Nepal's forest legislation requires community forest user groups to prepare inventory based management plans. Several studies have observed positive changes in forest cover after the establishment of community forestry; however, the role of management plans in bringing about such change is less examined. Based on a case study of nine community forests in the mid-hills of Nepal, this paper discusses the role of plans in changing the forest conditions. The study assessed changes in forest conditions, observed forest management activities, conducted household surveys, and interviewed forest bureaucrats. Image analysis showed improvement in forest conditions after the introduction of inventory based planning; however, improvements cannot be attributed to the plans, as the prescriptions in these were not used in practice. Instead, it emerged that a culture emphasizing forest conservation, changes in demography and increased remittance incomes together with increasing bureaucratic requirements contributed to the improved forest conditions. The role of the plan remains contested since it largely serves as a basis for controlling communities and, hence, preparation of such plans appears as an empty ritual with little connection with actual forest management.
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