Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Forest Reserves

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 10: Forests > Forest Reserves


Creating forest parks and reserves can be a way to get support from governments and international organizations to protect forests and foster ecotourism. But governments and conservation groups sometimes think the only way to protect and preserve a forest is to keep people out. In many cases, they are wrong. People who live in the forest know how to use and care for it. By staying in the forest and managing forest parks and reserves, local people may be better able to protect it than any government or conservation group.

People holding scythes speak as they approach a forest where a sign reads,"This forest is protected by the government. No Trespassing."
But we've always
come here to collect medicines!
We need to talk
to the
government about this.

Some communities maintain access to the resources in forest reserves by making agreements with the government and other local communities to manage these resources together. This is called a ‘co-management scheme.’

Co-management partnerships let people continue their traditional and sustainable uses of the forest and its products. Communities that manage forest reserves can also educate other communities about the importance of protecting the forest.

Forestry that sustains both people and trees

In the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, conflicts have often erupted between logging companies, cattle ranchers, and others who earn a profit from cutting down the forest, and people who live in the forest farming, harvesting rubber, and making crafts. After huge portions of the rainforest were destroyed, workers and indigenous people finally convinced the government to create “extractive reserves” — large areas of forest protected from destruction, but open to limited use.

Unfortunately, even people who lived in the forest for many years were denied the right to use the extractive reserves. The very forests they had fought so hard to protect would no longer protect their livelihoods.

A wooden stool.

People in the Tapajos Community Forest Reserve traditionally earn their living farming, hunting, and using forest products to make baskets, canoes, and other handicrafts. But they also need medicines, tools, fuel, electricity, and other things, which requires them to earn money. With some financial help, they built a carpentry workshop which they named the Caboclo Workshop, for the Caboclo people of mixed indigenous, African, and European descent. Using only trees cut down on land cleared for farming, they made furniture to sell in local markets and in stores throughout Brazil.

This income led them to think about making more wood products to earn more money. But they were not allowed to cut any standing trees unless they had a “forest inventory” and a “sustainable management plan” approved by the Ministry of the Environment.

To fulfill these government requirements, they would have to collect information about how much wood was in the forest and how much new wood grew each year. The government did not believe that villagers, many of whom could not read or write, could do such a thing. But the villagers were the real experts of the forest. They had been guiding environmental scientists through the forest for years, teaching them about plants and animals. Now the scientists taught them to use a simple tool to measure tree growth and calculate how much wood grew each year. The villagers made a plan to produce small, high-value products such as butcher blocks and stools, limiting their use of wood to the amount that could grow in a year.

The Ministry of the Environment accepted their plan, and now the Caboclo Workshop allows them to earn income without abusing the forest’s resources.

The forest dwellers of the Caboclo Workshop have done what scores of scientists, economists, and development workers have long struggled to achieve: establish a forest management plan that is sustainable for both their community and their forest.

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