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Lessons learned

The outcomes arising from logging bans are variable

Experiences gained in Asia and the Pacific over the last ten years illustrate the complex and highly variable nature of the issues and concerns involved in adjusting and balancing forest uses. In particular, the case studies indicate that the commonality of imposing a logging ban or stringent harvesting restrictions is accompanied by widely divergent approaches to enforcement of the bans, development of supporting policy and institutional frameworks, provision of transitional assistance, and alleviation of the economic and timber supply impacts of the bans. The diverse outcomes and consequences enable some broad lessons to be drawn from the case studies.

Selected lessons from the country case studies
  • Public expectations and demands have shifted towards the provision of environmental and social values of forests.

  • Logging bans provide an instant and highly visible political response to deforestation, but also create major transitional problems and challenges.

  • Banning timber harvesting does not necessarily equate to halting deforestation or conserving forests.

  • In some instances, issues of tenure, rights of use and access to forests have obstructed the implementation of adaptive measures to logging bans.

  • Assessment of the success of logging bans requires that policy objectives be translated into measurable performance indicators.

  • Principles of equity suggest that the negative social and economic impacts of logging bans should be borne by a broad cross-section of society, which in turn may point towards the need for compensation or adjustment assistance.

  • Logging bans are neither generically meritorious or flawed; their success is dependent on the quality of formulation and implementation, and hinges on firm political commitment.

Changing expectations and demands

Public aspirations for forests have changed

The dynamics of policy adjustments in the Asia and the Pacific region during the past 20 years suggest that public perceptions and values associated with forests have shifted in response to changes in social and economic conditions and enhanced environmental awareness. While forest products and timber-based activities continue to play an important role in national economies, recognition of non-timber and environmental values have increased.

Demands for the expansion of conservation areas have become more vociferous in recent years. The case studies illustrate an outcry against lax forest administration, poor enforcement of regulations and guidelines, the external consequences of careless logging and over-cutting, and the implied disregard of environmental values. Persistent timber harvest abuses, associated with wanton disregard for the environment, ineffective regulation, inappropriate management practices, and wasteful utilization, have increasingly become politically and socially unacceptable in many countries.

Logging bans as a policy response

A number of Asia-Pacific countries have mandated stringent harvesting restrictions as the policy instrument of choice. In several countries, bans have been chosen as a means of circumventing skepticism and misunderstandings regarding the viability of less stringent means of minimizing forest degradation and clearance.

Bans constitute a highly visible political response…

One of the principal commonalities in the implementation of logging bans in the case study countries is that they have regularly been a response to perceived crisis conditions or natural disasters. A dispassionate consideration of moderate and incremental management adjustments has often given way to highly visible top-down political actions. Moreover, adequate planning and lead-time for implementation of harvesting restrictions have largely been absent. This reactionary speed has often contributed to confusion, conflict, and adverse impacts on local communities, rural households and others dependent upon forest harvesting and utilization.

A logging ban in Laos
One of the clearest statements recognizing a loss of faith in forestry authorities to effectively regulate logging is reflected in a Presidential Decree in Laos, which banned logging for a short period in 1991. The decree noted:
…numerous insufficiencies and shortcomings: the forestry sector, other sectors and the administrative authorities have not yet well assumed their roles, the anarchic issuance of logging, wood processing, trade permits and wood concessions in violation of the technics (sic) and regulations have appeared in several localities. Several companies and enterprises have undertaken indiscriminate logging and wood processing in several forms. Moreover, illicit logging, document falsification and corruption of cadres and people also appeared in the wood business circle. Such insufficiencies and shortcomings have caused the forest resources and the environment of our country to meet increasing damage.

Does banning harvesting result in forest conservation?

…but, bans alone are insufficient

Policies need to address inequities created by bans

Timber harvest restrictions alone have not corrected underlying problems of misuse and inappropriate natural forest management. The symptoms of poor forest management and utilization are widely evident in the AsiaPacific region. The actual conditions and issues that create and contribute to deforestation and forest degradation are, however, more difficult to evaluate and correct with practical policy alternatives. A host of povertydriven social problems frequently result in forest degradation. Banning commercial harvesting of timber may, in some circumstances, exacerbate these pressures. Unless there is an adequate framework for subsequent support of conservation and protection activities, the closing of natural forests that have been open for both traditional uses and commercial harvesting imposes inequities and hardships. If policies fail to provide viable alternative livelihoods or if they create economic disincentives to community- or private sector participation in conservation and protection activities, then abuses and illegal forest activities will persist.

