Course:FRST370/Community forest management of the baldios in Portugal: The cultural, environmental and economic impact after the revolution in 1974

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A winter scene in Sistelo, Portugal.

In Portugal, a baldio (/baw’dʒi.jɔ/) (common land) is a communally owned and managed area. Most baldios are currently located in northern Portugal and support the livelihoods of local communities.


Baldios have a long standing history in Portugal as necessary aspects of agricultural and pastoral life in mountain communities. In the 1930s and '40s, fascists passed legislation that claimed certain vacant areas for state use, causing devastating land use change through mismanaged and uncaring afforestation efforts.

The baldios refers to the common areas under community-based forestry in Portugal, consisting of over 13% (500 thousand hectares) of the forested land in the country[1]. Prior to 1938 when vacant land was occupied by the state government, the baldios played a key role in farming, providing the local community with essential material resources such as food, fertilizer, fuel, and pasture for goats, sheep, and cows[2][3]. Occupation of baldios by the fascist state forcefully changed land use to achieve timber extraction goals rather than the traditional usage as social security for local communities[4]. Even after local communities regained power over their land through the implementation of community-based forestry, there are still concerns with the level of public participation in discussions related to baldios[1]. Moreover, the allocation of subsidies, technical support, and legal support provided by Forest Services have been unbalanced between central Portugal and northern Portugal, leading to differences in the success in forest management[1][5].

Tenure arrangements

Extraction of resources from baldios are required by law to be authorized by the affected shareholders through contracts[6]. Extraction rights of resources for rural uses such as fertilizer for agriculture, bedding for livestock, hunting, and so on are given to local communities with considerations for future inheritors of those same rights[6]. Some have noted the legislation in place defining vacant land available for appropriation and sale by the state to be unrealistic and not in line with basic agricultural or pastoral knowledge[4].

Affected Stakeholders

The Commoners Assembly

The Commoners Assembly is formed by the local peoples who own and manage the baldios. Major decisions such as determining management type and goals for the baldios is facilitated by the assembly[1]. The Commoners Assembly takes two types of management: the co-management of forests with the Forest Services, or an autonomous management type[1]. Co-management is done by 586 baldios communities (more than 70% of all baldios communities) and officially, local peoples and Forest Services have equal power in terms of decision making, as well as shared revenues[1]. There seems to be difficulty achieving full enjoyment of benefits for local peoples due to the bureaucratic nature of the Forest Service and their inability to successfully fulfill their duties[1]. Autonomous management where the local communities take full control over their baldio, without the cooperation with Forest Services.

Local Authorities (Parishes)

The Parishes are formed in areas where the Commoners Assembly was not established, but has an identical role as them[1]. The Parishes too, take two types of forest management, one where they coordinate with the Forest Service and one where they manage baldios solely on their own. Similar to the Commoners Assembly, they too have concerns in terms of the bureaucratic nature still present between them and the Forest Service.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

State government

The Portuguese state government occupied vacant land between the years 1938 to 1968 under a fascist regime called the Estado Novo[2]. Their intentions were to fix the “inappropriate” use of baldios, mainly by preventing use for agriculture and farming by local peoples[2]. Mismanagement by the fascist Estado Novo triggered major soil erosion, and the government intervened and implemented an Afforestation Plan managed by the Forest Service[2]. After the revolution, the government changed their operations to supporting the communities by sending in technical assistance in managing the forest, especially because the commoners were historically used to manage crop and farm lands instead of the forested land they came back to[2]. They work closely with the Forest Service and still hold a strong position in decision making.

Forest Services

Under the orders of the state government, the Forest Service held strong control over baldios, and were the main contributors in the Afforestation Plan, planting approximately 300,000 hectares of Pinus pinaster[2][7]. After the revolution, the Forest Service switched to supporting the communities managing their forests by sending in forest technicians and subsidies[2]. They serve as an enforcement agency.


Aims and Intentions

Maritime pine on the Atlantic coast.

The state government occupied the baldios for the intentions of reducing the severe soil erosion resulting from agriculture and overgrazing, which were the main practices the baldios communities have been executing for a long history[1]. The occupation started from 1938 and ended in 1968 when, 6 years later, a revolution occurred in defense of the local communities rights. After the revolution in 1974, the locals were able to return to their home land and gain rights, ultimately leading to the community-based forestry we see now[1]. The community-based forestry itself did not have a specific aim but had the intention of giving local communities a voice in the management of their land.

Successes and Failures

Over the past 40 years financial, social, and natural benefits have been observed with the return of land to local peoples[1]. Some financial successes observed were increased income from sale of timber and non-wood forest products, and increased income to individual households as well as to community groups[1]. Social successes observed include increased social/institutional capital, human capital, inclusiveness and also an increase in the use of forest goods for spiritual purposes[1]. Most natural indicators showed a negative effect except for the regeneration of trees. Another huge success we should mention is the success in the protection of rights of commoners in the management of community forests[1].

