Local stakeholders' priorities and perceptions towards forest ecosystem services in the Red panda habitat region of Nepal

June 30, 2023

Upama Koju, Sikha Karki, Anita Shrestha, Tek Maraseni, Ambika P. Gautam, Tim Cadman, Ang Phuri Sherpa, Sonam Tashi Lama

Land Use Policy, Volume 129

June 2023.

The Red panda (Ailurus fulgens) habitat has been providing several ecosystem services (ES) to the people; however, the differences in local stakeholders’ perceptions and preferences of these ecosystem services based on differences in their location, caste, gender, age, and engagement in CFUG are still understudied. This study was conducted using a telephone interview with 120 households from 28 Red panda habitat districts in the Himalayan range of Nepal. Respondents were asked to: (1) prioritize and rank the environmental (regulatory ES), economic (provisional ES), social, cultural, and spiritual importance of the Red panda habitat areas; (2) identify and prioritize the provisional ES; and (3) share their perceptions about the current state of the forest and biodiversity in comparison to the past decade to assess the change in Red panda habitat condition. Key findings include: (1) gender, caste, location, and involvement in community forest had a significant influence on people's perception and preference for ecosystem services (p < 0.05); (2) in overall, the environmental value of forests was significantly prioritized over the social, cultural, and economic values (p < 0.05); (3) provisional services such as fuelwood and fodder were significantly prioritized by Dalit and indigenous people and CFUG members, whereas timber was given the highest priority by the Brahmin and Chhetri caste groups (p < 0.05); and (4) forest cover, biodiversity, and forest condition have significantly improved in East Nepal over the past 10 years, while the reverse was true in West Nepal (p < 0.05). Information on the preferences of local communities could assist in planning, policymaking, and effective management of natural ecosystems and ecosystem services. More importantly, the findings provide a better understanding of the nature–human interactions in the Red panda region and indicate that people from marginalized groups (ethnic communities, Dalit, and women) still rely on forests (community forests in many cases), and any consideration in future policies should take this into account.