The Common-Property Forests of Canton Ticino, Southern Switzerland: Relations Between a Traditional Institution and the Modern State, 1803-2003

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"This study of 200 years of history of the common-property forests of Canton Ticino, southern Switzerland, in particular of the conflicts between these ancient institutions and the modern state, had its genesis in, of all places, Madagascar. It grew out of discussions, heated at times, held among members of a team of consultants who were in Madagascar in 1991 in order to design an institution-building project in the natural resources field. Madagascar is, of course, a classical case of a poor country with weak state institutions and undergoing massive resource degradation, including deforestation. Its private sector is also embryonic (or was at the time, after a long period of 'socialism'), and in the countryside private ownership, especially land titling, was also rudimentary. The question before the project design team, including the writer, was what kind of institutions should be proposed in order to deal with various resource problems. In the case of forests and rangelands, long ignored or mismanaged by the state, the tendency among the team members was to advocate the creation, or revival, of common property institutions, which would own and manage these resources. This was not surprising since the team's 'Bible' was the then newly-published 'Governing the Commons' by Elinor Ostrom (1990). The writer, aware of the poor record of forest management by common-property institutions in Switzerland (often the same ones that manage the 'alps' or high-altitude pastures quite well) warned against too rosy a view of common-property regimes for forests, especially those on long rotations. He vowed at the time to tell some day one story of Swiss common-property forests in some detail as a cautionary tale. This study is the result of that vow."
forest management, common pool resources