Many forest reserves in the country were originally set up in recognition of the importance of forest. However, management of existing forest land is appalling. In recent years, there have been high rate of deforestation in Bayelsa state. There is therefore a need for proper management of forest and its resources. The study analysed the potential for the use of participatory forest management structure in the conservation of forest resources in Bayelsa state using a sample size 150 respondents that were obtained using a multistage sampling technique. Three out of the eight local government areas in Bayelsa state (Ogbia, Yenagoa and Ekeremor) each reflecting the three agricultural zones. Interviewed schedules and structured questionnaire were administered to elicit information from the respondents. Data gotten from both primary and secondary sources were analysed using descriptive and inferential statistics which include: frequencies, means, percentages, probit regression model and likert rating scale. As regard the socio economic characteristics of the respondent, the result shows that majority (66.25%) were male while most(40.8%) of them were in the age bracket of 41 – 50 years, closely followed by 31 – 40 years (23.1%), Also, household size was majorly(40%) in the bracket of 5 – 8, with a mean household size of 7. Educationally, majority (47.0%) attended primary school, while 5.4% attended higher education. The results reveal that the fresh water swamp forest represent the highest concentration of forest in the locality. This was closely followed by mangrove forest (23.1%) and the riparian forest (15.4%). Most of the management practices were not observed, thus leaving the forest in a grave situation. However findings reveal that traditional oriented management was actively practiced although in a limited proportion. As regard the perception of the local people to the use of P.F.M.S for forest management, four out of the nine variables used in the probit regression showed positive and significant contribution to the variation in the perception of the use PFMS. These include; educational status, occupation, benefit from forest and as mechanism for conflict resolution. These factors help in explaining the variability in the perception of the people in the use of PFMS. The other variable; environmental problem and annual income were positive but not significant. In terms of the willingness to pay, three of the eight variables tested showed positive coefficient and were significant. These were, age, forest benefit, and gender. The likert rating scale indicates that some constraints such as lack of funds, insufficient education/publicity, lack of political will, corruption, lack of well trained staffs came out top in the ranking of challenges or constraints to the establishment of PFMS. It was therefore recommended that traditional resources management should be promoted more so as it gives the local people the opportunity to partake in forest management and also the diversification of the economy so as to divert the attention of the rural dwellers on the excessive exploitation of the forest.

The term forest embraces a large variety of landscapes vegetation formation and ecosystem (Obot, 1997). Forest contains a number of natural resources which develop their distinctive value, when wisely used and harnessed in a sustainable way or acquire environmental threat characteristic when over exploited. Nigeria forest, like elsewhere in the world are important for the ecosystem services they provide, including watershed protection, climate control, and animal species (Nigerian environmental analysis 2002). This forest also provides valuable commercial timber sources and other commercially harvested products such as resin, spices, rattan and many more. The rural populace also benefit largely from forest resources as a source for fuel wood and building materials and for a myriad of non tree forest products (NTFP) with various uses as food, flavouring, medicines, various domestic use and also in some case for their traditional values.

Before independence, the available forest resources could adequately cater for the country’s requirement, both to meet the export and local consumption. However, after independence, there was pressure on the forest resources to generate income to support the young economy and meet the need of the ever increasing population (EC-FAO 2003). The bulk of the forest and forest resources that remained hitherto relatively undisturbed until the 1980, have been lost in the last two decades. In 1992, forest accounted for only 9.61% (8.874.225.ha) of Nigeria’s total land area measuring about 923,768,000ha. Okonta (1998) noted that during the period 1980, it was estimated that 43.48% of the total forest ecosystem had been converted to other uses as a result of human activities. Current estimates put the rate of forest depletion at 3.3% per year (FAO, 2005). Based on this, it has been estimated that the country will lose all her forest by the year 2020. FORMECU (1994) projected the yield from the forest estates between the year 2000 and 2010, putting it at a total of 8273m2 for 2000 and 7316m2 for 2010, implying that less wood resources would be available from the forest in the future if the current deforestation rate is sustained. Forest production has fallen, creating an imbalance between supply and demand. From its previous status as a significant exporter of forest products Nigeria has become a net importer (Status of tropical forest management, 2003). The continued loss of Nigeria’s tropical forest has taken its toll on the county’s biodiversity resources. Nigeria has a diverse collection of flora and fauna, including 274 species of mammals, 830 species of birds and 5,081 plant species out of which 0.14% of the animal species is threatened and 0.22% is endangered. Similarly, the estimated 70% of the rural poor are in great danger as it has been established that the poorest often suffer most from the consequence of environmental degradation as a result of their immediate dependence on the natural resource base for their necessities (Soussan, 1998).

In an attempt to bring to a halt, the deplorable state of forestry in Nigeria, forest reserves were constituted in the early twenties and communities in the past never tempered with the reserves as they obeyed and respected the law that forbade any form of encroachment into the reserves (Amika, 1993). This was partly due to low population density. But with increased local population, migration, land hunger, cash squeeze, food scarcity and awareness, people’s attention turned to the forest. Together, the national parks cover about 22,592 km2, which is about 2.5% of the country’s landmass. They are owned and managed exclusively by the federal government hence, leaving no room for local participation. However, Ezealor (2002), Aminukano and Marguba (2002), stated that protection of habitats and species has long been practiced by various cultures in Nigeria through their preservation of groves and other distinctive habitats for religious, ceremonial and hunting purposes. Marguba (2002), further reported that Nigeria’s first modern forest reserves were created in 1887. The first forestry act enacted in 1937 established the forest reserve system under the state government. A more comprehensive forest law was latter established in 1956 – the law of preservation and control of eastern Nigeria. By 1950 forest reserves covered about 8% of the country’s land area and gradually rose to 11% by 1980. Thereafter, an apparent inability to formulate policies and.....

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