How Nepal Regenerated Its Forests
In the 1970s, Nepal was facing an environmental crisis. Forests in Nepal’s hillsides were being degraded due to livestock grazing and fuelwood harvesting, which led to increased flooding and landslides. Without large-scale reforestation programs, a 1979 World Bank report warned, forests in the country’s hills would be largely gone by 1990. The maps above show forest cover in Nepal in 1992 (top) and 2016 (bottom). Between these years, forest cover in the country almost doubled, from 26 percent to 45 percent. Using the long-term data record from Landsat satellites, along with in-depth interviews with people in Nepali villages, the research group found that community forest management was associated with the regrowth of forests. Most of the tree regrowth happened in middle-elevations, in the hills between the Himalayas and the plains of the Ganges River. Under community forest management, local forest rangers worked with the community groups to develop plans outlining how they could develop and manage the forests. People were able to extract resources from the forests (fruits, medicine, fodder) and sell forest products, but the groups often restricted grazing and tree cutting, and they limited fuelwood harvests. Community members also actively patrolled forests to ensure they were being protected. These maps show forest cover in Kābhrepalāñchok (Kabhre Palanchok) and Sindhupālchok (Sindhu Palchok), districts in the Bagmati Province east of Kathmandu. These districts were the focus of recent regional land cover change analysis because of their early adoption of community forestry. Beginning in the 1980s, the Australian government financed tree planting projects in these districts as well as the development of community forest groups. In many of the community forests, active management allowed trees to grow back naturally in the hills, but tree planting efforts were needed in lower elevation areas that were largely devoid of vegetation.