Community Forestry in Post-War Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a relatively new country that is recovering from a devastating conflict that ravaged the economy and many other aspects of daily life. Bosnia is taking a page out of Yugoslavia’s book, and making use of its natural forest resources to recover. Una National Park is the third national park to be established in Bosnia, and it is in the region of the Krajna. It contains a large amount of biodiversity and is vital to maintaining the river quality of the Una River. Since the government deemed the area a park, Una’s state has dramatically improved, going from a littered war ground, to a pristine and pleasant park that attracts numerous tourists annually. The locals in the community have been well-incorporated by the government since then. Some are employed as park rangers, and others are given access to the park to pick traditional and medicinal herbs, which they later sell to tourists for profit. This has not only improved the micro-economy of the region, but has improved the relationship between the park and the residents, who now feel protective of the park and educate tourists on its importance. Many NGOs have described Una as a success, though minor improvements can still be made to improve aspects of the public image of the park, such as educating the populace on the park’s function in the ecosystem.
Geography of Bosnia and Herzegovina
This case looks at Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a relatively new country that developed from the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1992. Geographically, BiH is in Europe, in the Balkan region, and is bordered by Former Yugoslav nations Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. BiH was, in many international observers opinions, the hardest hit region during the civil war. It experienced a very large amount of substantial damage, and it has yet to fully recover from that damage. BiH has, however, begun the healing process through many lenses, including by restoring forests.
National Parks in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Post-War, BiH found itself in possession of two national parks, Sutjeska and Kozara, which had been proclaimed as such in 1962 and 1967 respectively, during the Socialist Yugoslav government. These parks remained national parks in the new country of BiH. But, it would not be until 2008 that BiH would, as a sovereign state, declare a national park. This park, called Una National Park, was established as a community forestry initiative in 2008 by the government of BiH, in the region of the Bosanska Krajna. It stops just short of straddling the border with Croatia and extends 19.800 hectares, most of which are within the borders of the municipality of Bihać. Of this, 13.500 hectares are under a strict regime of intensive repair and protection, whereas the other 6.300 hectares are under a laxer regime, which allows for development and promotes community engagement.
Una National Park is established around the Upper Una River and the Unac River, with the intention of preserving the integrity of the water sources. Una also boasts a rich biodiversity, which has made it relevant in the eyes of various stakeholders from around the world, including Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and other European countries. The biodiversity within Una includes “30 fish species, 130 bird species, and other animals, including lynx, fox, wolf, bear and chamois.”, as well as a number of endemic species. In addition to these facts, the park encompasses and thus protects part of the Plješivica mountain virgin forest, an important forest because it is one of few remaining virgin forests. Plješivica forest cannot be fully protected by Una because it straddles the border into Croatia, where the government of Bosnia lacks jurisdiction.
Community Forests in Una National Park
Una National Park is an example of community forestry that has worked remarkably well, especially within the 6.300 hectares that are allowed to be developed. Here, the local community has come together to create a flourishing park, both in terms of ecology and economics. Una was a littered and quite undervalued place in the early years after the war, but since its proclamation as a national park, it has undergone a transformation – becoming significantly cleaner and more valuable in the minds of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Local people value the park mostly for its Non-Timber-Forest-Products (NTFPs), as well as for the role it plays in conserving the water supplies of the Una and Unac rivers. The park is the home to many traditional, medicinal herbs, which are of value to the local people, and which can also supplement their income if they are sold to the park’s tourists. Some locals also fish in the river, and others, along with tourists, use the park for recreational opportunities like swimming.
Due to the poor economic recovery that has plagued Bosnia, and most of the other Former Yugoslav nations, the unemployment rate is high. As a result, many Bosnian people who live in the vicinity of the Una National Park work in odd, artisanal jobs and rely on the park for tourists who will buy their products. The Bosnian government has thankfully established a rather solid tourism industry in the park, which creates a relatively stable micro-economy for the locals who sell their products, and their forest’s products. Some women, who are inspired by the beauty of the forest, weave on looms and sell their creations. Others go into the forest and harvest valuable NTFPs. For the government, this is beneficial as it means a better global reputation and a more stable economy, albeit for a small region. For the local people, it is a source of pride and income, and for tourists, it is a cheap and interesting keepsake of a place they visit. Altogether, it works in a harmonious mechanism that benefits all the parties involved.
BiH seems to be taking a page out of its predecessor’s (Yugoslavia) book with the initiatives that have come out of Una. Yugoslavia was a country that rebounded from the ravage of the Second World War in large part thanks to its exploitation of its plentiful forest resources. During the socialist period (1945-1992), the forest resources were not always managed as best as they could be, and sometimes forests ended up degraded. However, with modern science, and the help of international aid organizations, BiH is using their forests to recover from the hardships of the war, while still being sustainable and making sure the forest is available to be enjoyed for generations to come.
As is the case with the majority of forests in BiH, Una National Park is managed by the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which holds final authority over all decisions made with regard to the park.
