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29. Policies, strategies and technologies for forest resource protection - William B. Magrath* and Richard Grandalski**

* Senior Natural Resource Economist, East Asia Environment and Social Affairs Unit, World Bank Office, Beijing Tel: ++(86 10) 6554 3361 ext. 2630, Fax ++(86 10) 6554 1686

** Chief Technical Advisor, Law Enforcement Expert, FAO, Cambodia, Tel: ++(855 16) 84 8218, Fax ++(855 23) 21 8739


Forest resource protection in many countries addresses issues from the definition of the forest, to the establishment of the government agencies responsible for aspects of forest policy and management, to the creation of mechanisms for conflict resolution, and other concerns.

This paper is not intended as a guide for the law enforcement practitioner. Instead, it addresses those concerned with overall forest policies and with the place of forest resource protection within them. By presenting forest resource protection as tangible and tractable parts of a broader natural resource management (NRM) and policy system, the paper aims to help further raise the content of policy dialogue and analysis beyond exhortation and accusation.


While it is tempting to call all threats to the world’s forests ‘illegal’, it would be an unhelpful oversimplification to assert that violations of forest resource protection are the only, or even the most important hazards. Even where regulations are violated in the course of forest destruction or degradation, more intricate and elaborate chains of causation, involving poverty, environmental change, competing demands and other forces are also at work. Nonetheless, a law enforcement perspective does have a great deal to offer in understanding forest loss and in offering specific recommendations and interventions. Indeed, there is an enormous and increasing body of evidence that suggests that activities carried out in violation of forest resource protection regulations are important contributors to the global decline of forest resources.

Most activities that can be perceived as violations of forest resource protection are not inherently wrong or bad. Unauthorized logging, land clearance, setting fires, hunting and other potentially unwanted activities may, at some time and in some places, be legal, desirable and even promoted. Where they are unwanted, they acquire their illegality only in reference to violations of specific prohibitions and, in some legal frameworks, after specific judicial determination that they contravene those prohibitions. From a practical point of view, however, the importance of forest resource protection violations can be classified in a number of ways.

Categories of forest resource violations

Logging in breach of a permit, plan or contract, regulation, or law
Wildland arson
Wildlife poaching
Non-timber forest products in breach of regulation, plan, or law

Consequences of forest resource violations

Forest destruction and degradation
Loss of revenue and economic development
Social consequences

At the heart of forest resource protection are such questions as, how does society intend natural resources to be used? who will they benefit? and how is management to be carried out? Before expecting resource managers to enforce resource infractions or violations as a narrow technical function, it is essential that policy-makers consider the whole social, economic and physical setting for resource policy. In particular, sensible resource policy anticipates the incentives facing resource users and the resources available to managers and seeks to optimize the structure of the resource management framework.[48]

As Brunner et al. (1999) suggest, many governments contribute to forest resource protection problems by adopting policies and legislation that are in serious conflict with the fundamental social and physical setting. Resource users act as they do - they log, they set fires, they clear land, they hunt - largely, if not entirely, because it is in their economic interest. The mere imposition of formal legislation, however well intentioned, does not change the basic underlying incentives faced by resource users. Rather, it may simply criminalize people and activities artificially with little lasting consequence on the resource base.[49]

Taken together, all of these considerations yield one of the key lessons to emerge from experience with forest resource violations: use resource policy to avoid, as much as possible, the need for enforcement and especially for public sector assistance. This general principle also leads to a number of subsidiary and related recommendations.


In an important and very real sense, forest protection is needed as a response to an unanticipated policy breakdown and to weaknesses or vulnerabilities in NRM planning. Realistically, even the best policy frameworks will be tested and abused. In anticipation of these abuses, governments need to institute strategies to protect the resource efficiently and effectively from unwanted activities. Enforcement specialists generally identify two major and strategic elements in forest resource protection programs: prevention, and detection or monitoring. Collectively, these seek to discourage unwanted activities.

Prevention: A sound policy framework is a major contributor to the prevention of forest resource protection violations. But going beyond general policy considerations, forest resource protection and violation prevention can be addressed specifically in resource management operations, programs and projects. Particularly critical is prevention at the level of the forest management unit (FMU) and through public education.

Building forest protection into NRM presumes the presence of formal, science-based management programs. The sophistication of forest management plans and programs will vary with the circumstances of particular forests and forest managers and users. Nonetheless, modern standards for forest management typically call for written plans based on serious consideration and determination of management objectives, assessment and inventory of the resource base, projection of management activities, estimation of a budget and resource requirements and provisions for evaluation and plan revision. It is well known, unfortunately, that most forests, especially in the developing world are not covered by plans of acceptable quality. Moreover, few if any standards for forest management planning specifically call for attention to forest resource protection, although infractions might actually be as important a consideration as more standard planning subjects such as infrastructure, harvesting, regeneration or environmental assessment.

