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B.K. Steenberg - Forestry, the environment and the modern forester

B.K. Steenberg was Assistant Director-General, FAO Forestry Department, from 1968 to 1974.

1. Forestry and the environment

By 1972, concern for the environment had become widespread, both inside and outside the United Nations. The General Assembly had approved a UN Declaration on the Human Environment at the end of the previous year. When the Seventh World Forestry Congress was held in Buenos Aires in 1972 the theme, "Forests and socioeconomic development", included emphasis on forestry's environmental role. B.K. Steenberg delivered the opening address at the Congress (Unasylva Vol. 25, No. 104 [1972])- Here are some excerpts.

· The focus of man's concern has shifted dramatically since the last World Forestry Congress. In the 1960s we confronted hopefully a world explosion of expectations and aspirations. Now we have come to a period of hesitation, of grave concern, sometimes close to fear. We have concern for the sheer number of people on the earth, and for the implications of their demands for space, energy and other resources. We have concern for the availability of clean water and air, for the preservation of natural ecosystems and gene resources. We have seen many of the earlier cherished products of man's ingenuity branded as dangerous and persistent poisons in the global ecosystem. Even while discounting some of the predictions of doom, it is a fact that only today has man been made aware of some very real threats to our environment. We have only recently realized the brutal fact that this little world is all we have.

The theme of the last World Forestry Congress was "The role of forestry in the changing world economy", which recognized and proclaimed the contribution of the forestry sector to economic development. The rather more reflective note of this congress, "Forests and socio-economic development", recognizes that economic development is not an end in itself.

The contribution of forests to mankind was for a long time analysed under polarized light, which made their material products and the related economic factors stand out more clearly. Naturally, development was pursued in this direction. Today the plane of polarization has rotated, and the forest's role in man's environment and thus the purely social benefits are stressed. But still we are dealing with the same forests, but less of them, and the world is populated with the same man, but many more.

The concern about the long-term aspects of forestry - those that are implied by currently fashionable words like ecology and environmental concern - has always been central in the minds of those responsible for the forest ecosystem. Foresters already decades ago pointed out the dangers of soil run-off and soil erosion, water quality, changes of climate, and other long-term hazards of overexploitation of the forests. It has always been inherent in the forester's task to deal with subjects beyond the planning horizon of the individual, a horizon which seldom exceeds one year. Even the planning period of governments today is most often expressed as about half a decade- short, in terms of the life of a tree or of a family. For individual man and for the practical politician the problem has been one of optimizing the current benefits with a minimum of current hardships.

But today, with the increased possibility for man to communicate and to travel, with far more people and these people more and more concentrated in urban areas, the results of overexploitation or mismanagement of forests have become current hardships.

The attrition of the forest with its flora and fauna, the disappearance of clean flowing water, the difficulty of finding easily places which provide privacy and shelter from noise and pollution and stress are being felt to an ever-increasing extent.

The rate of exploitation of the forest has also increased, and its scars now become visible within the life span of the individual. This exploitation, let it not be forgotten, was at least partially necessary in order to satisfy the demands of the accelerated population move toward urban areas, and it became possible through man's inventiveness.

B.K. STEENBERG Head of FAO Forestry Department, 1968-74

Foresters are able to manage the forests, but they alone cannot formulate national policy. Now the world tends to agree with the foresters that the time has come to formulate and codify forest policy for the sake of man's social well-being in the framework of general economic-social development. The United Nations Declaration on the Human Environment is a sign of this thinking, and the declaration can, in fact, be considered the basis of an international forest policy.

Thus today foresters have arrived at a crucial period. Looking to the future they must assert their leadership and induce governments to adopt a forest policy.

The objective of such a policy is clear - to balance man's drive toward efficiency and personal fulfilment with the need to protect him from himself and from his own deeds. For this no mechanical balance exists; it is a matter of judgement, in which all known facts have to be analysed singly, and above all their interrelation. Some facts can be quantified, some can be given a scientific basis, but many are qualitative and transscientific in nature. This is why they are political.

