According to some conservationists, large, pristine, uninhabited parks are the defining criterion of success in conserving tropical forests. They argue that human residents in tropical forests inevitably deplete populations of large animals through hunting, which triggers a chain reaction of ecological events that greatly diminish the conservation value of these forests. Hence, they believe that removal of people from tropical forests is an essential step in the creation of successful parks and in the conservation of nature in the tropics.
This approach can lead to undesirable consequences, however. Forest residents—and rural people generally—are potent political actors in tropical forest regions and an essential component of the environmental political constituencies that are necessary for the long‐term conservation of tropical forests. In Amazonia and elsewhere, rural people are defending far bigger areas of tropical forest from unfettered deforestation and logging than are parks, thereby conserving the ecological services provided by these forests and the majority of their component plant and animal species. Moreover, the data are too sparse to judge the effects of forest peoples on populations of large forest animals. The establishment of pristine, tropical forest parks is an important conservation goal, but the exclusive pursuit of this goal undermines the broader objectives of conservation when it identifies forest residents and other rural people as the enemies of nature.