Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 17, Issue 11, pp 2757–2772 | Cite as

Preservation or degradation? Communal management and ecological change in a southeast Michigan forest

  • Fred NelsonEmail author
  • Elisa Collins
  • Alain Frechette
  • Cynthia Koenig
  • Mosé Jones-Yellin
  • Brihannala Morgan
  • Gita Ramsay
  • Gautam Rao
  • Claudia Rodriguez
  • Zewdie Jotte Tulu
  • Cristy Watkins
  • John Zinda
Original Paper


Local communities play an increasingly important role in the management and conservation of forests at local and global scales. Conventional analyses of community forest management tend to view the outcomes of these efforts, as with common pool resources (CPRs) more generally, as contingent on the ability of local institutions to control collective levels of extractive use and enforce group rules. This paper provides a case study of a community forest in southern Michigan, in the Midwestern United States, that challenges these assumptions about community-based forest management. The factors driving change in this forest are not tied to excessive extraction or disturbance by human agents but rather the proliferation of shade-tolerant invasive species. The community institutions and values that made it possible for the forest to grow and mature now threaten its very existence. By discouraging any form of active management, the forest has become susceptible to the growing pressures of human-induced environmental change such as the introduction of exotic plant species. Biodiversity conservation in such contexts consequently relies not only on restraining local forest utilization practices or the preservation of land from development, but on active management interventions by local forest users. Understanding the impact of community management on CPRs in human-dominated ecosystems will require broadening the scope of analysis to account for the importance of active management and the potentially deleterious effects of preservationist approaches on native biota.


Community-based forest management Common pool resources Michigan Quakers Oak savannas Preservation Local institutions Forest conservation 



Community-based forest management


Common pool resource


Diameter at breast height


Friends Lake Cooperative Community


International Forestry Resources and Institutions



We are extremely grateful to the Friends Lake Cooperative Community for supporting this study by welcoming us onto the property, into their homes and board meetings, and sharing a wealth of information and perspectives. We would like to particularly express our gratitude to Pam and Phil Hoffer, Renée Heberle, and Helen Current. Valuable suggestions and comments on this study and previous editions of this paper were provided by Michael Hathaway. The collection of forestry data greatly benefited from the knowledge of Nancy Walker. We are also grateful to Natalie Dushane for supporting the FLCC research project’s logistics. Finally, we would like to extend our deepest appreciation to Arun Agrawal, who guided us through this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fred Nelson
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Elisa Collins
    • 1
  • Alain Frechette
    • 1
  • Cynthia Koenig
    • 1
  • Mosé Jones-Yellin
    • 1
  • Brihannala Morgan
    • 1
  • Gita Ramsay
    • 1
  • Gautam Rao
    • 1
  • Claudia Rodriguez
    • 1
  • Zewdie Jotte Tulu
    • 1
  • Cristy Watkins
    • 1
  • John Zinda
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Natural Resources and EnvironmentUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.ArushaUnited Republic of Tanzania

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