The shift towards bottom-up forestry: A case study of the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountain range communities

The Carpathian Mountain ranges.

This case study explores the overall systems of tenure, administrative arrangements and various stakeholder groups that are involved in the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountain forested regions between 1991 and 2014. The region follows a predominantly State-owned tenure system that results in a top-down reporting system, marginalizing the livelihood of local communities. Further, this case study explores the primary concerns of affected stakeholder groups; to yield sustained harvesting of non-timber forest products (NTFP), timber, grazing and to regulate the growing tourism industry, to name a few. This case studies delineates the key stakeholders in the area and the power imbalances that divide them. In our discussion, we analyze the main successes and failures during the attempted implementation of bottom-up community forestry management in the Ukrainian Carpathians. To advance the livelihood of local communities, it is important to improve local infrastructure, impose more strict harvest regulations and empower locals through education, technical training and social welfare, so long as their FPIC rights are respected.

1922 - Ukraine formally joins Russia in the Soviet Union. Marks the beginning of noticeable unsustainable forest use.

1991 - The end of Ukraine's ties with the Soviet Union and the beginning of post-socialism independence. A period of economic collapse.

1992 - Carpathian Mountain Reserve areas are established

1999 - State Forest Resource Agency created the Uzhansky National Park within the Carpathian mountain ranges.

2002 - Implementation of the forest planting program.

2004 - Constitution of Ukraine.

2006 - Forest Code.

2014 - Revolution of Dignity. New government and the re-establishment of the 2004 Constitution of Ukraine.

A map of the Carpathian Mountain ranges running through Poland, Ukraine and Romania.

The Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains are a part of the Alpine mountain system that covers 200,000 square kilometers of Ukraine's land[1]. These mountains are rich with the most productive deciduous and mixed forests (oak, maple, birch, and ash) in Ukraine. These forests account for 20 percent of Ukraine’s forested area and produces a third of their forest resources[1], all of which are of value to local rural communities that depend on harvesting and animal husbandry for sustenance. Not long after Ukraine joined the Soviet Union, the State took interest in the economically important resource timber, at the expense of the locals who have historically managed the land. Since the beginning of Ukrainian Independence, the State has continued the predatory logging, thus adding to the immense amount of degradation that took place during socialism[2].

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many of Ukraine’s privately owned forested lands became overwhelmingly collectivized, as part of the country’s efforts to impose a new, post-socialist regime[3]. Although there has been an increase in global movements towards community-owned forest tenures, this movement is not strong in Ukraine’s Carpathian range[3]. As of 2017, it was recorded that at least 95 percent of Ukraine’s forested lands are now owned by the State[3]. More specifically, the State Forest Resource Agency, run out of the State Forest Enterprise (SFE) owns and manages the majority of Ukraine’s Carpathian forest ranges[3][4]. Further, the State holds area-based tenure over the Carpathian ranges, allowing them the legal right to conduct limitless harvests within a designated region of forest. This major shift towards State control over Ukraine’s forest lands and the area-based tenures has resulted in ramifications that continue to be in effect today; unclear forest tenure rights and rapidly rising harvest rates[3].

Although many of Ukraine’s private, community owned lands shifted towards State ownership, the State Forest Enterprise did not clearly communicate these changes to local communities[5]. Since the local communities in the Carpathian Mountain ranges were not properly updated on tenure changes, they were unaware about who has formal tenure to these lands, and the degree to which these ownership rights were being followed[5]. Local communities were often undermined by large State companies that would log and profit from the exploitation of locals’ traditional lands[5]. The industry and State’s freehold tenure rights, along with their purposeful intent to exclude local communities resulted in rapid, unsustainable rates of harvest[5]. This also prompted an increase in distrust of State authority and of the logging industry by local communities[5].

The logo for the Uzhansky National Park in the Carpathian Mountain ranges.

In 1999, the State Forest Resource Agency created the Uzhansky National Park within the Carpathian ranges[6], restricting locals from access to the forests they reside on. The Uzhansky National Park has four zone restrictions that dictate where local communities can and cannot reside[6].

