Zoning is a process that gives local and national agencies the autonomy to regulate land use. Usually, zoning regulations are administered at the level of a local authority, municipality, or county (e.g., Australia and the United States) in some other jurisdictions, zoning is regulated at the state or national level (e.g., France and Germany). Zoning could also be regulated by strategies such as environmental impact assessments.1 Zones may also be designated as protected or conservation areas that are used to delimit and define units of land for conservation and recreational activities. According to the IUNC “a protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values” (IUCN Definition 2008). Protected areas are generally established to protect biodiversity and preserve the integrity of ecosystem processes. Protected area zoning PAZ is applied widely for the protection of both marine and terrestrial areas. Some jurisdictions may allow limited development within PAZs. For example, in Prince Edwards Island, in Atlantic Canada, a limited amount of development is allowed within a zone that is designated as an Environment Protection Zone. However, in most instances, Buffer Management Zones are established as a transition area between protected areas and private lands. Generally, the establishment of Protected area zoning serves as an effective strategy for avoiding development within environmentally sensitive areas. 2

How it works

Types of protected area zoning

  • Strict nature reserves are protected areas that are zoned for the protection of biodiversity, geological and geomorphological features. Anthropogenic impacts are controlled through strict conservation measures and values. Strict nature reserves can serve as reference areas for scientific research and monitoring.
  • Protected areas with sustainable use of natural resources are used to conserve ecosystems and habitats in addition to cultural values. Although most of the protected area is preserved in its natural condition, low-level non-industrial use is permitted.
  • Protected landscape/seascapes are areas where the ecological, biological, cultural, and scenic values have been shaped by the interaction of people and nature over time. Safeguarding this interaction is therefore vital to protecting and conserving the ecological integrity and value of the area.
  • National parks are large natural or near natural areas that are designated to protect large-scale ecological processes and that complement the ecosystem characteristics of an area. 3


  • Provides a haven for the sustenance of wild flora and fauna in coastal marine and terrestrial areas
  • Sustains and strengthens indigenous values and knowledge, particularly, their application to the conservation of landscapes and cultural practices.
  • Helps to mitigate against the effects of extreme weather conditions, acts as a sink for and source of carbon
  • Serves as an environmental benchmark that can be used for monitoring the health of natural ecological systems and for understanding the effects of climate change, pollution, and the extraction of natural resources on ecological and biological systems. 4, 5
  • Fosters inclusive environmental stewardship and transboundary decision making among diverse groups and community interests, e.g., indigenous peoples, local communities, and private actors. 6


  • Uncertainty with the designation of some conventions within a protected area management regime, e.g., it is still not clear when RAMSAR sites are protected areas
  • May create a false sense of security and may not achieve conservation goals where protected area systems do not achieve what they were established to do and exist solely as “paper parks”
  • Increasing propensity of some governments to downsize, downgrade, and degazette protected area legislation without significant consequence.
  • Existing and growing antipathy among different interests regarding the idea of protected area. For example, tensions between academics and human rights groups regarding conversation and community access to protected area resources.
  • Ignorance at different levels of government and private interests regarding the role of protected area management. This ignorance manifest in the lack of legislative, and policy support and financing
  • Existing legislation might lag behind globally acceptable best practices related to social and conservation outcomes. 7

Example projects

Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco National Park


During the mid-1990s, the indigenous IsoseñoGuaraní people in Bolivia proposed the establishment of the Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco National Park (KINP). The park occupies 3.4 million acres of land and is located in a lowly populated area in the eastern region of Bolivia that had been traditionally used for farming. However, industrialization had led to a rapid expansion in commercial agriculture and petroleum extraction in the region. Therefore, the park was created as a buffer around the territory of the IsoseñoGuaraní people. The legislation that established the park allowed for the extraction of resources from three designated zones. It also provided for the development of a management plan, which identified core protected areas within which resources could not be extracted and for special uses. The status of the park is preserved under a communal title that ensures that there is no subdivision or sale of land with the protected area. 8

Ontario Greenbelt

Ontario, Canada

Commonly referred to as the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH), the Ontario greenbelt is one of the most dynamic and rapidly expanding regions in North America. The region supports two-thirds of Ontario’s population and more than one-quarter of the entire population of Canada. Located in the heart of the great lakes, the GGH contains some of Canada’s ecological and hydrologically sensitive environmental and scenic landscapes, including, productive farmland, and an abundant water supply. In 2005, Ontario developed the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan. The plan helps to determine where and how future growth should occur within the region, particularly what should be protected for future generations. The plan identifies protected countryside lands within the greenbelt that are intended to enhance the spatial parameters of agriculture and environmentally protected lands while improving linkages between protected areas, surrounding lakes, and watersheds. 9


  1. 1.

    The World Bank. (2015). Zoning and land use planning. https://urban-regeneration.worldbank.org/node/39#:~:text=The%20purpose%20of%20zoning%20is,down%20development%20in%20specific%20areas4

  2. 2.

    Herrera-Montes, M. I. (2018). Protected Area Zoning as a Strategy to Preserve Natural Soundscapes, Reduce Anthropogenic Noise Intrusion, and Conserve Biodiversity. Tropical Conservation Science, 11, 1940082918804344.

  3. 3.

    Dudley et al. (2015). Chapter 6 Values and Benefits of Protected Areas. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/132677617.pdf

  4. 4.

    Bell, A. (2007). Top 10 reasons for protected areas. Ontario Nature. https://ontarionature.org/top-10-reasons-for-protected-areas/#:~:text=Protected%20areas%20help%20to%20mitigate,adapt%20to%20a%20changing%20climate.&text=4.,soils%2C%20wild%20foods%20and%20medicines

  5. 5.

    Dudley, N. (n.d).Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories. https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/PAG-021.pdf

  6. 6.

    IUCN. (n.d). What is a protected area? https://www.iucn.org/theme/protected-areas/about

  7. 7.

    Dudley and Stolton. (2018). PROTECTED AREAS: challenges and responses for the coming decade. Equilibrium Research. http://www.equilibriumconsultants.com/upload/document/Equilibrium_Research_Dialogue_1.pdf

  8. 8.

    Naughton, l. (2007). COLLABORATIVE L AND USE PLANNING: Zoning for Conservation and Development in Protected Areas. Tenure Brief. University of Madision. https://www.nelson.wisc.edu/ltc/docs/!ltcbrief4-zoning_protected_areas.pdf

  9. 12.

    Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ontario. (2019). Greenbelt Plan (2017). https://www.ontario.ca/document/greenbelt-plan-2017

  10. i1.

    De Julio De. (2016). KAA - Iya del Gran Chaco National Park and Natural Area of Integrated Management. Protected Areas: Bolivia. http://protarbol.blogspot.com/2016/07/kaa-iya-del-gran-chaco-national-park.html

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