Understanding the effective processes by which communities manage tropical forests

This interdisciplinary research project will evaluate the effective management of tropical forests by communities. The project will draw on and contribute to understandings of the ways that individuals, groups, and organizations collectively manage forests and other resources in the face of increasing population and changes in land-use and environmental conditions. The project will provide new insights regarding the ways effective community interactions, including communication and knowledge sharing between stakeholder groups, and strong forms of leadership can build trust and enhance the capacity of communities to undertake effective community-based land management. Project results will provide new perspectives regarding the mechanisms through which communities can effectively manage forests. The project also will provide valuable education and training opportunities for undergraduate students at a small liberal arts college as well as enhancement of international collaborative links.

The investigators will conduct a focused case study of 45 sites where the cultural significance of the site leads to shadow conservation. They will measure the changes in forest size, shape and crown closure over the last 50 years and assess the present ecological status of the forests. They will determine the elements of social cohesion that impact forest use and valuation, and they will assess how the ecological status of the forests affects social cohesion and societal customs such as religious practice. They also will determine which management strategies are most effective at maintaining healthy forest ecological status. Project findings will provide new insights and information that will contribute to a broad line of inquiry and the insights generated by this project will have practical value for community-based management of forests and other landscapes in the U.S. and elsewhere.

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