Impact of policies on coupled human and natural systems after natural disasters
Natural disasters profoundly alter coupled human and natural systems, often by damaging ecosystems and threatening human livelihoods. Policies are often put in place to attempt to repair such damage, however little is known about the effects of the complexities and interactions among such disaster recovery policies on coupled systems. We investigated this phenomenon using the case of the world-famous Wolong Nature Reserve for conserving endangered Giant Panda in Sichuan China, a system which experienced the catastrophic Wenchuan earthquake (magnitude 8.0) in 2008. We analyzed the combined and interactive effects of numerous post-earthquake policies aimed at recovering different aspects of the coupled system, including a household relocation program, a forest restoration program, and a livestock grazing ban.
We found that both ecological restoration goals and human livelihoods were improved by the forest restoration plan, while the household relocation program and livestock grazing ban had mixed results. Several surprising and unintended effects were also observed as a result of the combined effects of these programs, such as the augmentation of different livestock sectors when others had been banned and the increase in illegal poaching as a result of loss of income post-disaster. Our study has significant implications for understanding the complexity of disaster recovery policies in coupled systems. The study also informs protection and development policies in nature reserves around the world.