A case study of two community forests in Uganda (Ongo and Alimugonza) indicates mixed conservation outcomes between 2006 and 2016.
Both forests faced enormous pressures from the forest-fringe communities for pole and fuelwood extraction, some of which were illegal.
During the ten-year period, the basal area and stem densities of tree species locally preferred for poles and charcoal declined in both forests while the densities of those preferred for timber registered a net increase.
Ongo forest registered a net decline in tree species richness while Alimugonza forest registered a net increase.
The Communal Land Association members who are mandated to manage the two forests continue to face institutional weaknesses in rule enforcement due to the high costs of apprehending rule breakers and their contestable legitimacy since the forests have not been formally declared as “community forests” as required by laws of Uganda.
The last three decades have witnessed shifts in forest governance in favour of more inclusive approaches. In Uganda, two main approaches have been embraced in the forest sector: collaborative forest management and community forest management. However, there is scanty empirical evidence on how the latter has affected the forest condition over time. Using data from two bio-physical surveys (2006 and 2016) and Key Informant Interviews, this study examined changes in vegetation characteristics in two de facto community forests (Ongo and Alimugonza) over a 10-year period. The basal area and stem densities of tree species locally preferred for poles and charcoal declined in both forests due to extractive uses, some of which were illegal. The densities of those preferred for timber increased as a result of their heightened protection by the community members. However, the community members still faced challenges of apprehending rulebreakers due to the high costs involved and their informal recognition as responsible bodies since the two forests have not yet been declared “community forests” as required by law. The gains made by the approach amidst these challenges demonstrate its potential to achieve conservation goals.