The impact of subsistence use of forest products and the dynamics of harvested woody species populations in a protected forest reserve in Western Zimbabwe
Developing sustainable mechanisms for use-management of forest products by user communities has been suggested as a possible solution to the often-observed conflict between forest use and the conservation of protected forests. In Zimbabwe, the use of forest products in protected forests by local communities has a long history, but few studies have explored both the socio-economic and ecological aspects of this use. This study was conducted in the Baikiaea plurijuga forests and woodlands in and around Fuller Forest in western Zimbabwe, protected since 1943. It explored the characteristics and dynamics of forest products use by communities surrounding this protected forest. Further, the demography and dynamics of commonly harvested woody species was examined in order to establish the present status of populations of these species. This examination, focusing on diameter class distributions, was aimed at informing whether species populations were expanding, stable or declining in view of their capacity to continue providing required goods and services. Results indicated that all households, rich and poor, were harvesting at least some forest resources from the protected forest, with the most frequently harvested resources being firewood, wood for curios, thatch grass, wild fruits, timber for construction and fencing and those who owned livestock used the forest for livestock grazing. The extraction and use of 23 different products was recorded across the villages. The top five harvested forest products in terms of the mean proportion of households using them were fuelwood, building poles, thatch grass, wild fruits and broom grass. Forest products were harvested both for own consumption and for sale. At present Baikiaea plurijuga, Colophospermum mopane, Brachystegia spiciformis, Diplorhynchus condylocarpon, Commiphora mocambicensis and Bauhinia petersiana out of 14 commonly harvested species appear to have relatively stable populations as indicated by their inverse J-shaped diameter class distribution profiles. Preliminary indications from this baseline information point towards the successful integration of local use of forest products and conservation objectives noting that there is need for caution until further studies as recommended in this study are taken.