Mapping Forest Dynamics after 25 Years of Community Management in the Middle Hills of Nepal


Since the 1980s, Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, has gained worldwide recognition for path-breaking achievements in community forest management. In 1988, Nepal’s Department of Forests designated 61 percent of the nation’s total forest area (3.5 million hectares) as forest that could be transferred legally to local communities and managed for their benefit. Today, community forests occupy nearly 23 percent of Nepal’s total forest area (1.2 million hectares). They are managed by more than 18,000 community forest user groups comprising 1.6 million households that account for nearly 40 percent of Nepal’s population.

The impact of this innovative system of forest management has not been documented, however, in part due to the difficulty of mapping forest cover in mountainous environments. The East-West Center has recently initiated a multi-disciplinary research program that seeks to quantify the rate and extent of Nepal’s forest transition and identify associated socioeconomic variables. Data are being collected and analyzed on two nested scales: the Middle Hills as a whole and local community forests in the region. The project has three overarching objectives:

  1. Build a comprehensive database of Middle Hills forest cover change since 1990
  2. Identify the physiographic and socioeconomic variables associated with forest cover change and quantify their respective influences
  3. Assess how foreign labor migration and remittances correlate to forest cover change across the Middle Hills and at a sample of community forest sites.

The research team consists of scholars with extensive experience in studies of land-cover and land-use change in mountainous regions, including Nepal, and with access to national and sub-national networks of decision-makers, academics, and activists. The Principle Investigator, Jefferson Fox (EWC), oversees the project and coordinates work with co-investigators in Nepal. Sumeet Saksena (EWC) assists Dr. Fox in overseeing the project and provides support on statistical analysis and modeling. Kaspar Hurni (EWC) focuses on remote sensing and global information systems. Other colleagues involved in the project are J. Van Den Hoek (Oregon State University), Pitamber Sharma (Resources Himalaya Foundation, former Vice-Chairman of the National Planning Commission of Nepal) and Ram Chhetri (Resources Himalaya Foundaton, Tribhuvan University).

Related publications

Fox, Jefferson (2016). Community forestry, labor migration, and agrarian change in a Nepali village: 1980 to 2010. The Journal of Peasant Studies.

See all current East-West Center Research Projects.