Spiritual values in forest management plans in British Columbia and the Netherlands

de Pater, Catharina; Verschuuren, Bas; Elands, Birgit; van Hal, Iris; Turnhout, Esther


Spiritual values are part of major global forest-related policies and strategies for sustainable forest management. Despite ongoing research and current debates, the significance of spiritual values in sustainable forest management in the Global North remains under-theorised. As Forest Management Plans represent an important nexus between policies and practices, this study clarifies the significance of spiritual values in forest management plans. We applied a conceptual framework with nine ‘dimensions of spirituality’ to investigate ten plans from British Columbia (Canada) and ten plans from the Netherlands, deploying qualitative analysis through descriptive coding in Atlas.ti. We elicited and compared the spiritual dimensions represented in the underlying principles, objectives, and operational sections of forest management plans for both geographical locations. Their widespread occurrence suggests that spiritual values are considered essential elements of sustainable forest policy and management in the Global North, also in contexts with non-Indigenous populations. We grouped the articulations of the spiritual dimensions in Forest Management Plans into three themes: ‘Nature Experience’, ‘Spiritual Use’ and ‘History’. A comparison of the spiritual dimensions across these themes and geographical locations yields the following insights: 1) spiritual values of forests are not only articulated in the strategic sections of forest management plans, but also in operational sections; 2) in management planning, forest spirituality is not only strongly related to experience, but also to the (‘wise’) use of forests and to forest-related history; 3) Spiritual values are better operationalised in adaptive forms of management planning than in formal ‘technical’ planning structures. This offers new ways of understanding the role of spirituality in forests management plans and contributes new insights to current debates in forest science.