Effects of National Forest-Management Regimes on Unprotected Forests of the Himalaya

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Globally, deforestation continues, and although protected areas effectively protect forests, the majority of forests are not in protected areas. Thus, how effective are different management regimes to avoid deforestation in non-protected forests? We sought to assess the effectiveness of different national forest-management regimes to safeguard forests outside protected areas. We compared 2000–2014 deforestation rates across the temperate forests of 5 countries in the Himalaya (Bhutan, Nepal, China, India, and Myanmar) of which 13% are protected. We reviewed the literature to characterize forest management regimes in each country and conducted a quasi-experimental analysis to measure differences in deforestation of unprotected forests among countries and states in India. Countries varied in both overarching forest-management goals and specific tenure arrangements and policies for unprotected forests, from policies emphasizing economic development to those focused on forest conservation. Deforestation rates differed up to 1.4% between countries, even after accounting for local determinants of deforestation, such as human population density, market access, and topography. The highest deforestation rates were associated with forest policies aimed at maximizing profits and unstable tenure regimes. Deforestation in national forest-management regimes that emphasized conservation and community management were relatively low. In India results were consistent with the national-level results. We interpreted our results in the context of the broader literature on decentralized, community-based natural resource management, and our findings emphasize that the type and quality of community-based forestry programs and the degree to which they are oriented toward sustainable use rather than economic development are important for forest protection. Our cross-national results are consistent with results from site- and regional-scale studies that show forest-management regimes that ensure stable land tenure and integrate local-livelihood benefits with forest conservation result in the best forest outcomes.