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Chapter 7. Forests in protected areas


This chapter summarizes the results of two initiatives to assess the status of protected forest areas as of the year 2000. The UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) prepared an updated map of protected forest areas for FAO based on detailed surveys by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and using IUCN protected area management categories. In addition, industrialized countries submitted statistics on protected forest areas in response to a questionnaire prepared by UNECE/FAO. At the global level, the FAO/UNEP-WCMC mapping project indicates that 12.4 percent of the world's forest area is in protected areas as classified by IUCN. However, there are sometimes discrepancies in statistics reported by different agencies within the same country. Continuous improvement is needed in the assessment approaches used by responsible international organizations and by countries.


In the past two decades, many countries have set aside considerable portions of their forests as national parks or under other categories of protected conservation. The effectiveness of protection and the level of development activity allowed within protected areas have varied considerably. Some countries have suggested that most or all of their forests fall under the protected area status as a consequence of general forestry legislation, but a number of others have held to more traditional views of protection and have included in their reporting only the legally designated protected areas which met international standards.

FRA 2000 prepared an updated report on the protection status of forests at the end of the second millennium.


The FRA 2000 assessment of forests in protected areas was based on a new global map of protected forest areas developed for FAO in collaboration with the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). In addition, industrialized countries reported on protected forest areas in response to questionnaires prepared by UNECE/FAO.

UNEP-WCMC maintains a global digitized spatially referenced database of protected areas which are classified according to the categories established by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) (see Table 7-1) (UNEP-WCMC 2001). The database is updated periodically through the use of questionnaires circulated by IUCN to national and subnational land management agencies throughout the world. The raw data in the UNEP-WCMC database includes all land under protected management status, not just forest land. Hence, the UNEP-WCMC global protected areas map was overlaid with the new FRA 2000 global forest cover map to arrive at an updated global protected forests map (Figure 7-1) showing the locations of forests in protected areas.

A major technical difficulty in this process arose because some of the geographic reference points in the UNEP-WCMC database are single points rather than the actual shape of the protected area. It was necessary to project a circular shape at the appropriate scale of the actual area at the reference point for the site. As a result, a reasonably accurate intermediate map and associated statistics were generated, but the representation for a given protected area will not be accurate. The map indicates only the cross-tabulation of the forest cover and protected area maps, not the actual protection status of the forest.

The map was overlaid on a country boundary map to generate statistics on the proportion of forests in protected areas for each country. Statistics were not generated for countries and areas smaller than 2 500 km2 since the classification accuracy would likely be low for relatively small areas.

The same protected forests map was then overlaid on the FRA 2000 global ecological zones map, and statistics on the proportion of forests inside protected areas were generated for each ecological zone.

Table 7-1. IUCN categories for protected areas as used in FRA 2000



I - Strict nature reserve/ wilderness area

Protected area managed mainly for science or wilderness protection. These areas possess some outstanding ecosystems, features and/or species of flora and fauna of national scientific importance, or they are representative of particular natural areas. They often contain fragile ecosystems or life forms, areas of important biological or geological diversity, or areas of particular importance to the conservation of genetic resources. Public access is generally not permitted. Natural processes are allowed to take place in the absence of any direct human interference, tourism and recreation. Ecological processes may include natural acts that alter the ecological system or physiographic features, such as naturally occurring fires, natural succession, insect or disease outbreaks, storms, earthquakes and the like, but necessarily excluding man-induced disturbances.

II - National park

Protected area managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation. National parks are relatively large areas, which contain representative samples of major natural regions, features or scenery, where plant and animal species, geomorphological sites, and habitats are of special scientific, educational and recreational interest. The area is managed and developed so as to sustain recreation and educational activities on a controlled basis. The area and visitors' use are managed at a level which maintains the area in a natural or semi-natural state.

III - Natural monument

Protected area managed mainly for conservation of specific natural features. This category normally contains one or more natural features of outstanding national interest being protected because of their uniqueness or rarity. Size is not of great importance. The areas should be managed to remain relatively free of human disturbance, although they may have recreational and touristic value.

IV - Habitat/species management area

Protected area managed mainly for conservation through management intervention. The areas covered may consist of nesting areas of colonial bird species, marshes or lakes, estuaries, forest or grassland habitats, or fish spawning or seagrass feeding beds for marine animals. The production of harvestable renewable resources may play a secondary role in the management of the area. The area may require habitat manipulation (mowing, sheep or cattle grazing, etc.).

V - Protected landscape/seascape

Protected areas managed mainly for landscape/seascape conservation and recreation. The diversity of areas falling into this category is very large. They include those whose landscapes possess special aesthetic qualities which are a result of the interaction of man and land or water, traditional practices associated with agriculture, grazing and fishing being dominant; and those that are primarily natural areas, such as coastline, lake or river shores, hilly or mountainous terrains, managed intensively by man for recreation and tourism.

