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Indigenous knowledge and stand characteristics of a threatened tree species in a highly insecure area: Chilgoza pine in Afghanistan

Shalizi, Mohammad Nasir, Khurram, Safiullah, Groninger, John W., Ruffner, Charles M., Burney, Owen T.
Forest ecology and management 2018 v.413 pp. 1-8
Pinus gerardiana, coniferous forests, data collection, drought, environmental factors, forest health, forest management, forest resources, forest stands, fuelwood, grazing, harvesting, human resources, income, indigenous knowledge, insects, interviews, land use, natural regeneration, perceptions (cognitive), questionnaires, seeds, stakeholders, stand structure, surveys, threatened species, tree damage, trees, understory, villages, Afghanistan
Chilgoza pine (Pinus gerardiana) is an important source of income in forested eastern Afghanistan through the harvest of edible seeds. Since the late 1970s, the resource has been largely inaccessible to researchers and government personnel from outside the region, except for the years 2002–2015, roughly coinciding with Operation Enduring Freedom. We assessed physical and social attributes of chilgoza pine forests and the management capacity of indigenous communities. We employed interviews/questionnaires and field measurements performed by Afghan forest scientists from Kabul, trained local residents, and U.S. forest scientists associated with military operations to examine stakeholder perceptions of chilgoza pine forest resilience, assess forest health, stand structure and natural regeneration status. Intensive cone collection, tree damage caused by cone harvesting, grazing, fuelwood collection, and other biotic/abiotic factors (insects, diseases, and drought) were associated with chilgoza forest degradation. Most interviewees observed natural regeneration in the understory layer of chilgoza forest stands, but perceived the overall rate of natural regeneration to be insufficient. Respondents from villages prohibiting grazing and fuelwood collection reported the greatest regeneration while the converse was associated with the lowest levels of regeneration. Field measurements confirmed the scarcity of natural regeneration of chilgoza pine, portending the further decline of this species in Afghanistan. Field surveys indicated diverse stand conditions, age class structures and land use practices employed by local stakeholders, suggesting the need for situation-specific forest management recommendations. We discuss the opportunities and limitations for forest resources data collection in highly insecure environments.