The necessity to protect man from himself rests with the biological nature of the forest ecosystem; even fast-growing species grow very slowly in relation to the speed at which forests can destroyed, whether by man or by other means such as fire, insects or disease. Some of the responsibilities for the future of the ecosystem know no national boundary. Are not the forests of the world a heritage to mankind? But forest policy must recognize that forests are useful, indeed indispensable, for man's efficiency and personal fulfilment.

This does not, on the other hand, imply that forest land must be included in sustained-yield schemes. The classical single-use concept of the forest, followed by the multiple-use concept, is now much better articulated, and the managers of natural resources can differentiate more clearly between single use, multiple use and dominant use.

Now the world tends to agree with the foresters that the time has come to formulate and codify forest policy for the sake of man's social well-being in the framework of general economic-social development.

A basic forest policy must be founded on a determination of how the forests and their products are expected to fulfil national aims and objectives. From this policy will follow, for instance, the size of the annual cut, what level of management this implies, what the capital and manpower implications are, and so on.

Uncertainty about the growth and importance of substitute materials has been a factor in delaying a basic forestry policy in some countries. Some people think that the increased use of plastics and metals will within a short time make wood a useless material. Therefore there is no need to formulate a policy dealing with productive forestry. Of course, if a country has no expressed policy for the use of its own productive natural resources, then there will be less investment and less expectation of forest development, and eventually the prophecy will be self-fulfilling.

But the increased knowledge of the scarcity of the world's energy resources, including fossil hydrocarbons and the vast energy requirements for the production of aluminium, plastics and other substitute materials, clearly shows that the forest as a source of raw materials will be needed forever. Further, the trend of modern technology is toward the use of compound rather than single materials, and the consequent growth in non-wood components should only amplify the growth in wood-based goods.

The formation of policies is, of course, not an end in itself. The next and crucial step is the creation or modernization of flexible institutions to develop and implement those policies.

I would like to refer briefly to just one group of forestry institutions which is indispensable to the endurance, or staying-power, of any reform of the forestry sector - the forestry education institutions. Trainees of these institutions must, of course, implement forest policy; the most brilliant of schemes is worthless without them. More important, they must make and implement future forest policy in a world where change can only become more rapid and more significant in relation to the forest.

The trainees of forestry education institutions will be making and implementing future forest policy in a world where change can only become more rapid and significant in relation to the forest.

On the applied research side there is an increasing trend to seek assistance from the behavioural sciences. Problems like urban forestry, national park management, shifting cultivation, etc. can only be solved by determined efforts to improve and apply the tools of the social sciences, together with those of the classical forestry sciences. The position of forested areas and marginal lands in relation to various population movements is being studied more intensively. Many countries are carrying out research with a view to improving the working conditions of the forest labourer, and thus ergonomics, health conditions and accident prevention are getting increased attention.

Even in forest industry the applied research objectives are increasingly oriented toward social problems. The determined efforts to combat the pollution problems in the pulp and paper industry at the moment outweigh other new research efforts. The method whereby pulp is bleached without chlorine, using oxygen, would not have moved so rapidly from laboratory to full-scale operation if it had not been spurred on by the interest in decreasing fresh water consumption and combating pollution.

Let me give at the moment just two examples of the importance of these main trends for the planning exercise: one of a global nature, the other related to tropical forests.

We can still merely guess what types of forests and trees mankind will need a few generations from now. With the advances in genetics it is imperative that the genetic resources of the world be preserved as bases for future options. Exploration and conservation of the greatest possible variation in forest-gene resources are a responsibility which requires planning and action on a large scale. This is a global task which was stressed at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, and FAO will continue to work in this field and commends this work also to your attention.

The second example deals with the risk of not being in the mainstream of development. Tropical forest utilization deals essentially with large trees. If the mainstream of development - for instance, in logging - is centred on problems associated with smaller-sized trees, then now is the time to plan a determined research and development effort for dealing also with large-sized trees. This can best be realized if there is closer cooperation among those countries concerned with tropical forestry.

