Drawing on ethnographic and archival research, "Changing Forests" explores how the indigenous Lenca community of La Campa, Honduras, has conserved and transformed their communal forests through the experiences of colonialism, opposition to state-controlled logging, and the recent adoption of export-oriented coffee production. It merges political ecology, collective-action theories, and institutional analysis to study how the people and forests have changed through socioeconomic and political transitions. It studies the complex, often contradictory relationships between the people and their natural resources to understand why forest cover endures.
The discussion of social and forest transformations in La Campa focuses on the past three decades, but the context for understanding the Lenca people and their forest use stretches over 500 years. Although the historical record has many gaps, the initial conditions for human-forest relationships were established in the colonial period, when La Campa was founded and processes of conquest ruptured the social fabric. "Changing Forests" therefore encompasses three broad phases: (1) the premodern period, which considers historic perturbations in western Honduras from the period of colonialism into the middle of the twentieth century; (2) the period of state-led logging and intervention in La Campa, which caused major degradation in forest cover; and (3) the recent period in which export coffee production transformed property rights, and people’s perceptions of the forest gained new conservationist and economic dimensions. Each phase entails perspectives and experiences that influenced human use of forests, and shaped subsequent transformations.
Growing social heterogeneity, population growth, and market integration present challenges for sustainable forest management, but satellite images show that forest cover has expanded since the community prohibited logging in 1987. The indigenous people have created a watershed reserve and agroforestry cooperatives, and maintain forests as part of a resilient livelihood strategy.
La Campa has been recognized by the Honduran government for its forest conservation efforts.