Environmental Governance, Forests, and Logging Concessions: The Effects of Institutional Complexity on Forest Systems, Cover, and Change in Central Africa

The Congo Basin possesses some of the most valuable and threatened rainforests outside the Amazon Basin. This research project will analyze and explain how changing environmental governance mechanisms have affected logging and forest-cover change in two countries in the Congo Basin, Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. A multidisciplinary team of investigators will seek answers to two main questions: (1) How do variations in partnerships among country governments, logging companies, and third parties (NGOs, donors, local actors) affect the content of concession agreements, and practices and environmental outcomes related to logging concessions? (2) How do armed conflict, shifts in trade and currency values, and increased monitoring of and information on logging practices, forest-cover change, and associated outcomes modify the micro- and macro-level impacts of new and evolving governance arrangements? In answering these questions, the researchers will focus on disentangling the many intertwined and multi-level causal processes that shape forest cover and forest change. These include macroeconomic changes, armed conflict, extra-legal activities, and behaviors of actors such as government agencies, logging companies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international donors, and local users. To identify and understand the complex, nonlinear processes through which micro-level choices of hundreds of actors shape aggregate outcomes, the investigators will deploy mathematical, statistical, and agent-based modeling techniques. They anticipate that their research and educational activities will lead to a series of workshops, including a capstone final workshop on governance and logging, several scientific papers on the relationship between governance, logging and forest cover, two synthesis volumes on "Logging in the Congo Basin" and "Environmental Governance and Agent Based Models," and the training of nearly 20 graduate students in advanced quantitative methods and modeling techniques. The research project is significant because it will explain how changes in forms of governance affect logging and forest cover outcomes in a world region that is extremely important in relation to biodiversity conservation, tropical forest cover, and carbon sequestration, but which has remained quite understudied. The research will contribute to future scientific advancement in three ways. It will assemble and make publicly available a consolidated data repository on logging concessions in Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. This data repository will help other researchers investigate how governance arrangements, the characteristics of logging concessions and concessionaires, local and international NGOs, and new forms of financing through civil society partnerships influence forest cover and change. The project will build partnerships across conventional divisions among academic researchers, NGO professional, and government officials to facilitate the adoption of useful findings in policy contexts, donor funding strategies, and changing governance arrangements. It will thereby create a broader public audience and use for scientific findings. Finally, the project will support the training of more than twenty U.S. and African students to conduct field research, analyze data, and deploy advanced computational and modeling techniques and thereby build greater capacity for scientific research in the Congo Basin. This project is supported by an award resulting from the NSF competition focusing on the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems.

Lead Investigator: 
Emergent Properties
mathematical, statistical and agent-based
Congo Basin
Temporal Scope: 
Spatial Scope: 
two countries
Natural System: 
tropical rainforest
Human System: 
environmental governance mechanisms