Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2015

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Ecology and Environmental Sciences


Robert J Lilieholm

Second Committee Member

Christopher Cronan

Third Committee Member

Jessica Leahy


Deforestation in Nepal threatens the functioning of complex social-ecological systems, including rural populations that depend on forests for subsistence, as well as Nepal’s biodiversity and other ecosystem services. Reliance on forest resources, coupled with high population densities and rates of growth, highlights the importance of studying the relationship between human communities, forest cover and trends through time, and forest management institutions. A Master Plan for Nepal’s Forestry Sector (MPFS), enacted in 1989, laid the foundation for modern community-based forest management in Nepal. In 2014, the MPFS reached the end of its 25-year lifespan, after successfully ushering in significant institutional changes that fundamentally transformed the management of Nepal’s forests, mostly through devolving management and benefits from the national level to local communities.

Here, we examine the effectiveness of the MPFS to offer insight into this complex coupled human and natural system. Using remote sensing techniques and Landsat satellite imagery, the 25-year anniversary of the MPFS was used to explore forest cover trends in the buffer zone Village Development Committees surrounding Chitwan National Park (CNP). An in-country household survey was then conducted to: (1) understand how local attitudes toward forest conservation-related behaviors correlated with empirical forest cover trends; and (2) understand which socio-demographic variables influenced supportive attitudes. The survey was conducted in two rural communities in southern Nepal—one that has experienced significant forest loss, the other forest gain—compare with forest cover trends as indicated by the results from Chapter 1. Lastly, we used an agent-based model (ABM) to explore what effect village attitudes toward forest conservation would have on the extent of forest cover if improved policies are implemented, population growth rate fluctuates, and villages are able to cooperate by mimicking each other’s attitudes and behaviors.

Results suggest that since the MPFS was enacted, there was first a continued decrease in forest cover, followed by a significant increase overall. Survey results suggest a significant difference in attitudes toward forest conservation in the two areas studied, and in both study sites, participation in community forestry strengthened support for conservation, supportive forest conservation-related attitudes aligned with forest cover gain in recent years, and a negative relationship was found between economic status and having supportive attitudes. Additionally, on average, respondents did not feel that the current national political climate in Nepal supported sustainable forestry. The results from the ABM suggest that improving forest-related policies would have a dramatic effect on the forest cover over time, the ability for villages to cooperate will likely have little effect on forest cover, and population growth rate will likely have a significant effect on forest extent. We also found that despite clear strengths, there are challenges with using ABM to model forest conservation dynamics and land use/land cover change at different scales. These data offer insight into the success of modern community-based forest management policies and supporting institutions, and are especially important as Nepal’s Master Plan for the Forestry Sector has expired and the country is in the process of structuring a new Forestry Sector Strategy.