Communal forests are a unique land tenure system and comprise a singular legal category in Galicia. Their persistence over time demonstrates that this community-owned resource has overcome the “tragedy of the commons”, showing their capability to successfully develop self-governing institutions. However, communal forests have rarely been studied through the lens of economics. This minimizes the opportunity to explore to what extent communities of communal forests might be a driving force of general well-being, citizen empowerment, equity, employment, and local development. In this paper, we focus on this gap and address the opportunities. We detail this special ownership structure that allows residents of rural areas to exploit the forest as if they were a single owner. Moreover, we highlight the potential of communal forests to exploit local resources far beyond extractive processes, enabling the generation of greater added value to the economy while favoring a responsible treatment of resources. This enables productive activity integrated with the rest of the primary sector, while allowing for the maintenance of the population and supporting the local economy. Our results reveal a set of inefficiencies that can jeopardize common forest opportunities to become a sustainable economic activity, such as underqualified management, a low level of interest and commitment among community members, and excessive focus on logging. Thus, we propose several actions to improve collective engagement and active membership to better manage Galicia’s forests.
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