There is an incomplete understanding of governmental and non-governmental policy approaches for promoting sustainable forest management in the tropics, including the features of productive forest management that these policies address, how they are put into practice, and, ultimately, their overall impacts on tropical forest management. The fundamental questions examined in this research center on how and why governmental and non-governmental forest policies and their execution lead to, or fail to produce, the desired changes or improvements in target group behavior toward a greater understanding of policy's contribution to the enhanced sustainability of managed tropical forests. This research used a theory-driven evaluation of governmental forest regulation and non-governmental forest certification in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua to determine how and why these policy approaches, their execution, and the context in which they are applied, lead to, or fail to produce, changes or improvements in forest owner and user behavior, towards a greater understanding of their effectiveness in enhancing the sustainability of managed tropical forests.
A comparative case study approach was implemented in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Semi-structured interviews and archival document analysis were the primary methods used. A total of seventy-eight key individuals from forestry agencies and forest certification programs, forest owners and managers, and local and regional forestry experts were interviewed from March to July 2007. Interview data was transcribed, coded, and analyzed. Primary archival and other secondary archival data from bureaucratic records and documents, related research, local newspapers, and other sources were used to verify the findings produced from the analysis of policy directives, instruments, and interviews.
This research enhanced understanding of policy approaches for promoting sustainable tropical forest management in several ways. First, it expanded knowledge of how and what aspects of tropical forest management are addressed by governmental forest regulation and non-governmental forest certification through related policy tools and directives. The research determined how governmental and non-governmental forest policy approaches for tropical forest management in Central America were put into effect, shedding light on how and why these policy approaches produced both intended and unintended results. The findings confirmed that sufficient resources and capacity for policy implementation were crucial for attaining policy objectives (see for example Lipsky 1980; Mazmanian and Sabatier 1983, 1989; Vogel and Kessler 1998), but that there were also innovative forest policy verification and/or enforcement arrangements that compensated for limited implementation resources and processes.
The results of this research explained the effects of forest policy approach and execution on forest policy uptake through an analysis of governmental and non-governmental forest policy adoption and compliance by forest owners and managers, and the inducements and constraints to policy uptake at the local- and larger- level policy contexts. Finally, the research provided insight into the similarities, differences, and overlap between governmental forest regulation and non-governmental forest certification in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua in terms of the forest management aspects addressed, the ways and means for putting policy into effect, and the associated policy adoption and compliance by forest owners and users. The research results provided important information for governmental and non-governmental decision- and policy- makers charged with finding viable solutions to forest degradation and deforestation in the countries of study, as well as in other countries and regions with important tropical forest resources.