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Forest assessment and monitoring

The point of forest assessment is not information for information's sake. One of the most important objectives of forest resources assessments is to support decision-making for forestry policies and programmes, at all levels - subnational, national, regional and international.

The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FRA 2000) is now completed, but work has already begun on the next global assessment. The expert consultation "Global Forest Resources Assessments - Linking National and International Efforts", known as Kotka IV, brought together international experts in July 2002 to address future concepts and strategies. The articles in this issue of Unasylva are adapted for a wider audience from papers prepared for the meeting. Without going into technical detail, they explore links among assessment and monitoring, national and international information needs, criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, and reporting of forest-related information to international instruments. The technical details can be found on the FAO Web site ( and will be published in the Kotka IV proceedings.

The lead article, by P. Holmgren and R. Persson, provides an overview of the evolution of global forest assessments, and examines the potential scope of future assessments. Forest assessments, once primarily concerned with measuring availability of wood, and later increasingly concerned with forest area and change in forest area, are now moving to address the full variety of benefits from forest and tree resources. The authors highlight the role of country-provided information - and the attendant advantages and disadvantages.

In the next article, C. Kleinn examines new technologies and methodologies for obtaining forest information at the national level. He predicts that evolving technology will continue to improve the accuracy, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of national inventories, although he does not foresee revolutionary changes.

FRA 2000 included a pan-tropical remote-sensing survey to augment information provided by countries. E. Tomppo and R.L. Czaplewski examine the feasibility of extending this type of survey to the entire globe. Their simulation study suggests that high-resolution and very-high-resolution images could meet the needs of an independent remote-sensing-aided global forest survey with an acceptable level of error and moderate costs.

Yet remote sensing cannot provide all the answers. Although field sampling is more costly, certain information can be obtained only from the ground. An article by T. Thuresson demonstrates that field inventory with relatively low sampling intensity can pro-vide information useful for decision-making, at acceptable cost.

The availability of country-level information is a central issue. M. Saket studied information provided by developing countries to FRA 2000 and concluded that insufficient information was available for many subjects considered important for forest policy development. For more than 60 percent of the developing countries, key forestry statistics are based on expert opinion or coarse mapping. For many countries, forest area estimates are the only data available. Tree resources outside forests have generally not been assessed. This article is followed by short articles on the state of forest information in Poland, South Africa and Mexico and examples from seven countries' national inventories.

Granted the limitations in data availability, does FAO's Global Forest Resources Assessment meet the needs of those who use forest information? E. Matthews and A. Grainger interviewed some interested individuals and representatives of organizations about FAO's methodology and findings. Based on the replies, the authors summarize the positive aspects (comprehensive scope; transparent, participatory and collaborative approach) and deficiencies (in terms of accuracy, comparability with earlier reports and consistency of definitions) of FRA 2000, and suggest some future approaches.

In an increasing number of countries, forest stakeholders are involved in identifying comprehensive criteria and indicators which define the constitutuents of sustainable forest management and provide a framework for monitoring and assessing progress towards this goal. C.F.L. Prins examines the possible synergies between the criteria and indicators process in Europe and regional forest resources assessment work.

A.C. Newton and V. Kapos then look at the potential role of biological diversity indicators in national forest inventories. They suggest how biodiversity indicators, drawn from the work of international criteria and indicators initiatives, might be used to provide information on status and trends in forest biodiversity in future global assessments.

Synergy is also sorely needed in national reporting of forest-related information at the international level. Requests for country reporting to international conventions, agreements and bodies have led to a daunting burden for countries. S. Braatz describes efforts and needs for harmonization and streamlining.

Global forest assessments could have a role in reducing the reporting burden. D. Schoene shows how information on forest carbon stock changes from FRA 2000 has been used in climate change negotiations. He points out that coordination is necessary, however, to prevent future discrepancies with information reported by countries to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The last article in the issue reviews the outcome of the Kotka IV meeting, providing recommendations for the future of national and global forest assessments and for linkages between the two.

The major obstacle in meeting national and international information requirements is the continued lack of basic data. FAO will continue its efforts in country capacity building and support to national forest assessments.

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