A department of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), which is a faction of the Bosnian Government, is responsible for administering the park and making decisions with regard to it, as well as incorporating the local community and approving or denying their requests. This department is called the Department for Una National Park. The Government has set up a system of Park Rangers, who are predominantly people from the local communities in Bihać municipality, to enforce rules about the national park and educate passers-by. These people are the de-facto managers of the park, and they work in tandem with the Government officials and NGOs. Their job is to ensure that the park remains clean and a sanctuary to the biodiversity within it, and especially to ensure the preservation of the water sources.
The department responsible for managing the park is inspected by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water-Management and Forestry (MAWMF) on an annual basis, as well as by the MET.
Since participatory decision-making with regard to park is encouraged, the department main task is sorting through the questions, comments and complaints from the local residents. Locals can fill out a form with a proposal for the park and send it to the department, whose office is based in Bihać, and the department then provides either written acceptance or rejection of the proposal. The method is quite effective, and requests are usually approved by the office. Once a proposal is accepted, the general procedure is to have the proposing party carry out their approved task under ranger supervision, or, in some cases, alone, or with a group of peers.
People must submit proposals to the department even for simple requests, such as going into the park to clean it up, though this is usually just a formality and the request is almost always approved. Surprisingly, those who collect NTFPs do not need to submit proposals to harvest the forest products.
The Government has good reason, however, for requiring such a stringent process on allowing access to the park. This comes from the lessons learned from Yugoslavia and the struggles it faced towards its latter years. For example, in what is today Slovenia, about 72% of the forests were privatized generally by timber companies. These companies generally treated the land poorly and exploited it to bad levels, from which salvation was not really possible. To this day, some of these forests have not recovered from that. Bosnia was more fortunate in that 86% of their forests were under state management and thus cared for in a better and more sustainable way, though some still endured significant damage.
At that time, community forestry was generally managed by volunteer groups and syndicates. Nonetheless, the government usually had the final word when it came to making important decisions. They could sell the forests to private owners, lease them, and do just about anything else they pleased. Their bundle of rights included all eight strands. The biggest issue faced by the Yugoslav government when it came to their forests was that of illegal logging, but this was not significantly punished, so it caused forest degradation over time. The reason it was not enforced so strictly was because the government’s primary goal was to create revenue from forest resources and ensure economic stability; they were not particularly concerned with sustainability.
The present-day situation in Bosnia is similar, though different. The government does still maintain a sense of finality when it comes to decisions pertaining to the forests, and their bundle of rights is similar, if not identical, to that of Yugoslavia’s. However, thanks to NGOs that have dedicated time money to the area and its preservation, the Bosnian Government is increasingly more focused on environmental sustainability than solely economic stability. In particular, the cooperation between the government and the NGOs has resulted in a rather solid mélange of creating economic opportunity, while still preserving environmental integrity.
This means that, although the local people do not have de jure rights to their land, the system in place gives them some degree of de facto rights, and these rights are protected by the involved NGOs. Likewise, the government of BiH has so far demonstrated a very respectful attitude towards the local people and has shown interest in fulfilling their own role, while still allowing the community to play a large part. NGOs, and other international observers, are actually quite pleased with the progress that Bosnia has made in restoring its nature and public parks. They are in excellent shape as of now, and are fostering sustainable livelihoods for residents, and a sustainable ecology for the biodiversity. This has helped them move past the war stage, and build a brighter future for all to come.
|Stakeholder||Primary Objective||Influence Level|
|Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats in the Bihać Municipality||Remain involved in the forest process (see below)||Mid-High|
Despite past ethnic tensions, and the war being between these three groups, the three groups of affected stakeholders have the same fundamental interests.
These local people have quite a lot of power, as the government relies on them, due to the poor economic state of the country to maintain the park in a good state. They are employed as the park rangers and, in the end, they physically manage the park and protect it – the government just makes bureaucratic decisions. The local people was to have access to the forests and care for the land, be able to pick the medicinal and traditional herbs, have a say in decision making, be able to sell their artisanal works and the medicinal herbs to passing tourists, not be disturbed and evicted from the surrounding residencies, and most importantly, they want to maintain the park so it does not return to its post-war degraded state.
|Stakeholder||Primary Objective||Power Level|
|Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina||Maintaining a clean water supply and a positive public image||High|
|The World Bank||Return on money invested||Mid|
|The European Union||Monitoring BiH's eligibility for EU acceptance||Mid-High|
|United Nations Environment Programme||Preservation of biodiversity||Mid|
The Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Naturally, this group holds the top power level. They have the final say in matters. However, they are subject to regulatory capture because they are so reliant on a mixture of the other stakeholders. This fact makes them somewhat semi-dependent on all of the stakeholders in some particular way. Thus far, however, the government has been largely receptive to the demands of the locals, so there is a quite positive relationship between the two stakeholders. That being said, that relationship could change. Una National Park has only been around for nine years. In those years, it has been under almost constant attention by third-party stakeholders who have ensured respect for the local rights. Once this attention dies down, it is questionable what will happen to the relationship between the government and the locals.
The World Bank
This group is more involved than UNEP. They maintain medium power levels, and though they are interested in fostering environmental sustainability and related objectives, they are primarily concerned with money and finance. They initially invested in Una to create a baseline of monetary support for the local community that would create some economic stability in the otherwise not very financially stable country.