Uzhansky National Park zones[6]:

  • Strictly prohibited (core) zone: no access is allowed into the territory
  • Controlled recreation zone: access is only allowed on designated trails
  • Stationary recreation zone: hiking and camping are allowed
  • Economic zone: foraging of NTFP is allowed

The State has created these four zones without knowledge of the local’s traditional lands. As a result, many of the zones that were demarcated by the State do not properly serve local communities’ needs. For example, although the State has created the economic zone where NTFP can be foraged, locals have found that the NTFP do not often grow in these proposed ‘economic zones’[6].

The Carpathian Mountain region exhibits a top-down reporting system where local communities report their actions to the State Forest Resource Agency through State Forest Enterprises[6]. However, the State and industries have encroached on these lands in a way that prevents local communities from obtaining many of the benefits the forests have historically provided them.

For example, the most commonly harvested NTFP are mushrooms and blueberries, either for the community’s sustenance or to sell at nearby Oblasts, also known as State regions[1][3]. These NTFP are considered open-access resources, so long as they are collected outside of the Uzhansky National Park or within the ‘economic zone’ of the National Park. Although these NTFP are free to access, locals are required to purchase a permit from the State Forest Resource Agency to sell their NTFP to Oblast markets[1][3]. This explicit imposition of State rules provides the State with a source of revenue that profits from the local communities.

Further, timber harvests in the Carpathian forest areas are a significant source of income for the State and logging industry[2]. Due to the State and industry’s high dependence on the area’s timber products, local communities are forbidden from altering the designated use of the land (for timber harvesting) and cannot harvest independently of the State or industry[1][3]. If an individual or community is caught violating these rules, they will be fined or criminalized[1][3]. The administration in the Carpathian Mountain region follows a strict and inflexible top-down approach where the State creates and reports their expectations of and rules for the community to the community, without any negotiation allowed.

Jozani, Zanzibar

The various stakeholder groups in Ukraine’s Carpathian communities should be allowed to implement significant changes to successfully transition to a bottom-up reporting system. In comparison, the Jozani forests of Zanzibar is an example of a community forestry project that has experienced a degree of bottom-up negotiations from local groups to government bodies[7]. In Jozani, CARE International, an internationally recognized NGO worked to create the Jozani Environmental Conservation Association (JECA) to represent conservation and communities in Jozani's forests[7]. JECA was able to represent the desires and concerns of their local communities and report them to larger governmental bodies. Through these bottom-up negotiations, the first National Park in Jozani was announced[7]. During the six years of negotiations for the National Park, locals helped determine the park’s boundaries and zones and negotiated a deal to receive a portion of the park’s revenue[7]. In contrast, local communities were not consulted or included in discussions when the Uzhansky National Park was established in Ukraine[6]. To increase local involvement, the Carpathian Mountain ranges should follow a similar bottom-up negotiation system as Jozani, where local communities are consulted about their desire to harvest, demarcate the lands and more. To shift towards a bottom-up reporting system in the Carpathian region, communities should push for a collective council or organization that advocates on behalf of local interests (eg. like the JECA in Jozani).

For centuries, the local Ukrainian communities have depended on the forests and meadows of the Carpathian Mountains economically and as their main source of sustenance[2]. They are considered the affected stakeholders in this case study. For the purposes of this study, we will be generalizing affected stakeholders as all rural Ukrainian Carpathian communities, as there is an abundance of groups with similar interests and outlooks. The following communities are great examples of two common community forest situations.

Staryi Sambir District

The Staryi Sambir District of the Lviv region is classified as 77 percent rural (110 villages) and has a total population of approximately 78,331 people[8]. This district of community members like so many others, understands the importance of closing illegal sawmills, protesting against the corruption of forest officials, placing more emphasis on sustainability and increasing the amount of value-added wood processing instead of exporting raw resources[8]. Despite being heavily dependent on fuelwood, residents have difficulty performing legal harvesting. Of the interviewed residents, 41.2 percent expressed that it is difficult or impossible to harvest wood in a legal manner[8].

The home of a local community household in the Rakhiv district.

Rakhiv District

The Rakhiv District is located in the Eastern part of the Carpathians and has a population of 90,000, 52,000 of whom live in villages[9]. In this region the majority of private businesses involve wood-processing and are therefore highly dependent on sustainable forest management for future employment[9]. In the Rakhiv District, they have administered village councils in 22 communities, comprised of village heads and other representatives. The councils have rights to administer village land and represent the locals[9]. Despite the importance of their tasks, their vote on conservation is often devalued. The State Forest Enterprise in that area is driven by timber yield.

