|A "Church Forest". Image from PLOS blog.|
Dr. Peter Scull of Colgate University is presenting "An inventory of Church Forests in the Debre Tabor region of northern Ethiopia" at the 2013 Association of American Geographers conference.
His abstract is below
Ethiopian church forests are remnant patches of a once vast, highland ecosystem. The total number of forest patches is largely unknown; estimates in the literature range from fourteen hundred to more than thirty thousand. Collectively, they provide sanctuary to many endangered plant and invertebrate taxa of Ethiopia. They also are valuable to local people because of the ecological services they provide (e.g. protecting fresh water springs) and their spiritual value. The forests themselves are an integral part of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church; each forest is home to an Orthodox Priest and his disciples. Essentially, the priests act as stewards who oversee forest utilization. For reasons not fully understood, the forests have come under pressure in the past few decades. The objective of this study was to inventory the church forests of the Debre Tabor region of northern Ethiopia in order to establish baseline data for use in conservation. In addition to mapping the location of all remaining forests, various landscape ecology measures (e.g. shape indices, measures of isolation/proximity, connectivity, etc.) were calculated to begin to characterize the relative importance or value of each individual forest within the entire matrix and to assess regional scale ecosystem health. Results are being used to help guide the selection of individual forests for on-site ecological analysis, as well as to develop hypotheses regarding potential drivers of change (e.g. changes in forest value, resource pressure, etc).
While Scull's presentation is sadly available online, he promoted an article which does discuss efforts to protect these forests. Saving Ethiopia’s “Church Forests” by T. DeLene Beeland is a great read.