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Society of American Foresters                                                                               International Society of Tropical Foresters


Marielos Peña-Claros, Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal, Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, University Wageningen, Holland
Michael J. Dockry, US Forest Service, and Center for First Americans Forestlands and the Sustainable Development Institute of College of Menominee Nation, Keshena, WI, USA



The Republic of Bolivia is extremely diverse culturally and ecologically. Bolivia covers 1,098,580 sq km, borders on Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, and Peru, and ranges in elevation from less than 200 meters above seal level (masl) to 6,542 masl (Instituto Nacional de Estadística 2008). According to the 2001 national census, Bolivia has a total population of 8,274,325 people, of which 62% live in urban areas and 38% live in rural areas (BOLFOR II 2008). While many people associate Bolivia with its majestic Andean mountains, Bolivia is actually a forest country. About half of Bolivia is covered with forest, about 530,000 km2 (BOLFOR II 2008). Bolivia is considered a ‘mega-diverse’ country, ranking eighth in the world for species richness and biodiversity.

The high biodiversity of Bolivia is due to the fact that its territory varies largely in terms of geomorphology, topography, climate, and soil. Bolivia’s diversity can be divided into four major ecological regions: Andean Region, Amazon Region, the Brazilian Shield Region, and the Great Chaco Region (Navarro and Maldonado 2002). In these broad ecological regions there are 18 Holdridge Life Zones or 199 different ecosystems. Within these ecosystems there is great diversity among the forest ecosystems, which vary in forest structure, composition, and number of species. Forest types range from cloud forests to tropical dry forests, to Amazonian rain and wetland forests, to Andean montane forests.

Permanent Production Forests

The Bolivian government has classified more than half of Bolivian forestland (30,550,000 ha) as Permanent Production Forests (PPF). These forestlands are divided into six regions based on their hydrologic regimes, location, and timber production potential: Chiquitania (6.3 million ha), Bajo Paraguá (3.8 millon ha), Guarayos (4.2 millon ha), Choré (1.6 millon ha), Preandean Amazon (4.1 millon ha) and Amazon (8.8 millon ha). Table 1 presents the average density, basal area, and volume for each region (Dauber et al. 2000).

Bolivian Forestry Law, Advances and Challenges

In 1996, the Bolivian government passed Forestry Law 1700 (Ley Forestal 1700) that created the legal and institutional framework for the application of a new forest management regime. The law defined access to forest harvesting and provided a suite of technical tools to ensure the sustainable use of the forest resource. This law democratized the access to forests by allowing both private companies and local people grouped in Local Social Associations (Agrupación Social del Lugar, ASL) to obtain forestry concessions through the national and municipal governments, respectively. Furthermore, indigenous communities can now legally manage forests within their Indigenous Community-owned Lands (Tierras Comunitarias de Origen, TCO) and private property owners could manage forests within their individual properties. This was not allowed under the previous forestry law. Of the more than 8.5 million hectares of managed Bolivian forests, around 75% are managed as forestry concessions and 34% are managed by groups that were not recognized under the previous law (Table 2; Fig. 1) (Cámara Forestal de Bolivia 2008a).

Table 1. Average density, basal area, and volume estimates for the six ecoregions in Bolivian lowland forests. DBH= diameter at 1.3 m aboveground, BA= Basal Area, MDC= minimum diameter for cutting. Only lowland forests are included. Data come from Dauber et al. 2000.


Table 2. Area under forest management and number of contracts by user type and legal rights. Data is from 2007. (Cámara Forestal de Bolivia 2008a).


According to the institutional framework created by the Foresty Law 1700, the Ministry of Sustainable Development (Ministerio de Desarrollo Sostenible) has the political responsibility over the forests of the country; the Forest Administration (Superintendencia Forestal) controls, regulates, and grants harvesting rights; the National Forest Fund (Fondo Nacional de Bosque, FONABOSQUE) provides financial support to the forestry sector; departmental governments promote department-level forestry policies and develop research priorities; and the municipal governments work as organizations that assist in the control and regulation of forest users and that provide support to local forest groups.

