Managing the Mountains

B12: Forest Management in Mountain Communities


Source: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University,
Source: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University,

Mountains cover 24 percent of the Earth’s land surface and are home to 12 percent of the global human population. While mountains may seem harsh and rugged, the plant and animal communities they support are actually quite fragile and sensitive to change. This adds another layer of complexity to the management framework of montane forests.

Many of the management decisions in montane forests are similar to those in other forests. Multifunctional forests that balance social, economic, and ecological needs are the goal for both. However, montane forests are different in a few regards. Due to elevation gradients within montane areas, forest types can be diverse. Chunling Dai described seven forest community types in the montane zone of the Western Qinling Mountains in China. Variability in temperature, moisture, and light availability, influenced by topography, can lead to very different growing conditions within a relatively small area.

Recognizing this diversity, as well as the limited ranges of some of these tree species, is an important first step in assessing how best to manage a montane forest. Adi Gangga has been studying the vegetation in the Lawu Mountains in Indonesia. By measuring the growth and dispersion of different species at three sites, varying in elevation, as well as conducting interviews with local people, he was able to determine that Lithocarpus sundaicus was the most important species across his study area. He continued his research by focusing on this particular species and examining both its ecological and economic value. His work stressed that although these forests are managed by the state, the involvement of local people and local organizations was crucial in fostering a sense of stewardship and responsibility in sustainably managing the forests.

In addition to diverse vegetative communities, montane forests also have diverse terrain, which poses a unique challenge for management. Access to forests can often be a problem for logging and other forest operations. In some areas, complex topography can make building roads impossible. In these cases, alternative methods need to be considered. Hideo Sakai discussed some of the benefits and challenges of using cable logging methods in Japan. He found that cable logging caused less disturbance than traditional logging methods and was the better method to use in his study area.

Raffaele Cavalli connected some of the more technical aspects of forest operations engineering back to the impacts that different management practices have on local communities. He studied montane forests in Italy and Nepal and compared how different forest operation and management approaches affected the community forest user groups. From this research, he concluded that it was imperative that forest operations engineering and management groups interact with other disciplines such as forest and social sciences and that decisions needed to be tailored to each local community.

Montane forests are spatially diverse, topographically complex, and fragile ecosystems. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all management plan. It is important to assess the sensitivity and diversity of different vegetative communities as well as the local use of forests before deciding how to proceed with larger-scale economic interests.


Written by: Allison Chan

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