They are interested in regaining their money that they have given out as loans for the support of the park. So, though they do want to ensure a clean park, they are still based around monetary incentives.
The European Union
BiH has had a vested interest in joining the EU for a long time. As a result, the EU has laid out conditions for acceptance and consideration of eligibility. Some of these have environmental connotations, which have resulted in BiH taking more environmental initiatives, like Una. This means that the EU does hold a significant amount of power over the government, and is probably most likely to execute regulatory capture, should it occur.
United Nations Environment Programme
This group maintains a good power level, but their influence is quite minimal in the grand scheme. They want to maintain the well-being of the park, and they monitor the park to ensure that the environmental situation in the park is clean. As a result of this, they are responsible for a lot of the public image of the park. That being said, the government is on good terms with the UN and relies on them a lot for monetary support for other functions of the country.
The creation of the Una National Park was explained to be a matter of creating an efficient method of protecting the important water sources within the Bihać region. However, when examined more carefully, it is clear that there were other intentions, namely those coming from international groups that also contributed to the park’s creation. BiH had tried to join to the EU for a long time, and part of the conditions of consideration included improving the state of environment within the country. This demonstrates that some role in the creation of Bosnia’s first National Park since the declaration of independence in 1992, could be attributed to EU pressures.
Likewise, being that BiH has been an economically tumultuous country since the disintegration of Yugoslavia, it is understandable the government would be willing to do certain things for potentially useful cash injections, like the one provided by the World Bank. The 35-million-dollar loan to the government for the creation and protection of its forest resources, can definitely been seen as a motivator for the creation of the park.
There was rather minimal pressure being presented from the local community for the establishment of a national park. The locals were only persuaded to relish and protect in their natural resource after the creation of the National park. Up until then, they had been rather indifferent to the state of the park – knowing it was completely littered, but not minding it much. The government of BiH seems to have made the proclamations it did with intentions other than just altruistic ones, like protecting the biodiversity and water source.
The Park seems to so far be quite a success.
It has helped instill a care for the environment, which in turn, maintained forest health for economic prosperity. The combination of traditional and scientific knowledge together was essential in this as well because it showed goodwill from the government. A positive outcome was that it allowed for a stable economic income to be made by people from smaller villages where they otherwise would not have much to do. And, in general, it created a much better micro-economy around the Bihać region. Moreover, the park helped create a positive global image, which was necessary in order to retain NGO funding and other funding that otherwise helped operate the country.
The impartial NGOs are pleased with progress, and it has helped push BiH one step closer to economic stability and EU acceptance. Most importantly, local people are happy with their economic and environmental prospects.
The government and the locals have stricken a fairly harmonious and effective relationship. Though the government has a final say, it is rather receptive to what the people want and they let them manage just about as much as they want. The NGOs are getting returns on their investments and things are going quite well for everyone. As well, the park has proven to be a great success in the eyes of most onlookers. The peoples’ situation has improved, as has the government’s, so it is hard to say the park has been a failure because of the mutual benefit. And the biodiversity is also well-protected, which is a positive for everyone.
As previously stated, the government has the final say in most matters. There is a Ministry devoted to forestry and their job is sort out who gets to tenure to what parcels of land, if they do not keep it for the state, which is rare. This Ministry is largely solid and fair, and corruption that used to exist during the Yugoslav regime has been fairly plucked out, though some instances still remain. In Yugoslavia, the government has occasionally pushed exploitation of the forests, and disregarded scientific forester’s informative suggestions because they have been very determined to make profit and continue funding programs. At that time, they had failed to recognize sustainability as a key factor. Rather, the government usually had bigger problems than forests. Today, the government of BiH also certainly has more important problems than forest sustainability, but, thanks to international pressures, they have become forced in a sense to utilize forests to achieve resolution of these other, more major problems. Nonetheless, forestry was a very important industry in Yugoslavia, and it remains important in BiH.
The case study is still young, so there is time for more power struggles to develop later on. At the moment, things are looking up in terms of community forestry in Bosnia. More and more areas are becoming proposed and planned environmental protection areas, which means that positive changes are to come for the communities who rely on the forests as well.
In BiH, community forestry is not a highly-politicized topic, so despite BiH's remarkably unique, rotating political structure (a remanent of the Dayton Accords), community forestry would not be affected.
For more, see the "Discussion" and "Stakeholders" headings
The most major issue preventing full success is the fact that the government is economically unstable. This means that they manage things in ways that are economically beneficial to them above all else. Once the NGOs leave, the risk is that the government will have little incentive to continue with the community forestry as it is.
A number of recommendations could be made for improvement in the state of community forestry, the most important being:
-Encourage the Bosnian government to find other economic channels of interest to not be reliant on timber
-Care for the environment by maintaining constant third-party on-looking, such as NGOs and other organizations.
-Maintain participatory decision making and involvement with the local people who contribute in many previously-said ways
-Advertise the park and educate on its importance more frequently and in better ways.
-Maintain current-levels of community-engagement, or increase funding, though the latter seems difficult.
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