Local Decision-Making | Planting Trees

Empowering Local Citizens to Make Forest Management and Restoration Decisions 

Holder, Curtis D. 2016.  Multiscale forest governance structures within a transboundary biosphere reserve in Central America.  World Development Perspectives 3: 22-24.


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This case study addressed challenges and solutions to forest management and restoration in transboundary regions within a single watershed. The Trifinio region of Central America covers approximately 7500 km2 at the borders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and comprises a diversity of vegetation types, including cloud, mixed pine and oak, subtropical dry, transitional, and secondary forests.

Approximately, 70% of the people in this region live in rural communities that rely on forests for fuelwood and timber.  For several years, the three national governments discussed protection environmental plans for the forest resources in this shared watershed region. These multi-year discussions culminated in an innovative, transboundary and multiscale forest governance structure called Plan Trifinio that consists of representatives from municipalities in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

One of the initial proposals from Plan Trifinio was the establishment of a biosphere reserve focusing on the sustainable management of the natural resources to promote economic development based on citizen participation, decentralization, sustainable management of forest resources, and equity.  The result of the proposal was the establishment of the Trifinio-Fraternidad Biosphere Reserve, the first trinational biosphere reserve in Latin America. A biosphere reserve is similar to a national park in that both systems protect an ecosystem for conservation; however, the use of natural resources by humans and human’s impact on the environment are considered in the designation of a biosphere reserve.  In particular, a mission of a biosphere reserve aims to maintain the sustainability of natural resource use while protecting the plant and animal species within the biosphere reserve.

The organization structure of Plan Trifinio requires that the vice presidents of the three countries and the Trinational Executive Secretariat develop projects in collaboration with the technical and consulting committees.  The consulting committee consists of departmental governors, mayors, the Trifinio Associations for Sustainable Development (ATRIDESTs), nongovernmental organizations, and other civic organizations in the Trifinio region.  This multi-level organizational structure of Plan has enabled successful funding from banks, government development agencies in Western Europe and North America, the Organization of American States, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  In particular, the ATRIDESTs in rural communities emerged to enhance local participation and create dialogue with governmental and nongovernmental institutions to support sustainable use of natural resources.  The ATRIDESTs empowered local, community-level citizen groups to voice suggestions and concerns on forest restoration programs and other programs related to the sustainable use of natural resources, including mining issues, environmental pollution, and food security.

The trinational organization of Plan Trifinio has minimized conflicts and generated opportunities for sharing information and cooperation among the three countries and people within 45 municipalities.  Empowering local citizens to make decisions on projects in the Trifinio region serves as a model for sustainability projects in other regions.


The PARTNERS connection
This paper was a contribution to a special issue of World Development Perspectives on Governance Innovations for Forest Restoration. The special issue was organized by the governance working group of PARTNERS at the second workshop. Although the special issue was an activity sponsored by PARTNERS, the individual research papers were not funded or initiated by PARTNERS.