put into place in many protected areas frequently forbade all extraction and in many cases all entry except for tourism or research. This created a climate of increasing park-people conflicts that in many cases compromised conservation goals and led to a refocus in protected areas management and research in the social sciences worldwide. Here I describe survey and non-survey based protocols developed to study the effectiveness of protected areas in the societal realm. Policy gap analyses, rapid rural appraisals, key informant and focus group surveys and structured and semi-structured social surveys are described. Such studies can allow managers to plan for interventions where needed and can aid in designing appropriate local development projects in an effort to ameliorate park-people conflicts. I finish with a preliminary social research protocol, tested in May, 2009, for Yachang Orchid Reserve, Guangxi Province, the People’s Republic of China.


Focus Group Surveys Key Informant Interviews Protected Areas Management Rapid Rural Assessments Policy Gap Analysis Social Surveys 



I thank Professor Hong Liu for asking me to present this paper—decidedly out of context from the others—at the Guangxi International Orchid Symposium. I also thank all other Symposium participants, both international and Chinese, for their patience and interest in a topic that is admittedly removed from their core interests in orchid ecology, physiology, evolution, genetics and cultivation. I heartily thank the Guangxi Forestry Bureau and the Director of Yachang Orchid Reserve for hosting the Conference and for so graciously hosting my later stay at Yachang, and the Vice-Governor of Guangxi Province for having the foresight to fund this initiative. I also thank the large number of rural residents and Guangxi Forestry Bureau staff who participated in one or more survey exercise in and around Yachang. Finally, I am very much indebted to Ms. Wuying Ling who served so ably as my translator and interpreter in the field. Her core interests, like the other participants, are in Botany. But I hope to make a social scientist out of her yet.

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth and EnvironmentFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

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