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Forest Case Studies

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Forests in developing countries are under great pressure. Traditional forest goods and services — timber, fuel, food, and medicine — continue to support rural populations who depend directly on their natural environments to fulfill their everyday needs and to provide materials for subsistence incomes. Population increase and economic growth are primary driving forces behind conversion of forests to agricultural land for both food and cash crops. The challenge is to balance local peoples' subsistence needs or concerns with the pressures and interests of national or regional economic development organizations and income opportunities. In some instances, these unusual coalitions are born of contention, but they often mature through acceptance that managing forests sustainably can benefit all stakeholders now and in the future.

Regenerating Dhani Forest in India

Dhani Forest is a 2,200-hectare, hilly woodland in the southwestern section of Orissa State in India near the Bay of Bengal. Once a thriving ecosystem, commercial timber harvesting and local exploitation had, by the mid-1980s, reduced the forest to little more than stump-studded slopes. Until then, Dhani Forest had provided a subsistence living for the 1,244 people — 212 households — living in the five villages nearest to the forest. By 1987, they realized they had to act to ensure their survival.

Indian women
Harijan women stitching siali leaf plates.
The Orissa State Forest Department had begun permitting commercial contractors to harvest timber in Dhani in 1960. Until then, local people had been allowed to gather a variety of products from the forest: bamboo and wood for housing and agricultural tools; fruits, fibers, siali leaves for making plates; and flowers. Commercial harvesting removed forest canopy in Dhani's low-lying areas. Pressured by need, villagers converted the deforested land to agroecosystems. In addition, the state tried to establish teak plantations in other sections. For 20 years commercial cutting continued and local use increased. In 1979 the State allowed a major timber harvest that left no large trees. Alarmed, the villagers increased their timber-cutting in a rush to claim some of the income for themselves. By 1986, the forest was badly degraded.

In 1987 the five villages closest to Dhani Forest agreed to work together to restore their forest. Through their cooperative efforts, the forest regenerated faster than many thought possible. But restoration required the help of all the local communities that depend on the forest for their livelihoods. Now recognized by the State, a committee formed of citizens in the five villages supervises use of the forest and protect it from uncontrolled grazing and harvesting. By the early 1990s, stumps sprouted new branches, grasses flourished, streams recharged, and wildlife returned.

Download Adobe AcrobatTo learn more about how the communities of Dhani saved their forest, read Up from the Roots: Regenerating Dhani Forest in World Resources 2000-2001.(Free Adobe Acrobat Reader required)

Managing the Mankòtè Mangrove Forest

The Mankòtè mangrove forest on St. Lucia Island in the Caribbean covers about 63 hectares and comprises 20% of St. Lucia's mangrove forests. Until 1960, this coastal forest ecosystem was part of a U.S. military base. After the base closed, islanders had access to the mangrove forest once again and began to use it as a source for fish, birds, and crabs. Islanders also began dumping wastes and spraying pesticides there to eradicate mosquitoes. Perhaps the most destructive activity, however, was cutting down the trees which are used to make charcoal. By the 1980s, charcoal production was a major source of subsistence income and an important cottage industry. For the more than 15,000 residents of communities near Mankòtè, the forest became their primary source for wood. And the mangrove forest was in decline.

The Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI), a regional NGO, identified Mankòtè forest as a priority area for conservation and recognized that the people who depended most on the forest were the most important ones to enlist in its restoration. Harvesters united in an informal cooperative to monitor and track trends in charcoal production and the status of the mangroves. Harvesters, local NGOs, and government agencies together determined that an alternative wood supply was needed. They planted a woodlot of fast-growing hardwoods for use in producing charcoal.

The data are limited, but research suggests that the density and size of mangrove trees has increased, and charcoal production averaged 2 tons per month in early 2000, only slightly less than the average in the past 15 years.

The St. Lucia government continues to receive proposals to develop the area. Fortunately, so far, key agencies are holding development at bay until they can determine how best to make use of their resources without encroaching on the mangroves.

Download Adobe AcrobatTo learn more about community mangrove management in St. Lucia's Mankòtè forest, read Managing Mankòtè Mangrove in World Resources 2000-2001. (Free Adobe Acrobat Reader required)

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Source: This profile is adapted from the companion book, World Resources 2000-2001.

For comprehensive data about the world's ecosystems, visit EarthTrends at http://www.earthtrends.wri.org/.
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