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The management of natural forests in the Asia-Pacific region is at a crossroads. Despite some progress toward sustainable forest management, particularly in the years since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the area of forests that is sustainably managed remains dwarfed by an ever-increasing area of degraded natural forests. Recognition of this challenging problem has grown substantially in recent years, resulting in stepped-up efforts to protect additional areas of natural forests and improve the management of those forests dedicated to timber production.

Reduced impact logging (RIL) is a key component of sustainable forest management and various timber-producing countries in the Asia-Pacific region have recognized its considerable potential. RIL has been tested in numerous countries and applied on a small scale. Its widespread application, however, is constrained by several impediments, including the lack of sound information. Information is inadequate in a number of areas, but is most acute with respect to the economic and institutional implications of RIL.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the USDA Forest Service, CIRAD-Forêt and several other national and international organizations have promoted improved timber harvesting for many years. These efforts reached an important milestone with the organization of the International conference on the application of reduced impact logging to advance sustainable forest management, held from 26 February to 1 March 2001 in Kuching, Malaysia. The conference assessed past and ongoing efforts to implement RIL and considered options for future application.

This publication contains papers that were presented and discussed during the conference. Based on their extensive knowledge, the authors address the most pertinent questions and provide a state-of-the-art overview of current thinking and knowledge. The authors and conference organizers suggest that RIL can significantly contribute to sustainable forest management but also flag the many challenges that lie ahead.

In presenting this publication, FAO and its partners are pleased to continue their support for sustainable forest management in the Asia-Pacific region. We hope that this publication will help foresters and policy makers to better understand the key issues, challenges and opportunities concerning RIL. The recommendations, as debated and drafted in Kuching, are clear. Governments, industry, research institutions, and international organizations need to intensify their support for the adoption and widespread application of RIL. Without such concerted efforts, the future of the region’s valuable natural forests is uncertain.

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