Management of community forests in Portugal: results and perspectives

According to a recent report, community forests in Portugal are a type of property with a relatively large size, high development potential and high agroforestry use but present great management difficulties.

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Community-based forestry in Baldios of Vilarinho (Centre of Portugal). Photo: Eugenia Rodrigues

On 25 January, the report on more than 700 community forest management plans was discussed at the premises of the Portuguese Federation of Community Lands. These forests were developed in the last century, during the fascist regime of Salazar, within the framework of the Reforestation Plan, which provided for the reforestation, between 1938 and 1968, of dunes in the coastal areas and 420,000 hectares of community lands (known as baldios).

After the 1974 revolution, the baldios, together with the created forest stands, were returned to the local communities, their historical owners. Currently, it is estimated that these lands occupy approximately half a million hectares, with a forest use prevalence. These community lands are, in the national forest universe, a valuable heritage and important space for the development of forestry activities. Revenue from these forests cannot be shared between landowners but invested in the well-being of the management community and rural development. More than 75% of the baldios are co-managed with the National Forest Services.

In 2007, a protocol was signed for the development of Land Use Plans between the General Directorate of Forest Resources and the main community land federations/associations, which included the community forest management part. As a result of this protocol, 800 plans were prepared, and around 85% of these were approved and homologated by the Forest Services.

Discussion of the preliminary report on the analysis of plans with the National Federation of Baldios and Forest Services.
Photo: Pedro Gomes

Between 2016 and 2019, the Centre of Applied Ecology of the University of Lisbon
(CEABN) team collected all possible information on the process of submission, analysis and approval of these plans. The information from the collected plans was extracted and organised in the form of a database for subsequent statistical analysis.

According to the results obtained in this study, community forests are a type of property with a relatively large size (average 400 ha/baldio), high development potential and high agroforestry use, but at the same time, great management difficulties. Forest exploitation is one of the main revenue generators in community lands, but non-wood forest resources (such as resin, wild mushrooms or honey) are underutilised, despite their great economic potential. Most community forest stands are still represented by conifers and conversion to mixed forests could be promoted.

The second most important activities developed in community forests are pastoralism and hunting. New types of activities were also detected, such as the installation of wind farms or the use of community forests for tourism and recreation. However, these types of activities do not have the desirable economic translation because these are open spaces with weak control and lack of legislation. To the surprise of the researchers, a small concern of community forest managers regarding forest fires and the spread of invasive species was observed. This issue should be studied in terms of fire risk in baldio areas, raising the awareness of the different actors that manage and use them.

As for the main baldio management strategies, they are still very focused on classical forest management and wood production. This seems to indicate that baldio managers believe that wood forest products produce more income and, as such, wish to give continuity to forestry activities, but with proper management. New research is needed to increase the sustainability of management in these forest areas.