Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Krister Andersson

Second Advisor

Lee Alston

Third Advisor

Lisa Dilling

Fourth Advisor

J. Terrence McCabe

Fifth Advisor

Carol Wessman


This dissertation studies the impact of household-level risk (e.g. sickness and loss of assets) and community-level risk (e.g. natural disasters and outside intrusion) on rural livelihoods and forest conditions in developing countries, and the roles of collective action and property rights in risk management. Forests support the livelihoods of many rural people and act as safety nets during times of adversity. Forest users constantly encounter risk, and managing risk requires them to employ different livelihood and coping strategies based on their unique household situations. Their chosen strategies lead to varying degrees of dependency on the forests and may contribute to deteriorating forest conditions. With degrading forest conditions, users may no longer be able to rely on forests for subsistence and as insurance against future risk. These interrelationships among risk, forest users, and their resources motivate my field studies, which I conducted in Bolivia, where land reforms have given local communities more extensive user rights to their forest resources. Using household surveys and forest plot data from indigenous communities, I find that households that are considered vulnerable to community-level risk are not more prone to household-level risk, and they have various coping strategy options for dealing with risk. These are households that are headed by women or the elderly, have many dependents, and are poor. Furthermore, market exposure and past failures of collective actions hinder community members' ability to manage risks collectively. Also, the evolving environment changes the livelihood strategies and the types of risk forest users are exposed to. Therefore, many forest users have diversified their income sources and coping strategy options. Finally, forest users who have fewer coping strategy options support common property rights. These users reported fewer conflicts with other community members and engage in more forest management activities. These findings deepen our understanding of the complexity of coupled human-natural systems by exploring the relationships among forest users, their reliance on forests, and the risks they encounter. The results offer insights that can enhance policymaking in community risk management by broadening programs' coverage to assist households with diverse characteristics and promoting non-forest-based coping strategy options.