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Protecting nature’s protectors: Rangers as ‘key workers’ for delivering SDGs

AUTHOR: Marianne Kettunen

A recent webinar co-hosted by IEEP and the Thin Green Line Foundation UK discussed the central role of rangers in delivering the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, both in Europe and globally. The event followed the launch of a guidance demonstrating how area-based conservation can help to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across the world.

Around the world, rangers play a central role in ensuring that protected and conserved areas provide benefits to both biodiversity and people, managing not only habitats and species but also the relationship between nature and local communities. Rangers also have numerous additional – often informal and unacknowledged – responsibilities ranging from emergency responders and health care practitioners, from conflict managers to peacekeepers. By protecting wildlife, rangers work in the frontline of mitigating the risk of zoonotic diseases while at the same time helping to conserve world’s carbon storages and sinks.

Effective area-based conservation can provide a powerful contribution to delivering multiple benefits across SDGs, simultaneously contributing to several sustainability objectives on the 2030 Agenda. However, it requires rangers as “key workers” to help to deliver those benefits.

An event hosted by IEEP and the Thin Green Line Foundation UK brought together rangers and their representatives, experts and organisations working together with rangers around the world. It discussed the role of rangers in protected area management from the perspective of supporting the implementation of the sustainable development agenda. It highlighted common challenges, shared success stories, identified best practices and, more fundamentally, aimed to raise the awareness on the important role of rangers on the EU and global biodiversity policy agenda.

Key messages

Rangers are the men and women on the frontline of implementation, protecting our biosphere. They are commonly underpaid, poorly equipped and insufficiently trained, which affects their ability to carry out their job successfully and puts their own lives at risk.

The above is true especially in the global south and in high-risk areas for conservation. However, the ranger community faces similar obstacles globally, with low wages, job insecurity and limited funds to operate being an issue around the world, including in Europe. For example, in Australia rangers, are the highest qualified but the lowest paid public sector workers.

However, studies show that investing in rangers makes economic sense. It is a job with one of the highest multiplier effects in the natural capital management sector, having a positive impact directly back into the local economy. In Kenya, for example, one ranger supports up to 24 members of the community on their salary.

The pandemic has had – and continues to have – a significant impact on rangers in the global south. Even though rangers as public sector workers have been asked to carry out covid response tasks, they have not been prioritised for personal protection equipment. As a result, a significant number of indigenous ranger elders have been lost to this disease, in South America in particular.

To improve the situation, we need to:

Recognise the role of rangers: The multiple roles rangers play in supporting sustainable development needs to be better – and more explicitly – recognised in the future policy frameworks, internationally and nationally. Attention paid to improving rangers’ working conditions in the context of existing international frameworks – including the EU Biodiversity Strategy – is next to none.

Treat rangers as respected partners: Rangers need to be included as key stakeholders taking part in the governance of SDGs, including providing advice to policy and decision-making at international and national level. For example, in the EU context ranger representation should be systematically part of the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy in the EU and also the design and evaluation of EU assistance to countries outside the EU.

Feed ranger needs, insights and lesson learned into policy: There is a need for both increasing ranger numbers and developing ranger capabilities. Better policy frameworks are needed to improve salary levels, job security, and access to health care and insurance. Support is also required to enable rangers to improve their capability to cooperate with local communities.

More and better cooperation between actors: There are several actors working successfully with rangers on the ground. These need to be better and more systematically linked with actors working in the policy space through, for example, the recently established Universal Ranger Support Alliance (URSA).

Establish mechanism for stable, long term funding: Where support to governments is needed, external funders and doners should aim for longer term funding to attract and retain rangers. The administrative burden should be kept in check, to ensure rangers have access to the support in a timely manner. Innovative funding mechanism, such as integrating rangers into carbon offsetting schemes, could also be explored.

Insights from the panel

 “We see a gap between the theory of change and what is happening on the ground. About 40% of rangers in Africa and Asia do not feel adequately trained to do their jobs and about 60% lack the basic equipment to work effectively.”

“The question is not only what rangers can do for the SDGs. It is also how the SDG framework can better support rangers, so that they then can help to implement SDGs.”

— Abi Gatty Irving, Director, Thin Green Line Foundation UK

 “Akashinga program empowers women from local communities to protect areas [under community conservation schemes]. The programme is doing a lot [for SDGs]. For example, in the area of Binga we are implementing SDG 16 right now and have 120 children under a scholarship programme. We are also dealing with the supply of water, maintaining roads and renovating health clinics.”

— Nyaradzo Hoto, Sergeant at the Akashinga program, International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), Zambezi Valley, Zimbabwe

“We as rangers need to work with local communities. We organise eco-education lessons for school children and also host meetings with local people to inform them about the importance of biodiversity, rules related to protected areas and possibilities for development in these areas. We as rangers can ensure that protected areas support local communities.”

— Luso Dostibegiani, Ranger, Algeti National Park, Georgia

“We need to make a connection between the ranger job and political decision-making in Europe. Without rangers, the Green Deal and its projects on environmental protection will not be possible. Rangers are responsible for monitoring, enforcement, education and restoration. Without us, it will not happen and therefore our needs should be understood and taken onboard.”

— Florin Halastauan, Ranger Leader in the Bison Reintroduction Project in the South Western Carpathians, Former Vice President of the International Ranger Federation (IRF) and IRF Representative of European Rangers

“The [ranger] salary is also very low. The government is trying to improve the situation, supporting all operational management plans. Rangers also get support from international donors as government partners, covering costs of rations for patrol, medicine etc. […] But we often have difficulties with the administrative burden of these funds and getting money to rangers in a timely manner. Therefore, I would suggest reviewing these practices.”

— Claudel Tshibangu, Planning, Monitoring & GIS Analyst, Forgotten Parks Foundation (FPF), working at Upemba National Park, DR Congo

 “Rangers are the interface between the expectations of policy-makers and experts, and the people in places where we want change to happen. And without them, we are going to fail. Their multifunctional role means that they cannot just be seen as passive operatives, which they have been until now. They have to be well trained, adaptive people who can lead as well as follow, who can make difficult judgements quicky and can call on the support they need.”

— Mike Appleton, Vice-Chair, Capacity Development Initiative, IUCN WCPA

“Based on the experience from Amazon Sustainable Landscapes Programme, there are three golden rules for successfully integrating rangers as part of projects: recognising rangers’ value to sustainable development, creating frameworks that ensure long term funding for rangers, and providing training and capacity building that caters for all the skills rangers need.”

— Ana Maria Gonzalez, Senior Environmental Specialist and coordinator of the Amazon Sustainable Landscapes Programme (ASL), Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy, the World Bank Group

“Rangers are our natural capital asset managers. They are also important in building partnerships, and maintaining peace, stability and social cohesion. In the projects UNDP supports, we aim to place all these different roles – and rangers – at the heart of the sustainable development agenda.”

— Mandy Cadman, Senior technical adviser for ecosystems and biodiversity (Africa) and UNDP lead for the GEF-financed, World Bank-led Global Wildlife Programme, UNDP

 “I challenge you to think of another job that does this much for the planet. What gives me hope for the future is that we are opening the siloes [between different agendas and actors]. We need now to find a way to get on the same track, in supporting rangers.”

— Sean Willmore, Founder and Managing Director of the Thin Green Line Foundation

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