Tenure, use rights and access to forests

Public participation in decision-making is a key to success

Ill-defined tenure arrangements, inadequate financial planning, lack of institutional reform, weak conservation management planning, and insufficient public participation in decision-making all constrain more successful outcomes of logging bans. An important change in Asia and the Pacific forest policies during the past two decades has been a shift towards gaining cooperation and participation of local households and communities in forest management. Where participation is effective, local dependencies on forests can be better understood and recognized in strategic planning. Similarly, the active involvement of local people in development activities and conservation efforts can alleviate concerns about employment and income generation. Often, however, governments are perceived to exercise a monopoly on decision-making, while expecting local people to bear much of the burden of forest management and socio-economic impacts.

In all of the case study countries, governments claim ownership over much of the natural forest as well as significant areas of deforested or degraded land that could potentially be made available for new plantation development. Such tenure structure conveys huge responsibilities and opportunities for governments with respect to forest management and development.

The long-term transferability of tenure and use rights is also important as a pre-condition for non-state forest development. Without such rights, and given the long-term nature of forestry investments, the willingness to provide capital and labor for growing trees is constrained.

Well-defined and equitable user rights form a basis for sound forest policy

Most case study countries have made efforts to issue use rights and management authorities to the private sector, or alternatively have privatized some aspects of use. Several difficulties have arisen, however, with respect to rights of ownership or tenure, with governmental regulation of forest management and production, investment, harvesting and marketing of outputs. These difficulties, allied with a shortage of functioning economic systems (credit, finance, transportation, etc.), have meant that in several countries there has been little incentive for private sector participation. As a result, efforts to establish alternative wood supplies or to supplement conservation activities have fallen well short of desired levels.

Obstacles to adaptive measures in Thailand and Viet Nam
A decade of experience in Thailand illustrates the consequences of poor planning, slow institutional response, and the absence of comprehensive strategies for logging ban implementation, conservation management and impact amelioration. Similarly, a high incidence of poverty in Thailand and Viet Nam has resulted in social conflict between local people with traditional forest use rights and the desire for commercial development by the urban elite.
In Thailand, an emphasis on large-scale, industrial plantations has been strongly resisted by local communities and viewed as transferring resource control to powerful (often non-local) elites at the expense of local welfare. At the same time, very limited incentives have been made available to encourage the profitable development of small-scale plantations. The result has been that targets for post-ban plantation establishment have fallen well short of expectations.
In Viet Nam, there is a lack of land in sufficiently large parcels to make plantation operations financially attractive. Limitations on the size of smallholdings allocated to individual farmers restrict the viability of establishing private commercial plantations. In some cases only the poorest or most degraded forestland has been allocated, reserving better land with healthier forest stands for state administration.

Monitoring and assessing outcomes

Effective monitoring and assessment is critical if progress toward meeting the conservation and protection goals of logging bans is to be evaluated. The country case studies show that, generally, only simple measures of land area removed from harvest, or the area legally placed in protected area systems are used as indicators of conservation success. Qualitative indicators of various conservation and protection goals, as well as standards for assessing forest health and stand restoration are largely absent. Improving policy prescriptions requires better monitoring, and this demands that conservation and protection policy goals be translated into measurable performance indicators.

Mitigating social and economic impacts

Provisions for transitional assistance may be needed to support bans

Provisions for compensation and other forms of transitional assistance for those most seriously impacted by logging bans are likely to be fundamental to successfully implement new restrictions. Logging bans often trigger a broad variety of potentially severe impacts that may adversely affect forest-dependent people and those employed by the forest industries. These may include loss of employment and income, and loss of traditional consumption and subsistence use rights. Adverse impacts may also spread to distant production centres and consumer markets, and are likely to affect tax revenues.