Rural Communities

Although only one of the communities has a village council, both communities express similar objectives. The local residents have several highly valued forest related activities in common that are associated with their sense of identity[8], the most prominent of which being farming and grazing, wood-processing, recreation, fuelwood, timber, and food[2]. Another aspect of forest use worth mentioning is the tourism industry; although it is mostly undeveloped it is important for additional income and is dependent on the protection of ecosystem services[8]. This is critical since most rural villagers are heavily unemployed[2]. Access to resources (specifically timber) is difficult in State controlled forests. With too many State restrictions and low levels of enforcement, the citizens treat the land as open-access and often partake in illegal logging. This renders rural community members in the eyes of the State as threats instead of stakeholders with valuable perspectives[2]. The communities are also reluctant to work with a government perceived as dishonourable and having a lack of transparency[2]. The State Forestry Enterprise neglects to inform local communities of their management plans and the locals do not trust that they will share a portion of their revenue. Unfortunately, the Staryi Sambir and Rakhiv communities lack decision-making power relative to their State.

Although some stakeholder groups (eg. the Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, city inhabitants, NGOs) are interested in the preservation of Ukraine’s Carpathian ranges, there are also many groups (eg. the State and private-wood processing enterprises) that prioritize the economic gains from the region. When interests conflict, it is common that the most economically influential stakeholder groups are the ones that hold the greatest relative power[3].

The Carpathian Biosphere Reserve (CBR)

The CBR is an agency within the State that works under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Ministry for Environmental Protection. The CBR’s main goals are to support community use of land, improve conservation (by connecting isolated communities) and to create a council for stakeholder groups[9]. These objectives will encourage frequent communication between stakeholders and will also result in the first community forestry project in the Carpathian region. Because the CBR is a State agency and has international recognition, it holds significant power in local conservation and sustainable land use[9].

State Forest Enterprises (SFE)

The State Forest Enterprises in the nearby Oblasts of Yasinya, Rakhiv and Velykyi Bychkiv conduct and manage forestry operations in the Carpathian Mountain ranges[9]. Because much of the Carpathian ranges are forested, these State Forest Enterprises have large areas of land they can harvest from, and as a result, receive almost no subsidies from the Nation and are privy to economic autonomy[9]. Because of the forest sector’s large dependence on these three State Forest Enterprises, they have the highest economic and political power in the region[9]. As a direct result of this power, the enterprises have the ability to undo any strives towards greater sustainability or conservation by the CBR[9].

Wood-processing Enterprises

The wood-processing enterprises make up the majority of private businesses in the Yasinya, Rakhiv and Velykyi Bychkiv Oblasts near the Ukrainian Carpathians. Their objectives are to secure contracts in order to log concessions on State-owned forests or alternatively, buy the wood directly from State Forest Enterprises. Being private businesses, these wood-processing enterprises have relatively low political power but high socio-economic power and influence over local communities[9]. As can be predicted, the wood-processing enterprises value economic gains from the forest the most, and value local benefits and aesthetics the least[10].


ENGO groups, including the Agency for Sustainable Development of the Carpathian Region (FORZA) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) are interested in the CBR’s initiatives to develop community forestry and to promote environmental conservation in the area[9][10]. Because FORZA and WWF are internationally recognized organizations, they hold some influence at the international scale, but low levels of power in the region[9].  

Ukraine locals celebrating Independence Day in remembrance of the Declaration of Independence on August 24th, 1991.

The Ukrainian Carpathian Mountain forest range is a valuable resource for the State and local communities. Before Ukraine gained independence, forest use was focused solely on timber harvesting and economic gain[2]. The economic collapse resulted in a lack of law enforcement and the emergence of a shadow economy in the forest sector[2].

Relative Success

In response to the increasing degradation, the State reassessed management goals towards sustainability. In 2002, a forest planting program was put in effect. Although progress was slow due to inconsistent implementation by the State, a proportion of abandoned farmland was successfully reverted to forest[11]. Between 1988 and 2007, overall forest cover increased slightly by 0.82 percent (about 250 kilometers squared of the Ukrainian Carpathians based on administrative borders)[11]. This is considered a success for it demonstrates the State's slight shift in values. Although the State recognizes the importance of a more sustainable forest management system, implementation has proven to be difficult.

