Environmental Management

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 48–61 | Cite as

Forest Cover Change, Physiography, Local Economy, and Institutions in a Mountain Watershed in Nepal

  • Ambika P. Gautam
  • Ganesh P. Shivakoti
  • Edward L. Webb


This study assessed changes in forest cover in a mountain watershed in central Nepal between 1976 and 2000 by comparing classified satellite images coupled by GIS analyses, and examined the association of forest change with major physiographic, economic, and local forest governance parameters. The results showed an increase in forested area (forest plus shrublands) by 7.6% during 1976–2000. Forest dynamism (changes including improvement, deterioration, gain, and loss) was highest in low-elevation, south-facing and less-steep slopes that were closer to roads. Proportionately the highest net improvement and gain to forested area also took place in those locations. Forest degradation occurred at twice the rate of improvement in high elevation areas (> 2300 m). Forests located in urban and semiurban areas (i.e., a market-oriented economy) experienced a proportionately higher amount of net improvement and gain than forests in rural areas (i.e., a subsistence economy). Among the three governance arrangements, proportionately the highest net improvement and gain took place in semigovernment forests (forested area legally under the forest department but with de facto control and claim of ownership by local communities and/or municipality) followed by formalized community forests (including leasehold). Government forests, which were mostly found in the southern high mountains and had virtually open access, remained relatively stable during the study period. Over 50% of the watershed forests have not come under community-based management despite favorable policy and more than two decades of government intervention with continuous donor support. The findings indicate that the present “one size fits all” approach of community forest handover policy in Nepal needs rethinking to accommodate biophysical and socioeconomic variations across the country.


Land cover changes Remote sensing GIS Institutions Land tenure Nepal 



Financial support for this research was provided by DANIDA through a doctoral research grant to Ambika Gautam under the Integrated Watershed Development and Management program of the Asian Institute of Technology, ANUTECH Pty Ltd., Australia, through the Nepal Australia Community Resource Management Project, and a MacArthur postdoctoral research grant made available to Ambika Gautam through The Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University. We thank the Center for the Study of Institutions, Population, and Environmental Change at Indiana University for sharing Landsat satellite imagery from 1976. The authors would also like to thank Dr. Charles M. Schweik, University of Massachusetts, and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on an earlier version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ambika P. Gautam
    • 1
  • Ganesh P. Shivakoti
    • 1
  • Edward L. Webb
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Environment, Resources and DevelopmentAsian Institute of Technology, P.O. Box 4 Klong Luang Pathum Thani 12120Thailand

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