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3 Definitions of forest change processes

3.1 Overview

Forest change processes are central to several national and international forest policy agendas. They are also of high interest to the public in general and are often referred to by media. Many organisations are engaged in forest change issues, and the definitions are therefore important and also politically sensitive. The below summarizes the definitions as used by FAO's Forestry Department. The definitions have not changed since the previous publication (FRA 1998), but the explanations have been rewritten to be clearer and also better support the discussions on climate change issues. Five terms are defined in this section. Figure 1. gives an overview of how these relate.

Note that to determine whether the removal of trees from an area is a deforestation it is necessary to predict the future development for the area. If new forest trees are established in the relatively near future, the land is classified as forest throughout the regeneration period (and this regrowth is named "reforestation"). If, on the other hand, a sufficient density of trees is not established in the relatively near future, or if land is converted to other land use, the area should be considered deforested.

Note also that the time frame is central to the forest change definitions and that the length of the threshold period, defaulted to ten years, should be used consistently when applying the terms, to avoid overlaps or gaps in the reporting. Thus "long-term" refers to ten years or more, and "temporary" refers to shorter than ten years. Note that local climatological conditions, land use contexts or the purpose of the analysis may justify that a longer threshold period is used.

Figure 1. Relationships between forest change terms. Forest degradation and Forest improvement occur within forests that continuously stay above the 10% canopy threshold. Reforestation occurs when forests regrow after temporarily having had below 10% canopy cover, but were considered as forests throughout that time. Deforestation and Afforestation represent the transfers between forest and other land use classes.

3.2 Deforestation

Deforestation is the conversion of forest to another land use or the long-term reduction of tree canopy cover below the 10% threshold.

3.3 Afforestation

Afforestation is the conversion from other land uses into forest, or the increase of the canopy cover to above the 10% threshold.

3.4 Reforestation

Reforestation is the re-establishment of forest formations after a temporary condition with less than 10% canopy cover due to human-induced or natural perturbations.

3.5 Forest degradation

Forest degradation is a reduction of the canopy cover or stocking within a forest.

3.6 Forest improvement

Forest improvement is the increase of the canopy cover or stocking within a forest.

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