Spiritual values and sustainable forest management

What are the nature, role and effects of spiritual values in forest management? This is the main question of this project. International forest policies increasingly recognise spiritual values as criteria for sustainable forest management. However, knowledge on how spiritual values are articulated in practice is scarce. Because most evidence remains anecdotal, the study of spiritual values in forest management remains unsystematised and under-theorised. Research is complicated by the widely diverging interpretations of the concept of spirituality in relation to forests. The project therefore draws upon 'family resemblances' theories and a multi-dimensional approach of spirituality.

In Phase 1, a conceptual framework with seven dimensions was constructed for the systematic study of spiritual phenomena relevant to forest management, taking into account multiple ontologies and epistemologies (de Pater et al. 2021).

Phase 2 (paper submitted) concentrated on forest management plans, as they represent an important nexus between policies and practices. Here, the conceptual framework was used to analyse forest management plans from British Columbia and the Netherlands on how they articulate spiritual values. Findings suggest that spiritual values are essential elements of sustainable forest policy and management, not exclusively for Indigenous peoples, but also for the global North. Spiritual values appeared to be significant not only in relation to nature experience, but also in relation to forest use.

In phase 3 (current), forest management practices in the Netherlands were analysed with the aid of the conceptual framework, to assess the characteristics and siginficance of spiritual values in practical forest management.

In phase 4, the findings of the former phases will be synthesised and theorised.