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Self-Governance and Forest Resources

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Ostrom, Elinor
Date: 1999
Agency: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor, Indonesia
Series: CIFOR Occasional Paper, no. 20
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/4449
Sector: Forestry
Subject(s): common pool resources--theory
design principles
forest management--theory
Abstract: "Forest resources share attributes with many other resource systems that make difficult their governance and management in a sustainable, efficient and equitable manner. Destruction or degradation of forest resources is most likely to occur in open-access forests where those involved, or external authorities, have not established effective governance. Conventional theories applied to forest resources presumed that forest users themselves were incapable of organising to overcome the temptations to overharvest. Extensive empirical research, however, has challenged this theory and illustrated the many ways that forest users themselves have devised rules that regulate harvesting patterns so as to ensure the sustainability of forest resources over time. "There is now a large body of literature analysing common-pool resources such as many fisheries, irrigation systems and rangelands. A growing consensus exists in this literature concerning the attributes of common-pool resources and of resource users that enhance the probability that self-organisation will occur. Many of these attributes seem also to help predict when forest users will self-organise. Forest users are more likely to devise their own rules when they use a forest that is starting to deteriorate but has not substantially disappeared, when some forest products provide early warning concerning forest conditions, when forest products are predictably available, and when the forest is sufficiently small that users can develop accurate knowledge of conditions. Self-organisation is more likely to occur when forest resources are highly salient to users, when users have a common understanding of the problems they face, when users have a low discount rate, when users trust one another, when users have autonomy to make some of their own rules, and when users have prior organisational experience. These attributes of forests and of the user community affect the benefits and costs of organising to protect and enhance forest resources. When users create organisations consistent with a set of design principles, they are likely to be able to sustain their own institutional arrangements over a long period of time. "This growing consensus about the attributes of users and resources has been applied in the design of policies intended to enhance the participation of local users in the governance and management of common-pool resources, including many forests. Supporting further research - especially studies of forests and their users over time is an important foundation for even more effective public policies in the future."

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