Date of Award

Spring 5-7-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Paul J. Ferraro

Second Advisor

H. Spencer Banzhaf

Third Advisor

Andrew R. Hanson

Fourth Advisor

Laura O. Taylor


This dissertation comprises four chapters. The unifying theme is the evaluation of environmental programs. Specifically, each chapter examines some facet of the impacts of protected areas.

The first chapter examines the heterogeneous environmental and economic impacts of protected areas in Costa Rica. Previous studies suggest that Costa Rica's protected area system induced both reduced deforestation and alleviated poverty. We demonstrate that these environmental and social impacts were spatially heterogeneous. Importantly, the characteristics associated with the most avoided deforestation are the characteristics associated with the least poverty alleviation.

In other words, the same characteristics that have limited the conservation effectiveness of protected areas may have improved the social welfare impacts of these areas. These results suggest that `win-win' efforts to protect ecosystems and alleviate poverty may be possible when policymakers are satisfied with low levels of each outcome, but tradeoffs exist when more of either outcome is desired.

The second chapter explores in more detail the heterogeneous impacts of protected areas in Costa Rica and Thailand. In particular we investigate the potential for protected areas to act as a mechanism for poverty traps and use semiparametric models to identify the spatial congruence of environmental and economic outcomes. We find no evidence that protected areas trap historically poorer areas in poverty. In fact, we find that poorer areas at baseline appear to have the greatest levels of poverty reduction as a result of protection. However, we do find that the spatial characteristics associated with the most poverty alleviation are not necessarily the characteristics associated with the most avoided deforestation. We demonstrate how an understanding of these spatially heterogeneous responses to protection can be used to generate suitability maps that identify locations in which both environmental and poverty alleviation goals are most likely to be achieved.

In the third chapter we address the mechanisms through which protected areas affect economic outcomes. Using recently developed quasi-experimental methods and rich biophysical and demographic data, we quantify the causal post-treatment mechanism impacts of tourism, infrastructure development and ecosystem services on poverty, due to the establishment of protected areas in Costa Rica prior to 1980. We find that nearly 50% of the poverty reduction estimated in a previous study can be attributed to tourism. In addition, although the mechanism estimates for the infrastructure and ecosystem services proxies are negligible, we argue that the results provide evidence that enhanced ecosystem services from the establishment of protected areas has likely helped to reduce poverty. The results provide additional information to policy makers that wish to enhance the future establishment of protected areas with complementary policy. The final chapter studies the economic impacts of protected areas in Bolivia. We find that municipalities with at least 10% of their area occupied by a protected area between 1992 and 2000 exhibited differentially greater levels of poverty reduction between 1992 and 2001 compared to similar municipalities unaffected by protected areas. We find that the results are robust to a number of econometric specifications, spillover analyses and a placebo study. Although the overarching results that Bolivia's protected areas were associated with poverty reduction are similar to previous studies , the underlying results are subtly, but significantly, different. In previous studies it was found that controlling for key observable covariates lead to fundamentally antithetical results compared to naive estimates. Conversely, these results indicate that naive estimates lead to an over-estimation of the poverty reducing impacts of protected areas. The results expose the heterogeneity of protected area impacts across countries and, therefore, underscore the importance of country-level impact evaluations in order to build the global knowledge base regarding the socioeconomic impacts of protected areas.