Assessing Forest Change in Human Impacted Forests

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"Ecologists and practitioners have conventionally used forest plots or transects for monitoring changes in attributes of forest condition over time. Yet, given the difficulty in collecting such data, conservation practitioners frequently rely on the judgment of foresters and forest users for evaluating changes. These methods are rarely compared. We use a dataset of 53 forests in five countries to compare assessments of forest change from forest plots, and forester and user evaluations of changes in forest density. We find that user assessments of changes in tree density are strongly and significantly related to assessments of change derived from statistical analyses of randomly distributed forest plots. User assessments of change in density at the shrub/sapling level are also related to assessments derived from statistical evaluations of vegetation plots, but this relationship is not as strong, and only weakly significant. Evaluations of change by professional foresters are much more difficult to arrive at, as foresters are not familiar with changes in a number of local areas, and can instead better provide valid single-time comparisons a forest with other areas in a similar ecological zone. We conclude that in forests where local users are present, and capable of accessing the entire forest without restrictions on movement, they can provide reliable assessments of changes in tree density. Forest users are less able to accurately identify spatially variable changes in density at the shrub/sapling layer, and assessments of human disturbance and regeneration at this level may require supplementation by vegetation analysis."
biodiversity, forests, monitoring and sanctioning, change, community forestry