Whether it is in the context of revising existing plans or preparing plans from the beginning, forest resource protection at the FMU level begins with an assessment of vulnerabilities. The planner needs to assess practically and realistically what violations threaten the FMU and how these might influence the achievement of the management objectives set for the area.

From recognition of the risks that an area faces, the planner can begin to integrate preventative measures into the overall FMU plan.

Public education and awareness is another aspect of prevention in which government can also cooperate with the private sector and civil society groups such as NGOs. Information campaigns can address the provisions of forest law (ensuring that users are at least informed of restrictions and prohibitions); the justification for restrictions (informing the public, for example, of the damages that restrictions are intended to prevent); and actions, which the public can take to support forest resource protection.

The primary purpose of prevention management is to ensure compliance with laws and regulations designed to promote sustainable forest management and use. Commercial timber and non-commercial forest product management involve ensuring that exploitation occurs only in forests authorized for such use and that within these forests the level, nature, geographic distribution and frequency of exploitation are consistent with the principles of sustainable development.

A second purpose of timber and forest product management is to ensure that the government receives its fair share of revenue generated through exploitation of public resources.


1) Maintain order in forests and protected areas.

2) Increase revenue returns from authorized activities.

3) Prevent damage to forest resources resulting from unwanted resource violations.

4) Meet sustainable yield targets.

5) Involve the public through information and education programs to prevent violations and damage to forests and protected areas.

6) Increase skill levels of forest technicians and forest managers in prevention, detection and monitoring programs.

7) Reduce susceptibility or vulnerabilities that can create opportunities for unwanted activities to occur.


Forest policy and planning should recognize timber and other management measures for forest product protection as a major development goal.

Sale area controls

Proposed transit controls

Government forest resource protection and prevention plan

Sale area

Detection includes planned actions using aircraft and ground monitoring and surveillance personnel to document and report observations to determine where unwanted activity is occurring.

This kind of information is crucial for priority setting and for use in evaluation and feedback into other elements of the forest resource protection program. Detection systems include use of satellites, aircraft, ground monitoring and surveillance personnel to document the location, type, extent and scope of forest resource protection problems occurring in an FMU. As important as the sophistication of the data collection process, are the procedures for data analysis to draw inferences for the rest of the forest resource protection program.

Remarkably, few governments have systematic monitoring programs for forest resource protection. As a result, even the most basic data on illegal activity, which by definition are difficult to assemble, are seldom available to guide priority setting and the allocation of resources. The kinds of information that are needed include the geographic incidence of different infractions, the type of infractions that are occurring and the apparent level of problems. Even highly indirect methods can be used to begin to assess if there might be problems. For example, comparisons of data on a country’s production, consumption and trade in forest products with its trading partners often shows significant disparities between recorded exports and recorded imports. ITFMP (1999) provides an example of the use of discrepancies between production and consumption as estimated by installed processing capacity in Indonesia. These differences can provide one indication of the potential magnitude of the problem. Similar consistency checks are useful in terms of forest revenues and reported harvest. Detection should also involve a process to determine if there are any institutional weaknesses that can create opportunities for infractions to occur. These opportunities can result from inadequate boundary marking, product marking, product measuring, product tracking or an inadequate process of checking for revenue payments.

Monitoring data is also important for feedback and evaluation of the impact and efficiency of forest resource protection programs. Without defensible and realistic baseline data claims to impact cannot be verified and leave the credibility and commitment of forest resource protection programs subject to question. For these reasons, and the relative simplicity and ease with which monitoring systems can be established, systematic detection programs for forest resource protection should be one of the first priorities in a serious forest resource protection program.

Three elements must be present for unlawful removal of timber or other forest products to occur. There must be a means, motive and an opportunity. The means is simply a way to remove the government property without authorization. The motive can be many reasons, but is usually money. It is difficult for governments to have control over either the means or the motive but it can control opportunity. Unwanted activity can occur if inadequate boundary marking, product marking, product measuring and product tracking exist or policies, procedures or laws are not followed. Good timber accountability begins with the planning process and ends when assurances are made that only authorized material is removed from the forest.


It is clear that there are no easy solutions for forest resource protection problems that an FMU may be encountering. Experiences in numerous countries however, point to a number of technologies, in the sense of institutions as well as equipment and hardware that can be employed to facilitate specific forest resource protection functions.

Community involvement: In many ways much of what has been developed as social or community forestry over the last 20 years has been a response to what were at one time perceived as law enforcement problems. Efforts to develop agroforestry, farmer production of fuelwood and other domestic wood needs, and joint forest management in many places have their origins in efforts to develop socially sound ways of achieving forest management objectives that could not be reached through traditional police-style forestry regulation enforcement.

Legal and judicial reform: Laws and regulations sometimes need to be adjusted and revised to make forest resource protection more supportive of desired forest management objectives.

