Reply to Robinson et al.: Building the evidence base on the forest cover effects of community titling.


We thank Robinson et al. (1) for their thoughtful comments on our article (2). We agree with their main point, which is that our findings about the link between titling and forest cover change are contextand time-specific, and do not necessarily generalize to other countries and other periods. However, it is important to make clear that our article (2): (i ) does not claim to present generalizable findings, (ii ) nonetheless significantly advances our understanding of the above-noted link, and (iii) includes the four caveats discussed in the Robinson et al. letter (1). Regarding the first point, our article (2) demonstrates that titling indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon in the early 2000s reduced contemporaneous forest cover change. The policy prescription we draw is only that titling can have this effect (e.g., the last sentences of Abstract and Significance statement in ref. 2). We write that additional research is needed to determine whether or not that result is generalizable (last sentence of main text in ref. 2). Regarding the second point, in our view, providing rigorous quasi-experimental evidence that titling can cut forest cover change in any context/period is a significant contribution. As discussed in the article (2), the motivation for our study is that there are reasons to expect that providing communities with land titles stems forest cover change, but also reasons to expect that it spurs such change. As a result, rigorous empirical research that controls for confounding factors is needed to determine the net effect. Unfortunately, however, such research is almost completely lacking. As discussed in our article, to our knowledge, quasiexperimental evidence that providing land titles to indigenous communities can reduce forest cover change is new to the literature. Finally, regarding the third point, Robinson et al. (1) include four specific caveats, all of which already are included in our article: (i) titling in Peru entailed restrictions on land rights that may inhibit forest cover change [the SI Background (2) discusses these restrictions but does not make an explicit connection to our results, which we agree is helpful]; (ii) we only test for short-term effects, which are found to attenuate over time (discussed at length in multiple sections of our article); (iii) we do not identify the causal mechanisms that drive our results (the Discussion and Hypotheses section of ref. 2 explains that our data do not permit identifying causal mechanisms and presents a theory of change to lay the groundwork for future research); and (iv) our theory of change only focuses on titling’s negative effect on forest cover change (the SI Theory of Change in ref. 2, second paragraph, explains why). Hence, we believe that our article (2) is clear about the limitations of our study and is appropriately circumspect in drawing policy prescriptions. That said, the land rights and environmental issues on which it focuses are highly politicized and our findings may be spun to support preexisting agendas or simply to make them more digestible. Therefore, we welcome the Robinson et al. (1) appeal for caution in extrapolating our results, and hope it underscores our call for additional rigorous research to determine whether, under what circumstances, and how titling affects forest cover change.

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1708942114

Cite this paper

@article{Blackman2017ReplyTR, title={Reply to Robinson et al.: Building the evidence base on the forest cover effects of community titling.}, author={Allen Blackman and Leonardo Corral and Eirivelthon Santos Lima and Gregory P Asner}, journal={Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America}, year={2017}, volume={114 29}, pages={E5765} }