CIPEC research in South Asia studies a variety of protected forests that are managed by governments, communities, or co-managed by joint groups of foresters and local communities. Harini Nagendra and her colleagues have studied the Chitwan National Park in the Nepal Terai plains, co-managed buffer zone forests at the boundary of this park, and community forests and leasehold forests in the Nepal hills. They have also examined two government parks in India that are patrolled by forest guards with guns – the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary in northwest India, and the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in central India, as well as co-managed forests under the Joint Forest Management program in central India.
Their research uses a variety of techniques to understand the ecological and social impacts of different types of management. Thus, they use satellite images to study changes in forest cover and forest fragmentation, field plots to study forest biodiversity, and interviews with local communities to understand the rules they use to manage the forest, as well as the impact of forest protection on their lives and livelihoods. This research demonstrates that a variety of forest management approaches can work in different contexts.
It is possible for government managed parks to be effective at conservation, but this involves expensive methods of monitoring that include the use of electric fences, and regular patrols by guards armed with guns. Not surprisingly, this approach to forest conservation leads to frequent conflicts with local communities, who depend on the forest to supply a large proportion of their daily livelihoods.
When communities protect forests, there is a greater local acceptance of the legitimacy of their control over the forests. Thus, sustainable levels of forest use can be achieved with lower levels of expense, and greater buy-in from these communities. Even in government protected areas, there is significant potential for involving local communities in forest management activities, leading to positive outcomes for communities as well as forests.