Community-managed reserves (CMRs) comprise the fastest-growing category of protected areas throughout the tropics. CMRs represent a compromise between advocates of nature conservation and advocates of human development. We ask whether CMRs succeed in achieving the goals of either. A fixed reserve area can produce only a finite resource supply, whereas human populations exploiting them tend to expand rapidly while adopting high-impact technologies to satisfy rising aspirations. Intentions behind the establishment of CMRs may be admirable, but represent an ideal rarely achieved. People tied to the natural forest subsist on income levels that are among the lowest in the Amazon. Limits of sustainable harvesting are often low and rarely known prior to reserve creation or respected thereafter, and resource exhaustion predictably follows. Unintended consequences typically emerge, such as overhunting of the seed dispersers, pollinators, and other animals that provide services essential to perpetuating the forest. CMRs are a low priority for governments, so mostly operate without enforcement, a laxity that encourages illegal forest conversion. Finally, the pull of markets can alter the “business plan” of a reserve overnight, as inhabitants switch to new activities. The reality is that we live in a hyperdynamic world of accelerating change in which past assumptions must continually be re-evaluated.
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