Hans Vellema & Jelle Maas 1


Proper management planning is critical for sustainable forest management (SFM). A Forest Management Plan (FMP), defined as a description of decisions and activities to produce anticipated objectives with regard to use and conservation of forest in an area, is essential for SFM and certification. In the conceptual framework, four different phases are being distinguished; preparatory, planning, implementation and monitoring and review. During all these phases two continuous processes have to take place: interchange with stakeholders and use, collection and analysis of information.

In the preparatory phase the legal and policy framework, the land qualities and the opinions of the different stakeholders have to be assessed. During the planning phase three different levels of planning can be distinguished; a strategic plan (long-term), a tactical plan (medium term) and an operational plan (short term). They also form the basis for the content of a FMP. Flexibility during implementation is needed to adapt to changing circumstances or new insights. Both operational monitoring (performance of activities identified in the operational planning) and the strategic monitoring (new information, technology and ideas) are needed in the monitoring phase.

Participation of stakeholders in all phases and sufficient and reliable scientific data are crucial for final success of a FMP. The advantages of the involvement of research in an FMP are multiple; produce information, develop methods, models and scenarios, reviews and prepare an objective basis for a FMP with an unbiased view. The lack of reliable information, process monitoring and stakeholder's participation are the main difficulties. Reaching consensus in a situation with conflicting interest is the most important bottleneck in the succesfull implementation of a FMP.


Under the present complicated socio-economic and changing environmental conditions, and with the increasing pressure on natural resources, the long term conservation and use of forests is at stake. Without proper management planning guidelines, it will be difficult to respond to growing and changing needs of the society, and thus to conserve and manage the natural resources in a sustainable way. Management plans are basic instruments for managing these natural resources, either for timber production, conservation or other purposes. Forest Management Plans (FMP) have gained in importance as both experts and donors place more and more emphasis on FMP as a tool for (sustainable) forest management (SFM). To be certified for sustainable (timber) production, a management plan is even a pre-requisite (FSC, 2000). Also donor agencies take management plan preparation as output of a conservation project.

In conceptual thinking about forest management a shift has been made towards integrated management. It is accepted that forest ecosystem diversity and the plurality of stakeholders, are the basis for wise management (Panayotou and Ashton, 1992). The implementation of sustainable use and conservation policies can only succeed if supported by all stakeholders. Therefore, a participatory management planning process is crucial to the success of the implementation.

These evolving conceptual changes have not facilitated the preparation and implementation of management plans. In fact, management plans have become more complicated: more disciplines involved, more partners involved, participatory approaches, more pressure from society, market and political level.

Basically an FMP is a plan which describes the management of a forested area in order to reach some (predefined) objectives. But the concepts of what an FMP is differs among people. Some plans are forest management systems set up to sustain a logging operation while other complicated plans manage forests at national level. An FMP is not just a set of management activities or an extensive description of an area, but also comprises the process of decision making.

A Forest Management Plan is a written, widely supported and approved document, which describes


For the process of the production of an FMP four phases can be distinguished:

During all these phases, two continuous processes have to take place:

Figure 1: Schematic presentation of the planning process

The planning process is schematically presented in figure 1. The relationships between planning, stakeholders and research are given in Figure 2.

2.1 Preparatory phase

Before designation of the exact location and desired uses of an area, the legal and policy framework and the land qualities have to be assessed including the views of stakeholders involved. Its outcomes are only indicative and are to be fine-tuned at a lower scale (Lescuyer and Fines, 1999). Based on this indicative socio-economic and ecological assessment, the development possibilities for a site can be set and a choice for a management organisation can be made. Together with the management organisation, with its own vision and goals, the first priorities and objectives for the site can be identified.

2.2 Planning phase

Depending on the size of operations for the site or area designated in the preparatory phase, the development of an FMP takes place in different levels of planning, e.g. strategic, tactical and operational planning (Higman 1999; Figure 3). The strategic planning is the basis for the two other planning phases.

Strategic planning focuses on long-term objective(s) and forms the basis for decisions concerning management objectives, allocation of land and forest functions. Land use planning is the most important aspect. Next, the different uses of the forest must be attuned to the needs of the society. The question is what can be done with the forest (options; land evaluation) and what will be done with the forest (choice; land use planning). It has to be worked out how the change from the current state of forest into the desired one can be achieved (method) including a check whether the chosen objectives are feasible.

Tactical planning spells out management activities carried out within coming years to reach objectives elaborated in the strategic plan. It focuses on implementation of these activities and on decisions regarding scheduling of activities. This is midterm planning (5 years).

Operational planning focuses on actual implementation of management activities and practices. This one-year operational plan provides fine-tuning for strategic and tactical plans (Higman, 1999). It includes budgeting and is also described as implementation level.

