Enabling sustainable forest management

Map of Surui
The Paiter Suruí people's Sete de Setembro Indigenous Territory (TISS), in Brazil. Map data: Google, Landsat

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Forest managers depend on the information available to them - including through formal and informal monitoring - to make decisions, track the resulting impacts, and adapt their management as necessary. This applies equally to managers in government, communities, non-governmental organisations, and businesses. It is not only the information generated by monitoring that supports management, but also the associated processes of defining problems, indicators and solutions, and gathering and analysing data. To make informed decisions, therefore, the people managing a given forest area also need to be involved in monitoring it.

As the owners, inhabitants, and users of 22% of the world’s remaining tropical forests, people in indigenous and other forest communities are important forest managers and decision-makers, and hence vital to involve in monitoring efforts in those areas. The strength and potential of forest monitoring and management by forest communities is visible from outer space: satellite images reveal that indigenous lands are currently the most effective buffer against deforestation at the agricultural frontier in the Brazilian Amazon, even in the face of strong deforestation pressures and after centuries of contact with other cultures (see our case studies on monitoring by the Ashaninka, and the Paiter Suruí).

Meanwhile, where forest resources are already being over-exploited, local management can help slow deforestation and promote sustainable resource use, as highlighted by our case study on arapaima fish monitoring in the Brazilian Amazon, and research in Tanzania. Monitoring is formally integrated within some communities’ long-term sustainable resources use plans and strategies, as in the case of the Paiter Suruí people and other communities across the Amazon.

Indeed, around the world, many decisions on forest resource management are made at the village level. Monitoring systems that involve local participants have the greatest, and quickest, influence on these decisions; in contrast, monitoring carried out by scientists tends to inform large-scale, national and international decisions on forest management - and at a fraction of the speed. Collaborative forest monitoring enables more adaptive management, trust-building and mutual learning between stakeholders, and enhanced legitimacy of decisions, which is often vital for their effective implementation. Benefits such as these can be achieved without compromising the quality of monitoring.  

Whether the decisions made at the local level actually promote sustainable forest management is influenced by a number of factors, including the degree of ownership and authority held by local people. Research suggests that when communities have clear tenure rights they tend to conserve resources for future use, rather than extracting more intensively and unsustainably for quick livelihood benefits.  Therefore, when considering participatory management and monitoring to support sustainable forest use, it is often useful to also look at local land tenure arrangements.

In fact, local land tenure, monitoring, and sustainable management can be mutually reinforcing. Some, such as the Wai Wai of Guyana, and communities in Tanzania, have used information gained through their monitoring activities to claim or enforce their rights over particular lands, thereby also strengthening their stake in managing those lands sustainably. Monitoring and management (or rule-enforcement) activities may go hand-in-hand. For example, community members involved in patrolling forests for signs of illegal extraction or hunting activities may, through their physical presence, deter such activities, or be able to apprehend or report those who violate usage rules. This has happened in Tanzania, and is also the case in our RuaiSMS (Indonesia) and Ashaninka (Brazil) case studies.

Furthermore, where communities are living within designated protected areas, their involvement in monitoring schemes can provide important information on local perspectives on management; raise local awareness of the objectives and regulations of protected areas; increase transparency and accountability; and stimulate local interest in conservation outcomes. This can help with tracking the impact of conservation interventions – i.e. ‘protected area management effectiveness’  - and with identifying what further action is needed. For example, when community-based monitoring showed that not all residents of the Chico Mendes Extractivist Reserve in Acre, Brazil, knew about management plans and key environmental policies, the state government decided to implement an awareness-raising campaign.

Of course, local circumstances will change as the aspirations of forest-based communities evolve, and with them, the practices and lifestyles that currently help sustain forests, or have helped them recover from past depletion; not all forest communities will choose to stay forest communities. Meanwhile, the pressure to deforest, driven by trade, consumption, and population growth, will continue to increase in the foreseeable future, presenting major challenges and conflicting incentives to local people who wish to manage forest lands sustainably.

In the midst of such change, it is vital that local people are able to adapt, and to feel secure in making choices that will sustain the forest resources around them - or that will allow forests to return to places where they no longer stand. Community-based forest monitoring, through its links to long-term resource use planning and local tenure rights, could play a pivotal role in supporting and promoting sustainable forest management worldwide.



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Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Protected Area Management Effectiveness, accessed 19 October 2015 at https://www.cbd.int/protected-old/PAME.shtml

Danielsen, F. et al., 2010. Environmental monitoring: the scale and speed of implementation varies according to the degree of people’s involvement. Journal of Applied Ecology 47, pp. 1166-1168. 

Dietz, T. and Stern, P.C., (eds), 2008. Public Participation in Environmental assessment and decision making, Panel on Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making, National Research Council, 322 pages. 

Fernandez-Gimenez, M. E., Ballard, H. L., and Sturtevant, V. E., 2008. Adaptive management and social learning in collaborative and community-based monitoring: a study of five community-based forestry organizations in the western USA. Ecology and Society 13(2): 4. 

Funder, M. et al., 2014. Reshaping conservation: the social dynamics of participatory monitoring in Tanzania’s community managed forests. Conservation and Society 11(3), pp. 218-232. 

Global Canopy Programme, 2015a. Ashaninika Land Monitoring Initiative. Forest COMPASS platform, GCP: Oxford.

Global Canopy Programme, 2015b. Community Measurement, Reporting and Verification by the Wai Wai of Kanashen, Guyana. Forest COMPASS platform, GCP: Oxford. 

Global Canopy Programme, 2015c. Community monitoring and management of arapaima fish in Acre, Brazil. Forest COMPASS platform, GCP: Oxford. 

Global Canopy Programme, 2015d. Community monitoring in the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve in Acre, Brazil. Forest COMPASS platform, GCP: Oxford. 

Global Canopy Programme, 2015e. RuaiSMS: an initiative that links text messaging and local media to report forest incursions in Borneo. Forest COMPASS platform, GCP: Oxford. 

Global Canopy Programme, 2015f. The Suruí Forest Carbon Project. Forest COMPASS platform, GCP: Oxford. 

ITTO and RRI, 2011. Tropical forest tenure assessment: trends, challenges and opportunities. Rights and Resources Initiative: Washington D.C. and International Tropical Timber Organization: Yokohama, Japan. 

Lund, J.F. and T. Treue., 2008. Are we getting there? Evidence of decentralized forest management from the Tanzanian miombo woodlands. World Development 36(12): 2780–2800.  (Open-access, pre-proof version available here.)  

Nepstad, D., et al., 2006. Inhibition of Amazon deforestation and fire by parks and indigenous lands. Conservation Biology 20 (1), pp. 65–73. 

Additional recommended reading

Gibson, C.C., Williams, J.T., Ostrom, E., 2005. Local enforcement and better forests. World Development 33, pp. 273–284.