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The Swedish Common Forests: A Common Property Resource in an Urban, Industrialised Society

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Carlsson, Lars
Date: 1996
Agency: Rural Development Forestry Network, Overseas Development Institute, London
Series: Network Paper 20e
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/4284
Sector: Urban Commons
Region: Europe
Subject(s): forests
forest management
common pool resources
Abstract: "Common forests are frequently associated with developing countries, where overpopulation, a lack of technical and economic resources, deforestation and a tension between central bureaucracies and local people contribute to forest loss and depletion. This paper focuses on a quite different situation: the role of common forests in an industrialised country. The Swedish common forests have survived for more than 100 years; no deforestation has been observed and the total amount of biomass is increasing. The forests are considered by experts to be well managed both in terms of efficiency and with regard to the preservation of biodiversity. At the same time their extent remains intact; in fact, only about 70% of the annual production of biomass is harvested. Compared to other types of ownership the commons have a very special organisation. The basis consists of 25,000 individual shareholders with property rights in the forests. This medieval pattern of ownership seems to survive; moreover it seems to be quite prosperous within the realm of modern society with its highly competitive forest industries. This paper explains why the Swedish common forests have survived as vital and competitive actors in the timber market. Three main explanations are discussed: the commoners' conscious attempts to reduce transaction costs, their general inventiveness in adjusting to changed circumstances, and their acclimatisation to present economic conditions."

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