Date of Award

Fall 2016

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources and Environmental Studies

Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Joel Hartter

Second Advisor

Russell G. Congalton

Third Advisor

Sadie J. Ryan


Understanding the drivers of human population growth and landscape fragmentation surrounding protected areas is vital to the success of conservation initiatives worldwide. However, the drivers of land cover change and population growth can be complex. While natural population growth is a primary cause of population growth in Africa, migration due to major anthropogenic events is increasingly common in Sub-Saharan Africa. Unprecedented mineral and oil extraction is currently occurring in Africa, often in areas of high conservation importance. Additionally, conflict often plays a large role in human migration through refugee resettlement, and many people in the region are now moving in hopes of economic improvements. I used a mixed-methods approach to understand the landscape level impacts of industrial oil development, armed conflict, and human migration has had on the Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA), in northwestern Uganda. Using land cover mapping, historical gridded population data, and stakeholder interviews, I assessed changes in land cover fragmentation and conversion in 2002-2014, and quantified changes in human population density in the districts surrounding MFCA in 1969-2014. I found that that the three oil-impacted districts have a unique and increasing population growth trend compared to the non-oil impacted districts and the national average of Uganda. Population density in oil-impacted districts increased by 73%, while non-oil impacted districts increased by 29%. These districts were also marked with higher proportional increases in total developed land and land cover fragmentation in the natural land cover class compared to non-oil impacted districts. The communities in oil-impacted districts are facing distinct challenges related to land tenure security, human health, compensation, and inter-ethnic relations. Post-conflict repopulation and industrial agriculture growth also had a major impact on both agricultural expansion, as well as inter-community conflicts due to landholder rights and land grabbing. In the district of the study area most impacted by post-conflict regrowth, agriculture increased by 95% between 2002 and 2016. This study provides an increased understanding of how oil and other major anthropogenic events can shape and alter human-environment interactions outside of a globally important protected area.