VI - Managed resource protection area

Protected area managed for the sustainable use of natural ecosystems. Normally covers extensive and relatively isolated and uninhabited areas having difficult access, or regions that are relatively sparsely populated but are under considerable pressure for colonization or greater utilization.

Source: McNeely and Miller 1984.
Figure 7-1. Forests in protected areas (in red; other forests in green)


The total extent of forests in protected areas was estimated at 479 million hectares, which is equivalent to 12.4 percent of the world's forest area. As shown in Table 7-2, the two regions of the Americas have a higher proportion of forests in protected areas than other regions. A relatively small proportion, 5.0 percent, of European forests are protected. However, this low figure is explained by the fact that the region's forest area is dominated by the vast forest areas in Siberia, Russian Federation, which for the most part are not officially protected. The results by country are listed in Appendix 3, Table 9 and can be found in the country profiles on the FAO Web site,

Results by ecological domain indicate that tropical and temperate forests have the highest proportion of forest in protected areas, whereas only 5 percent of boreal forests are located in protected areas (Table 7-3).

Results from country responses to the UNECE/FAO questionnaires (UNECE/FAO 2001) are listed in Appendix 3. However, comparison of the country responses and results from the global maps shows considerable discrepancies (Figure 7-2). Several countries have interpreted the IUCN categories more broadly in the FRA 2000 questionnaires than in the IUCN surveys. In particular, in response to the UNECE/FAO survey, some countries reported all of their forest area as "protected" because they have national legislation regarding the management or protection of all forests. Other agencies within these same countries, however, did not report all forests as "protected" when they responded to separate requests from IUCN for information on protected areas.

These discrepancies highlight continuing difficulties in obtaining a consistent approach for comparing forest areas that countries report as being protected. Some of these difficulties were highlighted in an expert meeting hosted by Brazil and the United States in March 1999 as part of the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) process (United Nations 1999). Clearly, more work needs to be done to improve the national comparability of statistics and maps on protected forest areas.

Table 7-2. Forests in protected areas, based on global protected area map developed for FAO by UNEP-WCMC


Forest area 2000

Forest in protected areas

Proportion of forest in protected areas

million ha

million ha















1 039



North and Central America




South America





3 869



Note: Numbers have been calibrated to the total forest area as reported in Chapter 1.

Table 7-3. Forests in protected areas by ecological domain

Ecological domain

Forest area 2000

Forest in protected areas

Proportion of forest in protected areas

million ha

million ha



















3 869



Note: Ecological domains according to FRA 2000 global ecological zone map (Chapter 47). Numbers have been proportionally calibrated to the total forest area.

The proportion of forest under protection is of particular interest to many governments and to civil society. FRA 2000 estimated that in 2000, 12.4 percent of the total global forest area fell in the protected area categories defined by the IUCN, as mapped in the global protected areas map.

The map is comprehensive from a global perspective, although there are gaps for individual countries. Some countries did not release the spatial extent of their protected areas, which made the overlay analysis difficult and required the use of approximations using buffered point data to represent land areas.

The discrepancy between results from the global map analysis and the areas reported by national FRA 2000 correspondents is interesting. Obviously, the interpretation of the IUCN classification and its implementation in the national context vary among countries. It is then not surprising that the definitions of protected areas are still being discussed at the international level. It can be expected that as the international discussions on forest protection continue, the standards for designating and reporting protected areas will converge and the correlation among different ways of reporting statistics will increase. However, there is considerable work to be done by FAO, UNEP-WCMC, IUCN and national agencies to ensure improvement in the comparability of assessments of protected forests.

Figure 7-2. Proportion of forest in protected areas in industrialized countries: comparison of results from UNECE/FAO (2000) and FRA 2000 protected areas map

At the global level, the proportion of forests in protected areas estimated in FRA 2000 exceeds 10 percent, a figure that has been suggested as a minimum target for protected forest areas. However, it should be noted that statistics at the global level may not be representative of the protection afforded to forests in different ecological zones or in different countries. It should also be noted that varying levels of protection are included in the six IUCN categories, and that not all legally protected forests are effectively managed.

Continuous improvement of the baseline information on protected areas is essential to monitor national commitments to nature conservation. This would also provide a framework for monitoring the status of forest ecosystems within protected areas.


McNeely, J.A. & Miller, K.R., eds. 1984. Categories, objectives and criteria for protected areas. In: National parks, conservation and development: the role of protected areas in sustaining society. Washington, DC, IUCN/Smithsonian Press.

UNEP-WCMC. 2001. Protected areas information, 1996. Global protected areas summary statistics.

UNECE/FAO. 2000. Forest resources of Europe, CIS, North America, Australia, Japan and New Zealand: contribution to the global Forest Resources Assessment 2000. Geneva Timber and Forest Study Papers No. 17. New York and Geneva, UN.

United Nations. 1999. Report on the international expert meeting on protected forest areas, 15-19 March 1999, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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