While there were many successes in this CBF, there were also failures observed mostly in the nature components. Failures observed in the past 40 years are, decreased forest areas (mostly due to forest fires) and increased burned areas, pests, diseases and exotic woody species[7]. There was also a significant decrease in wood volume and biomass which is most likely due to overexploitation while no reforestation was carried in the exploited areas[7]. The parishes especially fear the frequent wildfires potential to harm people, homes, and species. This might be one reason a trend in loss of wood volume has been observed. In areas that were co-managed by local communities and the Forest Service, criticisms from local community members state the lack of provisions in helping restore the burned areas and the lack of investment in baldios[7].


Initially baldios were mostly managed in a collaborative way with the Forest Service and the Commoners Assembly, however, recent studies show a shift in this trend[1]. Many local communities are shifting from co-management with the Forest Service to autonomous management (solely by community members). The lack of forest technicians working with local communities are a critical problem as most community members are not proficient in forest management[8]. In fact, there are some associations that do not have any forest technicians[1].

Another critical issue is the severe and frequent forest fire outbreaks observed in recent years. Baldios contain the most burned area compared to that of state or private owned forests[7]. The main causes of forest fires are attributed to climate change, and to the monoculture maritime pine plantations conducted by the fascist state during the time of their occupation[7]. While the effects of climate change are not specific to baldios, the single-species plantations play a huge role in the frequent outbreak of forest fires. The P. pinaster stands are highly flammable due to horizontal and vertical fuel continuity largely the fault of fascist incompetence[7].

The lack of cadastre clarification causes an unnecessary amount of conflict interfering with management regimes. Central and northern Portugal contain the most baldios, yet as of 2020 only 50% of the total forest property in Portugal is issued with cadastre registration systems and are heavily focused on the southern Portugal area[1]. Boundary litigation between neighboring communities and third parties are often seen due to the unclear property limits, hindering the progress of a successful forest management plan[1].

While fascists appropriating land for problematic afforestation efforts did so under the guise of national interests, the authoritarian rule from the 1930s to 1970s produced results much like fascist movements all over the world. That is, fascists abysmally failed in every aspect to accomplish their explicit goals. The ability of many communities to reclaim land in 1976 that was stolen by the fascist regime has allowed for much needed adaptation to the harm caused by mismanagement under fascism, however local peoples claims to baldios must still be legally sanctioned under the current Portuguese government[9]. Extending traditional management goals for pastoralism and agriculture towards methods for forest management are now being explored through collaboration between local communities and timber industries[4].


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 Skulska, I., Colaço, M. C., Aggarwal, S., Didier, H., Monteiro, M. d. L., & Rego, F. C. (2019;2020;). Assessment of portuguese community forestry using the voluntary guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure and FAO community-based forestry framework. Society & Natural Resources, 33(1), 101-121. doi:10.1080/08941920.2019.1660934
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Brouwer, R. (1995). Baldios and common property resource management in portugal. Unasylva, 46(180), 37-43.
  3. Serra, R., Rodrigues, E., & García-Barrios, R. (2017). Mushrooming communities: A field guide to mycology in the community forests of portugal. Sustainability (Basel, Switzerland), 9(6), 924. doi:10.3390/su9060924
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Jeanrenaud, S., & Working Group on Community Involvement in Forest Management. (2001). Communities and forest management in western europe: A regional profile of WG-CIFM the working group on community involvement in forest management. Switzerland;Great Britain;: IUCN.
  5. Martinho, V. J. (2016). Forestry activity in Portugal within the context of the European Union:  A cluster in agricultural economics for sustainable development. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 18(5), 1339-1397. doi:10.1007/s10668-016-9775-x
  6. 6.0 6.1 Portugese Law. artº 36º, Law nº 75/2017. Exploration assignment.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Skulska, I., Duarte, I., Rego, F. C., & Montiel-Molina, C. (2020). Relationships between wildfires, management modalities of community areas, and ownership types in pine forests of mainland portugal. Small-Scale Forestry, 19(2), 231-251. doi:10.1007/s11842-020-09445-6
  8. Lopes, J. A., & Diaz-Maroto, I. J. (2018). communal lands and rural development in the northwestern iberian peninsula. Agrofor, 3(1) doi:10.7251/AGRENG1801076L
  9. Castro, P. (2013). Case VI: The peneda-gerês integrated territorial intervention as a successful agri-forest environmental scheme through the common land organisations (baldios) in portugal. In W. H. Diemont, W. J. M. Heijman, H. Siepel & N. R. Webb (Eds.), (pp. 371-372) doi:10.1163/9789004277946_025

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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