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Effects of Protection on Amount and Structure of Forest Cover at Two Scales in Bozin and Marakhil Protected Area, Iran
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1  School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, United States

Abstract: Official protection plays a major role in the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable management of endangered species habitat. Bozin and Marakhil Forest is a protected area in the Kermanshah province of Iran, and covers 23,724 ha of semi-arid Zagros forests. It was designated a protected area in 1999 to protect habitat for roe deer (Capreolus capreolus). However, debate has surrounded the efficiency and effectiveness of protected areas for species\' habitat conservation in the region due to the ongoing socioeconomic problems in the area. Using remote sensing data from 2001 and 2009, we evaluated the effects of this protected designation on forest area and structure at two spatial scales. We processed and classified Landsat images of the two dates covering the protected area and the adjacent unprotected areas for the broad scale analysis. We classified IKONOS and GeoEye images of the two dates covering a part of protected and unprotected areas for fine scale analysis. The fine scale analysis showed a higher forest loss in unprotected area. The difference between spatial pattern metrics at the fine scale at the beginning and the end of the study period showed that no structural change occurred as result of protection. Broad scale analysis showed no change in forest area in either the protected or unprotected areas during the study period. Spatial pattern analysis at broad scales showed that the protected area had a higher forest patch contiguity and patch extent, and lower patch isolation, at the end of study period (p-values: 0.002, 0.014, and 0.002). A temporal analysis demonstrated that these differences were not due to the improvement of habitat in the protected area, since no change in structure occurred in that area through time. Instead, changes occurred due to fragmentation in the unprotected area through time. At the fine scale, protection improved the area of forests while at broad scale its effect was observed on forest structure. These results demonstrate that eliminating or reducing human activity in an area through official protection may prevent further degradation within the area, but may have substantial impact on habitat at multiple scales in the surrounding area. This presents a risk of isolating populations within the park, further placing them at risk of stochastic extinction. The practice calls into question the efficiency of protected areas from both the ecological and socioeconomic viewpoints.
Keywords: Bozin and Marakhil; protecttion; spatial patterns; scale; local communities