A new approach beyond an ancient history: Lessons from Community Forestry Management in Iran’s Semi-arid Oak Forests

A typical landscape degradation of Zagros forests by local community and villagers
A typical landscape degradation of Zagros forests by local community and villagers

For millions of years, forests and people across the Zagros forest of Iran evolved together, creating perhaps the most unique socio-ecological system in the world. From one of the earliest stories ever written in 2700 BC. about Mesopotamian civilization “To provide the timber to build the city of Gilgamesh, the forests of the Zagros range east of Babylonia were the first to be exploited and they provided oak (Quercus), cypress (Cupressus) pine (Pinus) and Juniper (Juniperus).”

Zagros forest extends in a belt of primarily deciduous oak forests in west of Iran. Most of the Zagros forests in Iran are under some type of traditional ownership. The aim of forest management by the traditional forest owners in Zagros is to collect fodder and lop trees as winter fodder for livestock, harvest wood for fuel and construction, and clear sites for under-canopy farming.

We consider the strict management strategy adopted by government managers (Forests, Range and Watershed management Organization of Iran, FRWO) has not led to forest conservation after 50 years in the Zagros forests that have a long history of utilization. On the other hand, due to a shortage of productive and arable lands which resulting unemployment and poverty, people overexploited the Zagros forests. Outside intervention in traditional forest management creates conflicts between local peoples and FRWO.

Studies indicate that the increasing population, the low level of development, and the high dependency of local communities on forests for their primary livelihoods appear to be the main reasons for forest decline in Zagros region.

During the last decade a number of researches and activities have been carried out to document information with several indigenous peoples and local communities in Oak forests of Iran. But, the amount of research that is getting in the hands of local people and giving them the power to adapt it to make decisions is rare. Successful case studies and examples show how important it is to transfer the power of producing and maintaining information to reach appropriate decisions.

With the aim of community-based development and community participation, as a new complementary step to recognize and introduce the customary rights of local communities considering their Preferences, we investigated a set of Forestry Incentives Programs (FIPs) based on important functions of forests.

Our results indicate that the needs of local communities resulted from the characteristics and environmental features of nature, and local communities enjoyed substantial economic benefits from forests. Therefore, for continued realization of these benefits, there is a need to balance the levels of extraction and conservation of forests. To achieve this goal that led to sustainable forest management, it is desirable to implement Forestry Incentive Programs.

The approach taken for developing a set of conservation incentives is on the basis of cause-effect, including bottom-up and interaction analysis of forest-people relationships.

The table below summarizes some of activity and achievement of this study:

Conflicts between various users of forest resources are increasing as they are diminishing, and also overharvesting of forests, overgrazing and land clearance for agriculture reduce numerous functions and services previously provided by semiarid forests. These are being threatened not only by deforestation, but also by the reduction of biodiversity that affects the subsisting tree cover formations. So there is an urgent need for responsible management of the natural resources of these regions of the world.

Written by: Jalal Henareh Khalyani
Affiliation: University of Tehran
Country: Iran


This post is entry #16 in the #IUFRO2014 Blog Competition. The most popular entry will receive a certificate and 500 USD. The second and third most popular entries will receive a certificate and copy of the new book, “Forests and Globalization: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development”.

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