Shortages Of Workers In Protected Areas
The Convention on Biological Diversity previously set targets to protect at least 17% of the world’s land and 10% of the ocean by 2020. The good news is, these targets have almost been met. However, some researchers have argued that there aren’t enough personnel to manage these areas effectively, and the working conditions are poor.
This is especially relevant as there have been discussions to set a new target of protecting at least 30% of the Earth’s land and ocean by 2030. Commonly referred to as “30-by-30,” the goal is to fight the ongoing threat of climate change and protect the environment for the benefit of future populations. In order to reach the 30-by-30 target, the shortages of workers and the needs of the workforce managing these protected areas need to be addressed.
The goal of this study was to conduct a review of the global workforce within protected areas, including rangers and non-ranger personnel. Specifically, the authors wanted to determine the current number of workers and how many more would be needed to achieve the 30-by-30 target. They defined “workforce” broadly, including job roles directly and indirectly related to managing protected areas (e.g., community relations and visitor management employees were included along with rangers and resource managers). No such review has been conducted since 1999, meaning there is a lack of data on this topic.
The authors gathered data from 176 countries and territories between the years 2017-2021 through questionnaires, online research, and personal contacts. They estimate the general workforce in protected areas to be around 555,000 (one person per 37 km2) and the number of rangers to be around 286,000 (one person per 72km2). These workers cover approximately 13,224,092 km2 of protected land areas (64% of all protected terrestrial areas). In places with more land under protection, the workforce tends to be bigger — but each staff member has more land on average to manage compared to countries or territories with fewer protected areas.
These results show that protected areas are notably understaffed, since these numbers fall significantly short of official recommendations — specifically, the authors note that the ideal worker density is one non-ranger staff member per 13.3km2 and one ranger per 25.9km2. Considering the 30-by-30 target, the authors estimate that around 3 million workers (including 1.5 million rangers) are needed to effectively manage all protected areas. This would be an increase of 2.43 million workers (and specifically 1.25 million rangers) based on 2021 figures.
The authors warn that increasing numbers alone is not enough to manage protected areas. Officials need to ensure that staff members are trained in up-to-date technology, have a strong set of working standards, and have safe and just working conditions, among other factors. In particular, they stress that women only constitute a small percentage of the workforce in protected areas (between 3-11%) and that local and indigenous communities need to be more considered in management efforts.
To increase staff and ensure their well-being, the authors recommend collecting ongoing data on personnel numbers and working conditions for the Convention on Biological Diversity to review. Furthermore, animal advocates should be aware that the authors also found a significant shortfall in terms of global funding. Currently, the budget being spent on managing protected areas is only 36% of what they found is required. Therefore, to safeguard the environment that animals and humans rely on, advocates should call for more funding for protected areas as well as for a trained and supported workforce to be put in place.