Figure 3: Relationship between strategic, tactical and operational planning (derived from Bos, 1994)

2.3 Implementation phase

The implementation of management activities is guided by overall planning described above and needs to be adjusted according to outcomes of the process of monitoring and evaluation. First the operational objectives, related activities and priorities have to be determined, then a workplan for the entire project period has to be prepared, followed by plans on an annual basis (Eurosite, 1999). Implementation should be carried out as close as possible to the directives described in the planning.

2.4 Monitoring and review phase

Monitoring and evaluation of an FMP and its execution is essential. Management is a continuous process. Circumstances and insights may change in the course of the implemented management or assumptions may prove false. Monitoring should keep focus on the effects of management. A monitoring programme should be designed in the planning phase making it possible to modify planning and implementation regularly, based on monitoring results.

Two levels of monitoring are distinguished (Higman, 1999):


It is recommended that as soon as the first steps to manage a site are taken, a brief plan or initial overview is elaborated as a matter of priority. Next, a set of more comprehensive plans can be made, based on additional information and experiences that will become available. A management plan should mix the VAR elements: Visionary, Ambitious and Realistic. (Eurosite, 1999)

Although a standardised format is encouraged, each management plan deals with a unique situation and must be designed for its own particular purpose.

The FMP contains:

Any FMP describes in a systematic way the management objectives, the local situation and resources available, the methods of achieving the objectives (Higman, 1999) and the process of decision making.

3.1 Strategic plan

A strategic plan can be subdivided into the preliminaries, the management objectives, description of the local situation, decision making process and the forest management planning.

The preliminaries contain, next to an executive summary, the general issues like selection of the location, timespan of the plan, responsible agencies, the national and international legal framework as well as the vision of the planning organisation.

Next, the long and medium term management objectives are worked out. The set of well-defined management objectives has to be brought in and supported by the stakeholders.

The description of the local situation provides the background to the plan providing an understanding of the present situation. The environmental and socio-economic setting is described, as far as it is related to the current and proposed management. Location and boundaries, legal status and rights, description of land use and ownership, main physical and biological features, socio- and economic features, possible developments of the area (zoning), allocated resources to be managed, impact assessments, labour and management structure are normally included in this section.

The decision making process should carefully describe the identification of stakeholders, the participation process, the results of the discussions etc.

Based on the information available and the management objectives, future management prescriptions can be set, using ecological and socio-economic criteria. In this section a description ought to be given how the resources will be managed to achieve the desired, long-term objectives.

For each specific land allocation, the management system should be described, its ecological and socio-economic impacts, monitoring and research planned, techniques used, and criteria to monitor and evaluate the performance of management practices should be clearly described.

3.2 Tactical and operational plans

In the tactical and operational plans, the long-term objectives of the strategic plan are broken down in operational ones. The medium-term tactical plan describes the activities to be carried out to reach the objectives. Amongst others, it is based on insight in the financial aspects to realise the chosen goals. The strategic and tactical plan should be available together.

Evaluation of the previous (five-year) period, plans and operations for the next period are addressed here. The objectives should be formulated as management targets to allow the assessment of the success or failure of the management operations. Therefore, the objectives must be achievable and fit well within the SMART principles (Eurosite, 1999): specific, measurable, acceptable, reasonable and in time.

The operational plans describe, on an annual basis, the day-to-day scenario, essential for sound implementation of the plans.

A sound FMP should be simple, compact, and realistic. Additional information should be put in annexes. To incorporate the results of the management implemented and to adapt to changing circumstances or new insights, it should also be flexible and allow easy updating from time to time.


The participation of all stakeholders is one of the conditions for its success (Fines, 2001). Stakeholders are all institutions, social groups and individuals who possess a direct, significant and specific stake in a certain area. (Borrini, 1996)

Collaborative forest management is any forest management activity which is based on shared responsibilities of professional organisations which have legal authority over state-owned forests and the people living in and around these forests. Higman (1999) mention that the discussions with the stakeholders focus on the three R's: Rights, Responsibilities and Returns. Different R's imply also that stakeholders have different Relationships with each other. The three C's of action (communication, consultation and co-operation) are a firm basis for the three C's of result (commitment, confidence and consensus). Differences in power between the various stakeholders should always taken into account as they could hamper the elaboration of a FMP.

The stakeholders should be well known (CIFOR, 1999) and their representatives thoroughly selected. Commitment can only be obtained if the stakeholders participate from the onset, and clearly see the problems and the benefits. Also, the final product should be a product of negotiation and visible to everyone.

