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Press Release 99/06


ROME, 1 March - While forests still cover one-fourth of the planet's land area, the global forest estate continues to shrink at a net rate of about 11.3 million hectares per year. But more and more countries today seem determined to confront the problem, enacting tough new logging regulations, setting aside more forest as protected areas, adopting enlightened management practices, and turning increasingly to recycling and manufacturing efficiencies in wood processing. So states a report released today by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Publication of the biannual State of the World's Forests coincides with the opening here of the 14th Session of FAO's Committee on Forestry (1-5 March). National forest policies, the global outlook for wood products supply and demand, and progress on sustainable management of the world's forests head the committee's agenda.

"There is a global commitment to improve the management of forests," according to the report, and this is resulting changes in management objectives and practices. The area of natural forest that is currently available for wood production is diminishing not only because of deforestation, but also due to the designation of some forests as strict conservation areas. The Philippines, for example, recently banned all logging in old-growth and virgin forests and placed these forests under a national protected area system. In China, a similar ban on timber harvesting in natural forests was imposed in July 1998. In Suriname, 1.5 million hectares of natural forest (one-tenth of the country's total land area) was set aside as a wilderness reserve in 1998. Brazil has announced its intention to put 25 million hectares of rain forest under protected area status. In addition, Brazil, Cambodia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the United States, among others, have recently either banned or severely restricted timber harvesting in primary forests, according to the FAO report.

As the Earth's population expands and demand for forest products and services continues to rise, good forest management will mean balancing the economic, environmental and other functions of forests, says FAO. Environmental concerns have led to greater emphasis on multiple-purpose management of forests, logging bans or reduced timber harvesting intensities, the adoption of operational guidelines and codes of practice for forest management, and greater reliance on forest plantations as sources of wood. The concerns of a wider range of interest groups are being taken into consideration, and local communities are increasingly becoming directly involved in forest management.

The State of the World's Forests takes a detailed look at trends that could affect forests and the global supply and demand for wood between now and 2010. These include the increasing role of the private sector and local communities in forest management, new environmentally sound codes of practice for forest management, growing recognition of the role of forests in moderating climate change, and liberalization of international trade in forest products.

Forest fires had a major impact on global forest cover in 1997 and 1998, according to the report. Few global figures are available on the extent of the fires and associated loss of life, economic damage and environmental impact. But there is no doubt that the number of fires and the land area affected were exceptional. "In 1997, over 2 million hectares of rain forest in Brazil burned," according to the FAO report. In Indonesia, "the fires of 1997-98 burned millions of hectares in Sumatra and Kalimantan. The exact area is still unknown. One estimate is that about 2 million hectares (including savannah with grassland) burned in 1997 alone."

In the same period, fires in Mexico and Central America burned a reported 1.5 million hectares, the FAO report states. These generated large quantities of smoke which blanketed the region and spread into the United States as far as Chicago. Media coverage of the unusually large fires in Indonesia, the Amazon and Mexico increased public awareness of what FAO terms "predominantly man-made environmental disasters" helped to focus public attention on the need to deal with policy issues related to fire outbreaks.

National forestry ministers will convene for a special meeting at FAO on 8-9 March, to discuss sustainability issues in forestry, global action to address forest fires and the need for international instruments to support sustainable forest development.


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