Playing Politics with Environmental Protection:

The Political Economy of Designating Protected Areas


Protected areas play an important role in biodiversity conservation, but they also carry local costs in the form of constraints on natural resource extraction. Here we investigate how policymakers make trade-offs between national environmental benefits and local economic costs. Examining the designation of protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon, we conduct a geographic regression discontinuity analysis. We find that the Brazilian government systematically over-designates protected areas in municipalities controlled by opposition mayors relative to municipalities controlled by co-partisan mayors. This causal effect of political alignment is limited to federally designated areas and does not apply to state-level designations or indigenous lands. The results show that political considerations bias the geographic distribution of protected areas in the world’s largest rainforest.


Keywords: Latin America; Brazil; deforestation; political alignment; protected areas.