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The Value of Tropical Forest to Local Communities: Complications, Caveats, and Cautions

Douglas Sheil, CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research)
Sven Wunder, CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research)

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Abstract

The methods used to value tropical forests have the potential to influence how policy makers and others perceive forest lands. A small number of valuation studies achieve real impact. These are generally succinct accounts supporting a specific perception. However, such reports risk being used to justify inappropriate actions. The end users of such results are rarely those who produced them, and misunderstanding of key details is a concern. One defense is to ensure that shortcomings and common pitfalls are better appreciated by the ultimate users. In this article, we aim to reduce such risks by discussing how valuation studies should be assessed and challenged by users.

We consider two concise, high-profile valuation papers here, by Peters and colleagues and by Godoy and colleagues. We illustrate a series of questions that should be asked, not only about the two papers, but also about any landscape valuation study. We highlight the many challenges faced in valuing tropical forest lands and in presenting and using the results sensibly, and we offer some suggestions for improvement. Attention to complexities and clarity about uncertainties are required. Forest valuation must be pursued and promoted with caution.

Key words

cultural anthropology, forest valuation, indigenous people, land-use change, livelihood security, local participation, measurement biases, nontimber forest products, policy priorities, tropical deforestation, unit-area values, unit-time values
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087