Relative Failure

The management systems implemented by the State Forest Enterprises have disregarded the rural communities' dependence on fuelwood and NTFP. A lack of surveillance has resulted in further non-compliance by the communities[2]. The degradation that ensued, due to desperate illegal logging captured the State's attention when forest cover dramatically declined. Despite sustainability efforts there was still an observed increase of logging in remote areas in 2007[11]. A loophole in the Forest Code (2006) concerning sanitary clear-cuts (harvesting healthy stands, over-harvesting, harvesting in protected areas, or harvesting freely in selective logging areas) allows clear-cuts to be larger than the maximum size of 4 hectares[11]. This has led to overharvesting and logging in restricted areas, since it contains the largest amount of old-growth after socialism[11].

The State has yet to consider the contributions of local communities as decision-makers. A lack of education and awareness among community members prevents them from visualizing the benefits of participation in governance[2]. The locals must be allowed to complement the knowledge of forestry specialists by sharing traditional practices that have safeguarded multiple ecosystem services. Regrettably, the sustainability goals and intents of the State have been largely unsuccessful thus far. Until they incorporate the local community's interests and knowledge, they will be met with resistance.

Naidu, Yunnan Province, China

This case study is similar to the community forestry project in Naidu, China (Yunnan Province). Across China and Ukraine, the local peoples' customary rights to their land was recognized before the government intervened to implement a similar ‘period of collectivization’[12]. This led to open-access forest use since there was little enforcement to protect or properly manage the state-forests in both cases, most likely due to the geographic distance between the State and the local forests[2][12]. Both communities are rural and heavily dependent on NTFP for their livelihoods. Unfortunately, degradation of forests in Ukraine continues despite the State's attempts at initiating replanting programs[11]. Unlike Naidu, the Ukrainian Carpathian communities are dispersed due to the mountainous landscape therefore, a collective pan-village committee is difficult to implement. Although the Naidu case study has proven to be successful it is too soon to see the results of the gradual implementation of bottom-up forestry management in the Ukrainian Carpathians.

Power struggles between the Ukrainian peoples and the State are an ongoing process. It is precisely the State's ignorance of local communities' values that has led to the degradation and loss of old-growth forests[11]. Although the State may feel as if the communities are disobedient and ‘difficult to control’, the State remains the dominant force.

Understanding the main causes of illegal logging is key to understanding the weapons of the weak[13]. An increase in unemployment rate, a lack of defence against corruption, the formation of illegal private sawmills, a decrease in social capital, and the creation of the forestry shadow sector contribute to the motives of illegal logging. Ultimate drivers are authoritarian control by the State and a poor economy[8]. The State also has control over the placement of large industries near the forests (specifically the oak forest zone) that has resulted in maximum concentrations of toxic elements (eg. Ba, Ni, Pb, and Zn) in precipitation, dustfall, soil, moss, leaves and needles[14]. This leads to biodiversity loss and low-productivity in forests. Local communities are helpless towards these effects since they do not hold the political power to create buffer zones.

Although there are conflicting priorities between the State and the locals, the State and industry have greater political power, acting as the main decision makers for the land[6][3][9]. The contradictory interests for the land can be resolved, in part, by providing greater national and political power to the CBR agency.

The CBR collective council will require each group, including the State and industry, to provide frequent updates about their use of the land, thereby holding each party accountable for their actions. Further, the CBR advocates on behalf of the community for greater conservation and community forestry projects in the area[9]. As the CBR retains greater power at a national and political scale, the relative power of local communities also increases[9].

The affected stakeholders have some limited rights however, most local residents were not aware of their rights and therefore do not take advantage of them[2]. An example of citizens taking control of their rights would be The Revolution of Dignity in 2014 where the protests of the people led to relieving their President (Viktor Yanukovych) and restoring the 2004 ‘Constitution of Ukraine’ under the new government[15]. This sort of demonstration of power is not prominent in the Ukrainian Carpathians as the communities are small and divided.

It is worth mentioning that some ENGOs such as WWF are participating in Carpathian forest conservation[9]. Their values are mostly aligned with the local affected communities. Although NGOs have more international influence, there have not been many advances in influencing policy change[9]. That power remains with the State Forest Enterprises. In spite of the State's goals shifting towards sustainability, it fails to transfer true decision-making power to its citizens.

