The Role of Operational Plans in shaping Forest Management Practices: Examples from Nepalese Community Forestry
The Community Forestry (CF) program in Nepal has long been considered a prime example of forest decentralization among developing countries. However, concerns are raised about the inventory based management regime introduced by the Nepalese government in 2000. The technical requirements appear to delay CF implementation processes and strengthen local inequities. Furthermore, the community forestry user groups (CFUGs) have shown themselves capable of managing their local forests and recent results indicate that they may rely minimally on the operational plans (OPs) in their management. Accordingly, the overall objective of this paper is to advance our understanding of the role of the inventory based OPs in the actual management of the forest by the CFUGs. To approach this objective, empirical case studies have been carried out aiming at investigating the three questions: (1) Are the OPs of a form that makes them useful to the CFUGs as a management tool? (2) Are the OPs applied in the management by the CFUGs? And (3) how well do the CFUGs know the past and present condition of their forests? The study was carried out in four CFUGs in Tanahun District located in the mid-hills of Western Nepal. The investigation was based on qualitative semi-structured interviews, participatory rural appraisal (PRA) exercises, translated OPs and remote sensing data from a previous study. It is found that (1) the OPs are based on inadequately implemented forest inventories; (2) the OPs do not form the basis for management decision-making by the CFUGs, and that (3) the CFUGs do demonstrate awareness of the status and development in their respective forests. It is indicated that the observed changes in terms of forests condition most likely owes to an intentional and rational utilization by the CFUGs based on knowledge other than what is provided in the OPs. That being said, the OPs do play a significant role in controlling the activities of the general CFUG users and in legitimizing the decisions made by the CFUGs’ executive committees. In the light of this, careful reviewing of the OPs in their current form is suggested. Depending on the forest products and services wanted, the knowledge and tools necessary for the CFUGs to manage the forests should be considered with respect to the limited resources available. In this process, social consequences of requiring particular forms of knowledge must be considered. However, the biological and social consequences of removing the legitimizing authority of the executive committees, in form of the written OPs, should be kept in mind as well.