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Forestry in the
context of the

F. di Castri

Francesco di Castri is Director of Research
at the National Research Council of France
(CNRS) and Director of the international
programme on Environment in a Global Information
Society (EGIS) of SCOPE-ICSU, the International
Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU).

Forestry represents an economic sector that has had an instrumental role in the establishment of both the agrarian and the industrial societies.

Forest areas have been cleared in order to open agricultural spaces ever since the inception of the agrarian society. Later, fuelwood and charcoal production, timber for housing and ship construction, and grazing in open forests constituted the foundations of that society as sources of energy, food, shelter, transportation and marketing. In the agrarian society, deforestation was mostly linked to the need for more areas for agricultural activities.

Forestry has been equally important during the industrial age: first as a major source of energy for early mechanization processes, later for a variety of supplies and finally, through expansion of the pulp and paper industry, as the source of the physical material for most of the information produced (books, newspapers, magazines). Forest exploitation for chip extraction and fast-growing monocultures of trees, leading to decreased biodiversity, have been the main features of forestry in the industrial society.

What is likely to be the future of forestry in the context of the emerging information society? Will forestry maintain its leading role?

In an age when virtuality dominates over materiality, economic activities in material (e.g. timber) extraction are already diminishing, and forestry will increasingly take on other roles, notably in landscape and ecosystem services

Many factors seem to work against further forestry development. The information society relies mostly on human resources and human culture, and its development depends little on the availability of local natural resources. The immensely expanding flow of information is electronically based, and has no need for material paper-based support. Virtuality now dominates over materiality; and this is an increasingly dematerialized society. Economic activities and job opportunities in material extraction and manufacturing (mining, agriculture, forestry, fishery, industry) are decreasing dramatically, while some 70 percent of the economy and job market depends on services, which are by definition immaterial goods. In terms of international trade, information technology and services represent more than the sum of the three sectors of agriculture (including forestry), textiles and automotive products combined. Tourism, the fastest-growing service, is the economic sector that shows the highest rate of economic elasticity and possibility of further expansion.

This scenario represents the situation in developed countries and among the richer classes in developing countries, but access to information is increasing relatively rapidly even in less affluent societies (in rural southern India, for example). The effects of the transition to an information society will be even more far-reaching (and in some cases rapid) in developing countries than in developed ones. Internet-managed tourism is already one of the most important economic sectors in several developing countries. In Easter Island, for instance, the number of connections to Internet in a population of about 3 000 people has expanded in three years from ten to 200 (a larger percentage than that in most developed countries). Tourism activities are all handled by the local aborigine population, and the standard of living is now higher than in continental Chile (di Castri, 2000).

The traditional role of forestry, including logging, will necessarily remain, although its importance is likely to decrease. Nevertheless, other essential roles for forestry can be envisaged in the new society. Two of these are particularly relevant.

One of the major roles of forestry will be as part of a new vision of rehabilitation, restoration, redesign, architecture and diversification of landscapes, since most existing landscapes will no longer be of interest for agricultural or industrial development. Humans will, however, continue to create, produce and manage landscapes because abandoned unmanaged ecosystems would represent enormous fire hazards. In addition, once equal access to information and the availability of transport increase the comparative advantages of rural over urban areas, a sizeable part of the human population will prefer to live in rural areas in order to escape urban crowding and stress. Many information services and high-technology activities are likely to migrate to rural areas, as has already happened in many developed countries. Furthermore, most international tourism will take place in rural landscapes, including coastal areas and mountains. Tourism is at present the economic sector likely to make the most investments for landscape production and management.

A second role for forestry will be that of maintaining the vital ecosystem services, those that ensure the proper functioning of the bio-geochemical cycles (including the role of acting as a carbon sink to limit climate change). Ecosystem services are also at the base of soil conservation, regulation of the cycle of freshwater (the most precious resource for humans) and, above all, continuation of the evolutionary processes of all species, through opportunities for reproduction, pollination, symbiosis and predation and biological control - all processes that lead to the perpetual dynamics of biodiversity. Viewed in monetary terms, the value of global ecosystem services (e.g. the cost of cleaning natural surface waters and groundwater, ensuring natural biological control of invasive species and plagues, keeping natural spaces for recreation and leisure, and maintaining soil structure and natural fertility) represents nearly double the combined annual gross national product for all countries in the world (Costanza et al., 1997).

Production of new landscapes for the revitalization of rural areas, support to the dynamic economic tourism sector and maintenance of ecosystem services of a physical and biological nature are, in my view, the forthcoming challenges for forestry.


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