The CBR’s proposal of a stakeholder council will redistribute some power to local communities, however, better road networks and infrastructure are also a necessity. The mountainous geography of the region causes unintended isolation of each community in the area, hindering the potential for collective power[9]. The improved infrastructure will give isolated groups more opportunity to collectivize, provide local communities with easier access to CBR council meetings and better access to Oblasts where they sell their NTFP[9].

The Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains have a similar open-access system to NTFP as the Naidu Village forests. Many local communities in the ranges depend on mushrooms and blueberries as their primary NTFP to cultivate and sell at nearby Oblast markets. In Naidu, the State and local communities depended largely on the sale of matsutake mushrooms, leading to its over-cultivation and decrease in quality, quantity and size[12]. The Naidu Village combatted this issue by enacting tighter regulations over the harvest of their matsutake mushrooms; closing access to the forest at a specified time, requiring group entry into the forest and preventing the use of sticks to dig up the mushrooms, to name a few[12]. Although the Carpathian ranges have not yet experienced a significant decrease in their NTFP quality, quantity or size, it is nearly inevitable with continued long-term over-harvesting and the acceleration of climate change. In the Carpathian ranges, the council and local communities should prioritize the implementation of stricter regulations of their NTFP. They could implement “open forest” hours, required group entry or limit the number of mushrooms and blueberries that can be harvested. Tighter regulations over the NTFP will allow the Carpathian community to maintain their mushroom and blueberry yield over the long-term.

In the Carpathian Mountain ranges, there is also a strong prevalence of illegal harvesting by the State, forest enterprises and local communities[3]. The harvestable zones need to be demarcated clearly via council communication and remote-sensing technology[11]. Further, local communities have shared their ideals of stronger administration and increased criminal liability to discourage illegal logging by the State and forest industry[11]. Other locals have communicated their desire for education programs, technical skills training and more social welfare programs to improve their livelihood[10]. When the local community is empowered with new tools and skills, they will no longer need to harvest illegally to supplement their income.

Prior to the implementation of these recommendations, it is crucial to involve local communities in discussion. The Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) right, recognized under UNDRIP requires that interested stakeholder groups notify local communities about their land use plans in advance. Further, the FPIC allows local communities to abstain or agree to a project without external manipulation. The CBR council and FPIC rights, when exercised, will promote dialogue between affected stakeholders and interested stakeholder groups. Ideally, this dialogue will allow local Carpathian communities to regain their power and encourage more community forestry programs in the region.

  1. 1.01.1 Kubijovyc, Volodymyr. Carpathian Mountains - Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol.1. 1984. 01 November 2019.
  2. Melnykovych, Mariana, et al. "Social-ecological innovation in remote mountain areas: Adaptive responses of forest-dependent communities to the challenges of a changing world." Science of Te Total Environment (2018): 894-906.
  3. Egan, A. R., Keeton, W. S., Danks, C. M., Soloviy, I., & Zia, A. (2017). Forest carbon projects in the Ukrainian Carpathians: an assessment of potential community impacts and benefits. Annals of Forest Research, 60(1), 3-17. doi: 10.15287/afr.2016.718
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  10. Zahovyska, Bas. “Stakeholders’ perceptions of mountain forest ecosystem services: the Ukrainian Carpathians case study.” Environmental Science and Engineering (2013): 353-367.
  11. Kuemmerle, Tobias, et al. "Forest cover change and illegal logging in the Ukrainian Carpathians in the transition period from 1988 to 2007." Remote Sensing of Environment (2009): 1194-1207.
  12. Menzies, Nicholas K. "Naidu Village, Yunnan Province, China." Menzies, Nicholas K. Our Forest, Your Ecosystem, Their Timber. Columbia University Press, 2007. 19-29.
  13. Scott, James C. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.
  14. Shparyk, Yuriy and Vasil I Parpan. "Heavy metal pollution and forest health in the Ukrainian Carpathians." Environmental Pollution (2004): 55-63.
  15. Tyushka, Andriy. "A liberationist constitution? Maidan's revolutionary agenda and challenges for constitutional reform in Ukraine." European View (2014): 21-28.
Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Megan Burkholder, Xuedan Xu. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.

Post image credit: Alex Zelenko, under OTRS