Ignoring the negative impacts of logging bans tends to lead to conflict and resentment of government policy, and can unwittingly stimulate illegal activities. Facilitating greater participation by local rural residents in forest planning and operational activities, allied with measures to alleviate poverty can go far towards building consensus, cooperation and support for conservation endeavors. Policies have to be formulated to ensure that the costs of forest conservation are equitably borne by all segments of society.

Incremental versus comprehensive policy implementation

There are important differences between incremental and partial policy changes, such as imposition of a logging ban, and a more systematic and comprehensive approaches. In some instances, crises triggered action after long periods of passive tolerance or neglect. Bans born from crises such as the massive flooding and landslides in Thailand, tend to be incremental, action-oriented steps to deal with immediate problems. Conversely, China's recent logging bans, although also advanced in response to serious flooding, reflect more deliberate planning under the NFCP to comprehensively address the multiple dimensions of change. Regardless of the circumstances and origins of their implementation, none of the logging bans reviewed in the country case studies are isolated actions that were suddenly imposed (perhaps with the exception of Thailand). The underlying problems and concerns were long-term and cumulative.

The success of bans is largely dependent on procedural issues

Timber bans are simply one policy instrument in the spectrum of options and strategies for assuring that forests will continue to contribute to human welfare in the Asia and the Pacific region. Their success or failure in contributing to long-term natural forest conservation and protection does not lie in any generic merit or flaw, but in the quality of formulation and implementation.

Conclusions from the case studies
The experiences in Asia-Pacific countries point towards several conditions that are necessary for successful forest conservation. These requirements are not unique to logging ban policies alone, but rather reflect the broad principles needed for success in all aspects of policy development. They include:
  • the necessity of careful strategic analysis;

  • strong preparation for new policy implementation;

  • recognition of all legitimate interests;

  • provision for addressing adverse impacts; and

  • adequate support and resources to follow through on clear goals and objectives.

The experiences of the countries of the region, including some that have imposed logging bans over a decade or more, provide valuable insight into the questions of “why, how and when” logging bans can be effective. A key conclusion is that logging bans are inherently neither good nor bad as natural forest conservation and protection policy instruments. Logging restrictions are simply one set of policy tools available to decisionmakers within a spectrum of options and alternatives. If bans are adapted selectively and used in combination with other complementary policy instruments, they can help assure that natural forests will be sustained and will continue to contribute to enhancing the well-being of the people of Asia and the Pacific.

Ten necessary conditions for achieving conservation

Achieving natural forest protection and conservation goals is complex and difficult, unique to each country and its resource, social, and economic setting. This makes it difficult to define a single strategy or policy option applicable to all circumstances. From the country case studies, however, it is possible to briefly outline a set of necessary conditions that will contribute to the success of logging bans as a preferred strategy for enhancing natural forest conservation.

1.   Policy objectives and goals must be clearly identified, specific, measurable, and consistent with local forest conditions

Government policies should reflect high-level national goals and objectives, as well as basic strategies or means for achieving those goals. Where natural forest conservation and protection goals are absent or unclear, meaningful implementation is seriously hampered, debate and disagreement regarding intent prevails. Also, the inability to determine the appropriateness of logging bans as a central policy instrument prevents a consensus on operational programs.

2.   Conservation policy goals should be consistent with other forest policies, legislation and operational guidelines

Forest conservation goals should be specific and consistent with other policies

Merely announcing a forest conservation policy is insufficient to achieve desired results. The policy needs to be embedded in legislation and the subject of clear and transparent guidelines and regulations. Existing laws, statutes, directives, and operational regulations and guidelines must be reviewed and amended as necessary to assure consistency and congruence in purpose and prioritization of programs.

3.   Policies should promote stability and be consistent with national policies and guidelines regulating other sectors

Forest policies are an important part of the broader policy framework. They support, among others, macroeconomic goals of economic growth and development, environmental protection, social stability, education, health and public welfare. Forest sector policies must be consistent, and supportive, of higher-level national aspirations and goals. While dynamic in nature, such national policies and goals should avoid as much as possible, abrupt, unpredictable, or continuous changes or re-interpretations. Forest production and conservation are both long-term goals, requiring stability and consistency. Uncertainty regarding public policy, and the associated risks of unanticipated changes, undercut long-term efforts for sustainable management, conservation, and environmental protection.

