Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Forestry and Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Cashore, Benjamin


Deforestation is a critical global challenge in the 21st century. Policies that effectively tackle forest loss are essential given that the consequences of deforestation can be severe for both people and nature. There is hence an urgent need to generate knowledge about effective policies and, in particular, to unpack how existing conservation interventions have contributed to improving forest governance and outcomes. Protected areas have emerged as the pre-eminent tool for conserving forests worldwide, and in view of their role as one of the most prominent conservation policies, it is imperative to assess their effects. This dissertation addresses this research need by examining whether protected areas in Uganda, which has a significant percent of its land under protection and a diverse array of protected area types, have been effective in avoiding forest loss, to what extent governance design features influence conservation effects, and how historical context and institutional legacies help explain protected area effectiveness. Protected areas are the cornerstone of Uganda’s forest conservation strategy. Despite protected areas covering two-thirds of the country’s forests, deforestation persists, raising questions about the effectiveness of this conservation intervention. Relatively little empirical evidence exists on the extent to which protected areas are contributing to longer term conservation of forests or on the factors that explain their effectiveness, especially in African contexts. The dissertation applies a mixed-methods approach to assess protected area effectiveness. First, a quasi-experimental, counterfactual approach using matching methods to control for confounding factors is employed to quantify the impact of protected areas on reducing deforestation between 2000 and 2019. Protection reduced the deforestation rate by 52%. There was weak evidence of a spillover effect within five kilometers of protected area boundaries. These findings are consistent with the expectation that institutional controls restricting forest use reduce the forest clearance rate and generally support arguments in favor of protected areas as effective conservation tools. Second, the dissertation examines how effectiveness is influenced by the protected area governance arrangement. Based on managing authority and the rules governing their use, protected areas are categorized into five models, and their effects are assessed. Impacts varied across protected area models, providing evidence that governance is key part of the causal mechanism linking land use restrictions and conservation impact. The wildlife-focused and more centralized protected area models were effective in avoiding deforestation, while the decentralized protected areas were associated with increased deforestation. The National Parks and Wildlife Reserves produced the greatest conservation effect, which is consistent with the literature arguing that centrally-governed, more-strictly protected areas generate more avoided deforestation. The results also show that mixed-use, centrally-governed protected areas can generate substantial conservation benefits. Third, conservation performance is further explored by examining the role of institutional development in shaping protected area effectiveness. Protected areas are examined as products of historical legacies that define institutional configurations and effectiveness. A historical institutional approach using process tracing methodology is utilized to examine the development of the Ugandan forest policy regime and protected area institutions from the colonial period to the present. A three-part analytical framework is employed to differentiate policy elements and characterize the modes of policy change in order to identify critical junctures and path dependent processes. Institutional development unfolded in three phases, starting with the establishment of Uganda as a British Protectorate that served as a critical juncture in which the trajectory of the forest policy regime would center around forest conservation by state authorities on public lands and agricultural development on private lands. This trajectory became deeply entrenched through the formation of the Forest Department, the establishment of the protected area network, and the accumulation of forest policies and laws. In the third phase, path dependent processes directed the country’s approach to forest management during the independence period of the 1960s and more recently amidst decentralization reforms by constraining the power of lower level institutions and limiting their effectiveness in conserving forests. The analysis traces how protected areas were solidified as the foundation of Uganda’s forest conservation strategy and how several protected area models have developed with different governance configurations and varying degrees of effectiveness. The findings show how institutional legacies have a determining, although not necessarily deterministic, role in shaping outcomes via path dependencies unleashed throughout the development of the forest policy regime. Taken together, the findings from the dissertation advance our understanding of the factors shaping successful forest conservation interventions and generate insights relevant for conserving forests in Uganda and more generally over the long term.