Figure 1. Map of the Republic of Bolivia showing political divisions and main road system. The map also shows Permanent Production Forests (in green) and areas under forests management (areas > 200 ha) (BOLFOR II 2008b). To see this map in higher resolution visit:


The Bolivian Forestry Law and its technical regulations assure the sustainable management of forests by requiring the following management practices (MDSP 1998):

  1. A general forest management plan (Plan general de manejo forestal, PGMF)
  2. A forest inventory to develop the PGMF
  3. Designation of protected areas within the forest management area
  4. Division of the forest management area into logging compartments and annual harvesting areas, requiring the use of a cutting cycle of minimum 20 years
  5. A census of commercially harvestable species. The census is the basis for preparing the annual operational forestry plan, which is required to obtain permits for transporting timber. The operational plan includes field maps used to locate harvestable trees, seed trees, land characteristics (slopes, water bodies), and roads to be opened
  6. The use of minimum diameter for cutting (MDC) for commercial species. The MDC is defined in the regulations according to the species and ecoregion
  7. Retention of 20% of merchantable trees as seed trees
  8. Prohibition of hunting within forest management areas
  9. Annual reports of harvesting activities
  10. Establishment of permanent plots to monitor and evaluate the impact of timber harvesting in the forest
  11. Plans for wood provision, procurement and processing
  12. Recognition that voluntary forest management certification is equal to the mandatory audits required every five years by the Forest Superintendence for all areas under forest management

The Bolivian forestry sector has changed significantly since the enactment of the forestry law in 1996. The forestry sector has gone from a system of unplanned exploitation in the hands of individual chainsaw and skidder operators to a harvesting system that uses reduced impact logging techniques and is based on management plans elaborated by trained forestry technicians and professionals. These changes have resulted in the certification of approximately 2 million hectares of tropical forests under the Principles and Criteria defined by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) (Certificación Forestal Voluntaria 2008).

In spite of Bolivia’s great advances in terms of planned harvesting (through the use of reduce impact logging techniques), there is still a need to develop a broad strategy to guarantee the sustainability of timber production (Dauber 2003, Dauber et al. 2005). Among the aspects that need to be considered for sustainable timber production is the application of silvicultural treatments to increase tree growth rates of future crop trees and to promote the regeneration of commercial species (Fredericksen et al. 2003). Several of these silvicultural treatments are being evaluated in large scale experimental plots (20-27 ha) established by the Bolivian Institute of Forest Research (Instituto Bolivian de Investigación Forestal, IBIF) in different forest types of the country (Peña-Claros et al. 2008a, Peña-Claros et al. 2008b). These experimental plots are part of a National Network of Permanent Plots that contains 300 one hectare permanent plots in areas under forest management across the Bolivian lowlands (IBIF 2006).

Bolivian Forest Industry

There are around 1,200 forestry companies registered with the Bolivian Forest Superintendence and around 6,000 forest products production units (sawmills, mill yards, and processing facilities), 70% of which are small or medium size businesses. The Bolivian forest products industry has grown not only in numbers but also has significantly improved the quality of their products. This is due to modern kiln drying facilities, production lines, and infrastructure to produce high-end value added products that are competitive in the international market. The Bolivian forest products industry generates 90,000 direct jobs (62,000 jobs if timber harvesting activities are not included) and 160,000 indirect jobs (Cámara Forestal de Bolivia 2008b).

In the last ten years the list of commercial tree species harvested in Bolivia has grown to include “lesser known species” or alternative species previously underutilized in the market. In 2006, more than 380 tree species were harvested for a total volume of 980,285 m3. However, ten species account for 51% of this volume with the top five most harvested species being Hura crepitans (14.9%), Dypterix odorata (7.4%), Tabebuia sp. (5.7%), Ceiba pentandra (5.7%) and Amburana cearensis (3.7%) (Superintendencia Forestal 2007).