Hidden objectives and a lack of transparency hamper the confidence in the plan. Confidence will also be lost when it proves that the assumptions that underlie the plan are incorrect or over-ambitious and the plan has to be adjusted continuously, making the profits lower than expected.

To establish a plan in partnership and reach overall ownership, methods vary, pending on management objective and interests, capacity and power of stakeholders. Information exchange and awareness, co-operative work, negotiation or mediation can all be put into practice. But for the trust-building it is crucial that only plans are being proposed and discussed that are attractive to all and show little losses. Participation of stakeholders should be practised continuously during the elaboration of the management plan. And this should continue during implementation and evaluation for continued social acceptance.


Good FMP are based on sufficient, reliable scientific information, but should never become a scientific report. Research must provide the information on which decisions are to be based. The better the information is, the better decisions can be taken regarding site management and choices. It is very important that data collection should be limited to information that has a clear relationship with the objective.

Distinction can be made between concrete data, relations between data and modelling (where data and relations are put together). Research enables the development of new insights during the preparation phase, develops methods and techniques for data gathering, monitoring and evaluation and provides information in all phases.

Research is important in monitoring and evaluation processes, especially to evaluate the effectiveness of the management and the changes over time. Already in the planning phase, the choice which parameters will be monitored to investigate the effects of forest management is crucial. The monitoring should not stick to collecting data only, but data should be analysed and the results should be incorporated in the planning.

As strategic monitoring aims to provide information on the effects of management to improve planning and management, long-term, repeated observations and measurements of the effects of the management on human and environmental conditions are of utmost importance. Higman (1999) mentions in this respect growth and yield, environmental and social monitoring. The monitoring is predominantly directed at dynamic resource inventories.

As operational monitoring is more directed at the performance of the management, extensive research is less expedient.

Involvement of researchers in the development of an FMP has several advantages (Vellema and Maas, 1999):

It should also be clear how reliable the results are, for what period they are valid, which assumptions underlie the results presented and how sensitive the final outcome is to changes of these assumptions


What is described above is easier said than done. How to put all these recommendations into practice. The best approach is place and time specific. But we can learn from the experiences of others.

Main problems identified:

Most of the stakeholders are prepared to meet, discuss and even agree on forest management. Discussions should aim at developing a sense of common ownership of the resources (Lescuyer, 2002). Reaching consensus in a situation with conflicting interests is the most important bottleneck in successful implementation of an FMP. Training, transparency, trust-building, an open-minded approach, willingness to implement the guidelines given in this paper will all be needed to reach the final aim of sustainable forest management. Then, the acronym FMP used for `Forest Management Plans', could also be read as `Forest meets perspectives', in which the desires of each stakeholder will be taken into account.

Literature cited:

Borrini-Feyerabend, G. (1996). Collaborative management of protected areas: tailoring the approach to the context. IUCN, Gland.

Bos, J. (1994). STAGES: a system for generating strategic alternatives for forest management. PhD thesis, Wageningen Agricultural University.

CIFOR (1999). Criteria and inficators toolbox. CIFOR, Bogor.

Fines, J.P., Ngibaot, F. and Ngono, G. (2001). A conceptual forest Management Plan for a medium sized forest in southern Cameroon, Tropenbos Cameroon Document 6, Tropenbos, Wageningen.

Higman, S., Bass, S., Judd, N., Mayers, J., Nussbaum, R. (1999). The sustainable forestry handbook. A practical guide for tropical forest managers on implementing new standards. Earthscan, London..

FAO (1998). Guidelines for the management of tropical forests. The production of wood. FAO forestry paper 135. FAO, Rome.

Fines, J.P., Ngibaot, F. and Ngono, G. (2001). A conceptual forest management plan for a medium size forest in southern Cameroon. Tropenbos Cameroon Documents 6. Tropenbos, Wageningen.

Lescuyer, G. (2002) Environmental assessment as a new tool for sustainable management? An application in south-Cameroon rain forest region. Tropenbos Cameroon Document 13. Tropenbos, Wageningen.

Panayotou, T. and Ashton, P. (1992). Not by timber alone: the case of multiple use management in tropical forests, Island Press, Covelo.

Vellema, H.C. and Maas J.B. (1999). Forest management plans; what are they about? In: Forest management related studies of the Tropenbos-Cameroon Programme. Tropenbos-Cameroon Reports 99-1.

1 Tropenbos International, P.O.Box 232, 6700 AE Wageningen, the Netherlands
E-mail: [email protected],

2 Further reading on contents of FMP, the Sustainable Forestry Handbook (Higman, 1999), the FAO guidelines for the management of tropical forests (FAO, 1998) and Eurosite (1999) are recommended. The first and second focus on the tropics and timber exploitation, and the third on European conditions and conservation areas.