4.   Institutional reform of forestry organizations should be consistent with new roles and expectations

Withdrawing natural forests from production necessarily changes the functions of forestry institutions. This requires that institutional structures change to encompass these new roles, the acquisition of new skills for staff and the redirection of financial resources. Changing expectations call for greater public participation in both policy and operational matters. While state and cooperative forestry will continue to be widely practiced, joint management, contract agreements, and even privatization of some forestry functions will likely expand with government playing a facilitating role.

5.   The real costs of forest conservation must be recognized and consensus built for sharing of costs

Conserving and protecting natural forests can incur considerable opportunity costs. The imposition of a logging ban often incurs large transitional costs of implementing and enforcing new policies and changing institutional structures and directions. At the same time, logging bans remove a direct source of revenue for forest management. In many instances, local people are ‘encouraged’ to participate in joint forest management. This often results in the costs of forest management being borne by these people — often without adequate advice and support. Policies that ensure adequate resources for conservation and protection, and equitable sharing of costs (and benefits) are required if greater public participation and joint management schemes are to become successful.

Costs and impacts need to be clearly recognized

Changes in natural forest use and management necessarily affect the status quo. Although there may be strong consensus regarding the purpose and objectives of logging bans, there will inevitably be negative impacts on some individuals, organizations, communities, and local government. Without provision of ‘safety nets’ that mitigate negative impacts and provide compensation, issues of equity and fairness may well stall necessary changes. Equitable sharing may require that governments provide retraining opportunities, compensatory payments or rebates, extension funding, or numerous other forms of transitional assistance.

6.   Greater recognition and incentives should be provided to the private sector

Governments have dominated forestry in the Asia and Pacific region, both as policy-makers and operational managers of forest resources. Until recently, only a handful of countries had developed market-based forestry systems with comprehensive private sector involvement. In most countries, governments have retained forest ownership. Broad government control ignores the potential that market-based systems offer to forest management. Markets reward efficiency, penalize inefficiency and provide clear indicators of the various types of forest goods and services that can be economically produced and distributed. Similarly, ensuring secure property rights, equitable participation in forest management, open markets for forest products and investment, and expanded private roles in policy and management decision-making can all make meaningful contributions to strategies for successful conservation, protection and sustainable management.

7.   Land use and forest monitoring, and resource assessments must be given higher priority

The country case studies indicate significant weaknesses in the monitoring and evaluation of conservation and protection strategies, including the impacts of logging bans. Conservation success is largely gauged in terms of the size of area designated for protection, rather than quantitative changes in criteria and indicators for specific conservation objectives. The absence of objective performance measures seriously limits the analysis of policy implementation and weakens the ability to adapt and change policies and strategies as required.

8.   Strong political commitment to practical, long-term policy and institutional reforms and implementation of effective forest management must be demonstrated

Political commitment is important…

Logging bans are implemented generally in response to political pressures for action, following long-term deforestation and forest degradation and/or natural disasters. For bans to be effective, however, governments must demonstrate meaningful long-term commitment to support and sustain new initiatives. Without long-term political support, public consensus, and adequate resources, the efficacy of bans and restrictions is likely to be compromised. Garnering the necessary political support requires that technical concepts and underlying issues that determine appropriate goals and objectives for national forest policies be better communicated to decision makers and the public.

9.   Forest planning and land-use planning should be integrated and conducted as a dynamic process

Land-use planning is a dynamic process, constantly adjusting in response to population pressures and changing social values. The growth of environmental awareness and concern about sustainability are fundamental issues for land-use planning. These indicate a shift in social values away from timber production in favor of greater environmental values. A traditional separation between land-use and forest planning has often resulted in delayed or inappropriate decisions in regard to the scale and mix of forest allocations for protected areas, biodiversity, closed watersheds, and other non-timber values.