Bolivia’s capacity for producing forest products has increased over the years. In 1995 64% of forest products exports were in the form of semi-finished products. In 2003 the majority of Bolivia’s forest products exports, 61%, were exported as finished products. Finished products provide more value to the forest products industry than semi-finished products or raw materials. In 2003, forest products exports from Bolivia generated $145 million US (Table 3), representing 11% of the total exports of the country. Currently, Bolivia exports over 50 different types of finished wood products and non-timber forest products and more than 20 semi-finished products. Finally, 14% of the forest products exported from Bolivia consists of certified timber under the voluntary FSC scheme. This has grown dramatically since 1995 when the first forest management area was certified in Bolivia.

Community Forestry

Community forestry refers to sustainable management of forests and other natural resources to achieve community defined goals and objectives. The goals and objectives depend on a common community vision and can include economic returns, protection of forest habitats and wildlife, exercising land tenure rights, and stopping the conversion of forests to other land cover types like agriculture and cattle ranching. Community forestry is an important aspect of forest management in Bolivia and represents an opportunity for communities to raise their standards of living while protecting the forests and ecosystems they rely on.

Table 3. List of Bolivian export products, product volume, value, and percentage of total forest products exports.


In 1990 several indigenous communities marched from the lowlands of Bolivia to the capital city of La Paz in the Andean highlands to demand their rights to own their indigenous territories, to be treated with dignity, and to have their cultures respected (this march was called Marcha de Territorio y Dignidad). This protest march fomented a series of new laws that promoted decentralization, recognized indigenous and local community rights, broadened the role of local communities in municipal governments, and recognized indigenous property rights over their forests (Contreras-Hermosillas and Vargas-Ríos 2007).

The new legal framework the 1996 Forestry Law and its regulations recognize two main types of community forest management: by local people grouped in ASL that request forestry concessions to their municipal governments and by indigenous communities that define forest management areas within their TCOs (Contreras-Hermosillas and Vargas-Ríos 2007; BOLFOR II 2008c). These components led to a major change in the forestry sector from a system that did not recognize indigenous and local community rights to a system where indigenous and local community rights over the forests are guaranteed.

The area under community forest management has increased steadily over the past 12 years and reflects the important role that these new players have in the Bolivian forestry sector. Both indigenous communities and ASLs have to fulfill the requirements established in the Forestry Law and its regulations, which means that they need to elaborate a forest management plan among other practices. These community forest management plans, unlike private forest management plans, often include cultural and historical aspects as well as economic aspects. Community forestry in Bolivia fosters better social control of forest resources, land use, and agricultural activities while providing vital economic opportunities.


Bolivia is a largely a forested country. The people of Bolivia and their progressive forestry law have made Bolivia a world leader in sustainable forest management. Yet, Bolivia remains one of the poorest countries in South America with infrastructure to match. Despite the difficulties, forest management plays a vital role in the national economy, empowers communities, and deters conversion of forests to other land uses like intensive agriculture or large-scale cattle ranching.


The authors thank the editors of the journal Recursos Naturales y Ambiente published by the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) for granting the authorization to use the article, “Situación del manejo forestal sostenible en la Amazonía boliviana” written by O. Camacho, Guzmán y M. Peña-Claros as the foundation for this document.

Also See Other Entries in the Encyclopedia: Land Conversion, Developing Countries; Sustainable Forestry; Community-based Management; Indigenous Peoples, Lands, Forests, and Tenure Policies in South America; Forest Certification; International Sustainable Forest Management


BOLFOR II - Bolivia Forestal. 2008. Perfil Forestal de Bolivia. Se accedió el 20 de Junio, 2008.

BOLFOR II - Bolivia Forestal. 2008b. Mapa de Derechos Forestales, Áreas de Reserva Forestal Municipal, y Áreas Protegidas de Bolivia.

BOLFOR II - Bolivia Forestal. 2008c. Explicación de ASL y TCO. Se accedió el 20 de Junio, 2008.

Cámara Forestal de Bolivia. 2008a. Sector Forestal - Cobertura Forestal y Areas Bajo de Manejo. . Se accedió el 20 de Junio, 2008.

Cámara Forestal de Bolivia. 2008b. Estado actual y potencial económico del sector forestal en Bolivia. Documento Interno de Trabajo.

