Although the human domestication of forest and tree resources is often considered to result in resource degradation, it may also lead to improved resource potentials. This paper assesses the nature and dynamics of gum and resin focused woodland exploitation and management systems in Ethiopia in the context of degradation and domestication processes. In three sites with commercial gum resin producing woodlands and production history, we studied variation in (i) woodland management and gum resin production systems and (ii) socio-economic and biophysical factors that condition the management and production systems. On the basis of their organizational features, we formulated nine production models and related them to different phases of domestication and different degrees of ecosystem degradation. The production systems gradually evolved from the extraction of wild trees to production in an adapted forest system. However, domesticated woodlands with an adapted forest structure and composition and increased provisioning services are still little developed despite decades of production history. Many of these woodlands are undergoing serious degradation because of low quality management practices. This is mainly attributable to existing land use practices and the social arrangements for the production of and trade in the gums and resins. The findings illustrate that domestication involves not only a change in ecological and production systems but also the development of social arrangements for production and trade. We conclude that the status of domestication in a social sense determines whether forests and/or specific forest resources are degraded or aggraded in the sense of resource enrichment. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.