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment stressed the importance of action in the field of tropical forest management, with a concentrated attack on the marginal land problem and increased attention to forest fire prevention, detection and control. It is recommended that the Environment Fund, to be formally established by the United Nations General Assembly, finance such activities through, for example, the Unesco Man and the Biosphere Programme in cooperation with FAO. No doubt foresters in their respective countries will embrace this important world consensus and provide a spur to the formulation and implementation of national plans and policies for action.

In fact, the FAO Forestry Department's field activities are a mirror of the dynamics already on the move. Our Field Programme now covers 77 countries, which means that practically all developing countries with a forestry potential are included. The nature of the projects which we operate shows an explosion of problems dealing with environmental forestry, including wildlife, forest recreation and national parks management. Our fieldwork in tropical forests has increased by a factor of ten in financial terms over the last three years. In addition to projects dealing with building and strengthening forestry institutions and with education, there are various types of pre-feasibility studies, and here our cooperation with the development banks is rapidly increasing. The total magnitude of the large projects which FAO operates in forestry on behalf of the United Nations Development Programme is shown by the Special Fund contribution, amounting to about $50 million. Our forestry-sector activities within the framework of the World Food Programme have at the moment 27 operational projects with a total World Food Programme contribution of $75 million.

This is a clear demonstration that the foresters of the developing world are capable of having their strategies accepted by the authorities in charge of overall country programming. And the donor countries in accepting the proposals are aware that the forestry sector has many dynamic growth centres to be explored. One may thus confidently draw the conclusion that many more patterns in the forestry sector conducive to social and economic progress are awaiting identification.

HOW MUCH PRIMARY FOREST TO SAVE? an era of environmental concern

2. The modern forester

An excerpt from B.K. Steenberg's report "Forestry in FAO" to the Organization's ad hoc Committee on Forestry in 1969, published in Unasylva Vol. 23, No. 3 (1969).

· It is evident that the many services the forester is called upon to provide in this modern world demand also a modern type of professional. It is possible to spend a considerable amount of time in listing the various disciplines and techniques with which he ought to be familiar. I believe, however, that if I say that he should be a resource manager, and at the same time that he should be development-oriented, I shall have covered the main attributes of the type of professional that is now vitally needed.

By the term "resource" I mean, of course, not only the production forests but also lands which, though they do not at present carry forests of any sort or bear production forests, must be managed to provide many of the nation's products and services: water regulation and control, soil conservation, wildlife and recreation. The word "manager" is also of importance, for it implies a professional who does not see his job as one of passively accepting the results of the interplay of the various forces of nature and of man but one who, being aware of the nation's socio-economic requirements, consciously and deliberately employs-his training and education to bring about the necessary changes, being fully aware of their consequences. To be "development-oriented" means that he must understand the social and economic forces that influence the operation of his own sector of the economy, and its place in national development, fully appreciating that development is an integrated process.

The new forester must also realize that forestry is becoming more and more international. The fact that the problems of soil and water conservation often ignore international boundaries, the need for countries to select and use the accumulated experience and the advances of others, and the necessity for all to appreciate the changing patterns in international markets and in world trade in forest products are well known. However, the international approach is desirable in another area, for the disparity between the two blocs of the world, the more industrialized and the developing countries, is not only reflected in differences in per caput income, in technology, and in the rates of economic growth but, in the field of forestry, in an oversupply of foresters in some countries of Europe and North America, and a dearth of forestry professionals in the less industrialized countries.

This oversupply has come about through the rationalization of forestry and forest industries, the increased use of mechanical appliances, and the centralization of administrations. It seems to us that this situation may be used to the advantage of the developing countries, as a holding operation. It is obviously going to take time to train the considerable numbers of forestry professionals who are needed in the developing countries and, in the intervening period, it may be wise policy for them to utilize, through bilateral and international aid, the manpower that may be available from developed countries.

This will need careful arrangement and control. The foresters who are sent to the developing countries must be scrupulously selected not only on the basis of their professional knowledge, but also, perhaps especially, on their capacity to work in alien societies, on their possible reactions to different peoples, different cultures, different ways of life. For only by an appreciation of the culture, the spirit, and the aspirations of the people among whom they are working will they be able to give the best of their technical and scientific knowledge.

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