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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Centralized conservation

Variable relationship:

This theory refers to what some (critically) refer to as "fortress conservation." As a model for protected area-based conservation, fortress conservation is defined in the Sage encyclopedia of Environment and Society (Robbins 2007, see also Brockington 2002) as the following:

"Fortress conservation is a conservation model based on the belief that biodiversity protection is best achieved by creating protected areas where ecosystems can function in isolation from human disturbance. Fortress, or protectionist, conservation assumes that local people use natural resources in irrational and destructive ways, and as a result cause biodiversity loss and environmental degradation. Protected areas following the fortress model can be characterized by three principles: local people dependent on the natural resource base are excluded; enforcement is implemented by park rangers patrolling the boundaries, using a “fines and fences” approach to ensure compliance; and only tourism, safari hunting, and scientific research are considered as appropriate uses within protected areas."

In the language of SESMAD variables, fortress conservation occurs when a highly centralized (Centralization) governance system creates a protected area (Policy Instrument) that strictly prohibits user access (PA IUCN strict zones), with low cost (Transaction Costs) monitoring and sanctions by the government (External Monitoring; External Sanctions). This combination is predicted to lead to effective conservation (Commons Condition Trend).


Scientific Field
Component Type(s)
Natural Resource System


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
CentralizationUnderlying independent variableThe approach of forest conservation has taken place within highly centralized governance systems.Highly centralized
Policy instrumentUnderlying independent variableFortress conservation applies to protected area-based governance systems.Protected area
PA IUCN strict zonesUnderlying independent variableThe PA falls into the following IUCN category: Ia: Category Ia are strictly protected areas set aside to protect biodiversity and also possibly geological/geomorphological features, where human visitation, use and impacts are strictly controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values.100%
User-commons proximityProximate independent variableAs a result of the implementation of the PA, local users groups are pushed out of the commons to ensure that they don't over-use it.No
External monitoringModerating independent variableEnforcement needs to be high to exclude people from the protected area. Monitoring usually done by protected area rangers/enforcers, sometimes the military.Yes
Transaction costsModerating independent variableThe lower the transaction costs of setting the boundaries of the protected area and enforcing them the higher the net benefits of the policy.Low
ComplianceModerating independent variableonitoring and sanctioning can enable the compliance needed to ensure that the PA scheme is effective.Yes
External sanctionsModerating independent variableEnforcement needs to be high to exclude people from the protected area. Sanctioning usually done by protected area rangers/enforcers, sometimes the military.Yes
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeThe condition of the commons within the boundary of the protected area is predicted to improve, or at least remain the same, as a result of the elimination of human-based use and intervention into the relevant ecosystems.Remained the same or improved

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
Critique of fortress conservationcontradictory
CAR principles for conservation area designrelated
Failure of centralized controlcontradictory
Decentralization and elite capturerelated
Ecological effectiveness of MPAsrelated
Decentralization and leakagerelated
Local livelihood and protected areasrelated
Centralization and corruptioncontradictory
Decentralization and local capacityrelated

Related Studies


Brockington, Dan. 2002. Fortress conservation: the preservation of the Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania: Indiana University Press.


Robbins, Paul. 2007. Encyclopedia of Environment and Society. 5 vols, Thousand Oaks. CA: Sage Publications.