Cámara Forestal de Bolivia. 2004. Estadísticas de Exportaciones 1998-2004. Exportaciones por Producto. Se accedió el 18 de Junio, 2008.

Camacho, O., R. Guzmán, M. Peña-Claros. 2007. Situación del manejo forestal sostenible en la Amazonía boliviana. Recursos Naturales y Ambiente 49-50: 18 – 23.

Certificación Forestal Voluntaria. 2008. Operaciones de Manejo Forestal Certificadas en Bolivia. Se accedió el 20 de Junio, 2008.

Contreras-Hermosilla, A., Vargas Ríos, T. 2007. Reformas a la política forestal de Bolivia. Impactos sociales, ambientales y económicos de los primeros cinco años del régimen forestal boliviano. Recursos Naturales y Ambiente 49-50: 18 – 23. Informe Especial del CIFOR (Center for Internacional Forestry Research). El Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE). Turrialba, Costa Rica.

Dauber, E; Terán, J; Guzmán, R. 2000. Estimaciones de la biomasa y carbono en bosques naturales de Bolivia. Santa Cruz de la Sierra, BO, Superintendencia Forestal.

Dauber, E. 2003. Modelo de simulación para evaluar las posibilidades de cosecha en el primer y segundo ciclo de corta en bosques tropicales de Bolivia. Santa Cruz de la Sierra, BO, Proyecto BOLFOR. (Documento Técnico 128).

Dauber, E.; Fredericksen, TS; Peña-Claros, M; Leaño, C; Licona, JC; Contreras, F. 2003. Tasas de incremento diamétrico, mortalidad y reclutamiento con base en las parcelas permanentes instaladas en diferentes regiones de Bolivia. Santa Cruz de la Sierra, BO, Proyecto BOLFOR / Proyecto de Manejo Forestal Sostenible.

Fredericksen, TS; Putz, FE; Pattie, P; Pariona, W; Peña-Claros, M. 2003. Sustainable forestry in Bolivia: beyond planned logging. Journal of Forestry 101(2):37-40.

Instituto Boliviano de investigación Forestal. 2006. Red de Parcelas Permanentes. Se accedió el 20 de Junio, 2008.

Instituto Nacional de Estadística. 2008. Geografía de Bolivia. Se accedió el 20 de Junio, 2008.

Kenny-Jordan, Charles B.; Herz, Carlos; Añazco, Mario; y Andrade, Miguel. 1999. Pioneering Change: Community Forestry In the Andes. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Quito, Ecuador.

Ministerio de Desarrollo Sostenible y Planificación (MDSP), 1998. Normas técnicas para la elaboración de instrumentos de manejo forestal en propiedades privadas o concesiones con superficies mayores a 200 hectáreas. Resolución Ministerial No. 248/98. La Paz, Bolivia.

Navarro, G. y Maldonado, M.. 2002. Geografía Ecológica de Bolivia, Vegetación y Ambientes Acuáticos. Editorial Centro de Ecología Difusión Simón I. Patiño. Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Peña-Claros, M., T. S. Fredericksen, A. Alarcón, G. M. Blate, U. Choque, C. Leaño, J. C. Licona, B. Mostacedo, W. Pariona, Z. Villegas, F. E. Putz. 2008. Beyond reduced-impact logging: silvicultural treatments to increase growth rates of tropical trees. Forest Ecology and Mangement.

Peña-Claros, M., E. M. Peters, J. Justiniano, F. Bongers, G. Blate, T. S. Fredericksen, F. E. Putz. 2008. Regeneration of commercial tree species following silvicultural treatments in a moist tropical forest. Forest Ecology and Management 255: 1283-1293.

Superintendencia Forestal. 2007. Informe Anual 2006. Santa Cruz de la Sierra, BO, Superintendencia Forestal.

For More Information

BOLFOR II: (This website includes both Spanish and English translations)

Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal:

Cámara Forestal de Bolivia:

Centro Amazónico de Desarrollo Forestal:

Consejo Boliviano para la Certificación Forestal Voluntaria:

Superintendencia Forestal:

Instituto Nacional de Estadística:

Bolivia English V3 Submitted for Posting 15 September 2010

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