10.   Dependencies of local people on forests need to be recognized and people need to be involved in forest management decision-making

…as is public participation

Centralization of natural forest policy and management has often resulted in ‘top-down’ decision-making that can easily ignore or misrepresent interests and concerns of other stakeholders. Often, traditional and customary forest uses conflict sharply with prevailing national sentiments and demands. Reductions in timber harvesting may, in some instances, marginalize forest-dependent communities. Allowing for full community participation in forest planning, policy development, and implementation can provide new perspectives and understandings to both decision-makers and forest users for mutual benefit.


It is recommended that the APFC work with FAO, the international forestry community and member countries to encourage further development of appropriate integrated policy frameworks for natural forests, recognizing the legitimate needs for both production and conservation. These frameworks should reflect the unique conditions of each member country, and should encompass the following key lessons from the experiences with logging bans in the region:

The APFC, working together with FAO and other regional and international organizations, should support and coordinate future efforts to build upon the lessons learned from the case studies. It should also direct efforts towards gaining a better understanding of the following issues impacting natural forest protection and conservation:


Forestry sector needs to be reactive to societies' changing expectations

The issues and concerns related to natural forests — their use, management and conservation — suggest that the forestry sector has often failed to meet the changing demands and expectations of society. Consequences of ineffective past forest policies have sometimes been direct and immediate, such as flooding and sedimentation, or indirect and cumulative such as the loss of endangered species, habitats, or whole forest ecosystems. As a result, public pressures and governmental concerns in several countries of the Asia-Pacific region have reached a point where swift and major policy changes are demanded without a detailed analysis of alternative ways to conserve forests and use them sustainably.

Over the last decade, several countries have resorted to banning any form of harvesting in natural forests — an extreme measure with sometimes unpredictable or unintended impacts. Other countries are contemplating similar actions, along with alternatives such as long-term multiple-use forestry, sustainable forest management, and improved timber practices. It is thus useful to assess the experiences of various countries in the AsiaPacific region for indications of the effectiveness of removing natural forests from timber production in achieving conservation goals. As long as the impacts of logging bans are not better understood, it remains difficult to either promote or reject bans as a policy option.

The experiences of Asia-Pacific countries, including some that have imposed logging bans over a decade or more, provide valuable insight into the questions of “why, how, and when” logging bans can be effective policy instruments. Examination of individual cases reveals that even though logging bans have mainly been political reactions to crises, desired conservation and protection goals have seldom been clearly defined. In actual practice, the operational objective following imposition of logging bans has been to halt logging rather than create and implement new and innovative forms of sustainable management.

Behavioural incentives created by bans must align with objectives

Destructive logging practices may be slowed or stopped by effective bans. But ineffective implementation has often contributed to further deforestation and degradation through the lack of enforcement and control, and through the inadvertent creation of perverse incentives and impacts. Frequently, unanticipated impacts have risen both within the country imposing harvesting restrictions, as well as in neighboring countries or new emerging timber exporters as far away as Africa or South America.

The complexity and number of issues and concerns surrounding natural forests in the Asia-Pacific region suggest that solutions must be specific and based on a comprehensive understanding of the causes of the symptoms of failure observed. Furthermore, the diversity of issues and concerns imply that the desired outcomes from policy changes are also diverse and can be conflicting.

Bans can be both good and bad policy…

A key conclusion to be drawn from the Asia-Pacific experience is that logging bans are neither inherently good nor bad as natural forest conservation and protection policy instruments. Logging restrictions are simply one set of policy tools available to decision-makers within a spectrum of options and alternatives. If bans are adapted selectively and used in combination with other complementary policy instruments, they can help assure that natural forests will be sustained and will continue to contribute to enhancing the well-being of the peoples of the Asia-Pacific.

…but, there are some necessary conditions for success

The experiences of Asia-Pacific countries point towards several conditions necessary for successful natural forest conservation. These requirements are not unique to logging ban policies alone, but rather reflect the broad principles needed for success in all aspects of forest policy development and implementation. These include the need for careful strategic analysis and solid preparation prior to policy implementation. Also necessary is recognition and balanced consideration of all stakeholder interests, and provisions for addressing adverse impacts. Underlying all efforts, there must be adequate support and resources — including political will — to follow through on clearly established goals and objectives.


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