Tree and log marking and tracking: A technology that has attracted considerable attention for log monitoring and tracking is the use of optical bar coding to identify and track logs. These high technology systems are recent refinements to widely known and used log and tree marking and labelling systems. While the new technology offers greater protection against contract violations and can, at some significant costs, provide real-time monitoring of log movements, the basic intent remains the same. Prior to felling, trees to be felled are marked or tagged.

The new computer-based tagging systems aim to strengthen these chain of custody record-keeping systems by reducing the scope for mistakes, and by realistically permitting real-time tracking of log movements.

Remote sensing and global positioning systems (GPS): The rapid development and ease of access to high-quality satellite imagery and to inexpensive and accurate GPS navigation devices greatly increases the possibilities for detecting and monitoring forest landscapes over broad and remote areas. Recent applications in the Amazon and Southeast Asia illustrate the potentials and limitations.

Forest resource protection monitoring programs: When governments encounter forest resource protection problems, there is a tendency for the shear magnitude of information to become overwhelming. A government that is committed to reducing unwanted activities will take steps to utilize the available data to better understand the problems it may be facing.

A serious monitoring program for forest resource protection can be established at minimal cost to enable the routine synthesis of data on unwanted activity by nature of the infraction or violation, geographic concentration, volume or value of the incidents and by other classifications. A standard approach is the development of a computerized tracking system. In such a tracking system all reported incidents are entered routinely into a database following a standard procedure and protocol and all subsequent information and action, including further action needed, recoveries, and fines are recorded and available for recall. This permits analysis of patterns of unwanted activity, the effectiveness and consistency of follow-up and provides an indication of the rigour with which appropriate action is being pursued.

Clearly, a computerized tracking system can only reflect the data provided by the monitoring effort. This also allows a check of the rigour of the forest resource protection system. It is important to note that incomplete reporting can result from several sources, e.g. capacity, skills and commitment. In addition to a willful failure to implement, inadequate training, communications and systems failure are among the possible sources of inconsistency. While understandable, these should decrease as experience with implementation builds. A program of independent monitoring in association with a new computerized tracking system is now in its early stages of implementation in Cambodia using Global Witness as an official independent monitor.

Forest certification: Although not primarily conceived as a means of forest law enforcement, forest certification schemes could contribute to improved forest resource protection in several ways. More directly related to timber harvesting, monitoring and prevention, many schemes call for maintenance of chain of custody controls on logs as a way of excluding the mingling of illegal material with controlled harvests.


While violations of forest resource protection can be widespread around the world, the analysis and experiences summarized in this paper suggest that concerted efforts by governments, communities and international organizations could begin to employ on a wider basis a large number of promising approaches. While there is great variation among the problems, tools and approaches, a number of themes dominate and deserve emphasis. Most important is the extent to which enforcement of forest laws depends upon and must be integral to ongoing science-based programs for natural resource management.

Forest protection needs to be considered as a specific dimension of resource management, one that may need to rise to be on a par with more traditional aspects such as silviculture, harvest planning and wildlife management. While less well documented, there is a body of professional experience and practice that can form the model for development and application. A related conclusion is that the need is not so much for more forest resource protection, as it is for better forest law and policy and for better and more effectively targeted forest resource protection. Moreover, the forest protection effort is not simply measured by infractions, or actions taken against unwanted activities, but by the state of forest resources for which protection is desired.


Brunner, J., Seymour, F., Badenoch N. & Ratner, B. 1999. Forest problems and law enforcement in Southeast Asia: the role of local communities. Paper presented at the Mekong Basin Symposium on Forest Law Enforcement, June 14-16, 1999.

ITFMP. 1999. Illegal logging in Indonesia. By Indonesia-UK Tropical Forest Management Programme. Paper presented at the Mekong Basin Symposium on Forest Law Enforcement, June 14-16, 1999.

[47] This paper is condensed from a more detailed version and provides a summary of key findings on forest resource protection in developing countries based, in part, on the experiences and papers shared at the Mekong Basin Countries Symposium on Forest Law Enforcement held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 1999, and at the WB/WWF Alliance Seminar on Controlling of Illegal Logging in East Asia in September, 2000.
[48] It is interesting to note that much of the natural resource economics and policy literature refers to what are functional equivalents to forest violations as examples of common property or open access problems. In the formal, mathematical dimensions of the literature, enforcement is highly stylized and essentially substitutable, albeit at differing costs, to a variety of other instruments such as taxes. Here the focus is on characterizing enforcement in much more tangible and operational terms.
[49] Many of the case studies of nationalization of natural resources in the policy-failure literature are directly relevant. Some critics use these observations to call for radical re-examination of forest policy frameworks - especially as they relate to questions of forest land tenure, consideration of subsistence needs of the poor, recognition of indigenous or ancestral land rights - and to question the fundamental legitimacy of many national forest policies.

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