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Forest area covered by management plans: global status and trends

Extracted from the paper “Forest area covered by management plans: global status and trends”, by Mette Løyche Wilkie (FAO, Rome), Hassan Abdel-Nour (FAO Regional Office for the Near East, Cairo, Egypt), Carlos Marx Carneiro (FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, Santiago, Chile), Patrick Durst (FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand), D. Kneeland (FAO, Rome), Pape D. Kone (FAO Regional Office for Africa, Accra, Ghana), C.F.L. Prins (Timber Branch, UNECE Trade Development and Timber Division, Geneva, Switzerland), C. Brown and T. Frisk (consultants), presented at the XII World Forestry Congress.

In the past two decades, new initiatives have stimulated positive changes in forest management throughout the world. However, reliable and comprehensive information on the status and trends in forest management worldwide is not readily available. A recent study by FAO aimed to help fill this gap. It indicated that the area of forest managed in accordance with a forest management plan, irrespective of management objective, has increased in most regions within the past 20 years.

The study was based on information compiled by FAO for the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FRA 2000), supplemented and updated with data provided by countries to the six FAO Regional Forestry Commissions in 2002 and information obtained through a literature search and contacts in individual countries.

For FRA 2000, the industrialized temperate/boreal countries reported on the area of forest managed in accordance with a formal or informal management plan, and they were invited to include forest areas where a decision had been made not to manage them at all. The developing countries, on the other hand, reported on the area of forest managed in accordance with a formal, nationally approved forest management plan. Because of these different definitions, as well as a lack of comprehensive information from developing countries, it was not possible to derive a global figure nor directly to compare the results from industrialized and developing countries. Nevertheless, it was possible to draw a number of conclusions.

All industrialized countries and countries with economies in transition (55 in total) provided national-level information for FRA 2000. The results indicated that 89 percent of forests in these countries were being managed “according to a formal or informal management plan” or had been designated as areas where no active management should take place. As regards trends in area of forest under management plans, a direct comparison with previous estimates was not possible because of slightly different definitions used over time. However, the situation in industrialized countries and countries with economies in transition appears to have remained stable or to have improved over the past 20 years.

As an example, 19 countries in Europe provided information on the forest management situation in the early 1980s, 1990 and 2000. In 1980, 64 percent of closed forests were “managed according to a forest management plan”; in 1990, 71 percent of forests were “under active management”; and in 2000, 95 percent of the forest area was reported to be “managed in accordance with a formal or informal management plan” in these countries.

Although information was available from most of the forest-rich countries of Latin America and Oceania, national information is still missing from quite a few developing countries, including countries accounting for almost 60 percent of the forest cover in Africa and 51 percent of the forest cover in Asia (see Table). Data from the 49 developing countries for which information was available indicate that at least 255 million hectares, or about 12 percent of the total forest area of all developing countries, were covered by a “formal, nationally approved forest management plan covering a period of at least five years” as of the end of 2002.

Regarding trends over time for developing countries, the lack of comprehensive information and the use of different definitions over time makes an analysis difficult. However, a study of 76 tropical countries undertaken as part of FRA 1980 estimated that 42 million hectares of forest in these countries were subject to “intensive management for wood production purposes”. Information received from most of these countries by 2002 indicated that they embraced at least 246 million hectares of forests “managed in accordance with a formal forest management plan of a duration of at least five years”. Most, but not all, of these forests were being managed for wood production purposes.

An earlier study by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) (Poore et al., 1989) estimated that a maximum of 1 million hectares of forest in 17 tropical timber producing countries were being managed sustainably for wood production purposes in 1988. In 2002, more than 141 million hectares of forests in these 17 countries were reportedly “managed in accordance with a formal forest management plan”. This figure includes forests managed for a variety of management objectives, not only wood production. However, 4.2 million hectares of production forests in these countries have now been certified by third parties, clearly indicating gains in area managed over 1988.

It must be emphasized that the total area reported to be subject to a formal or informal forest management plan is not necessarily equivalent to the total area of forest under sustainable forest management. The FAO study does not indicate whether the plan is appropriate, being implemented as planned or having the intended effects. Some areas reported as being covered by a management plan may, therefore, not be sustainably managed, while other areas not currently under a formal management plan may be.

All of the ecoregional processes on criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, except for the Montreal Process, include an indicator on the area of forest covered by a management plan. These processes are expected to help fill information gaps and harmonize definitions for a number of important forest management indicators, permitting more comprehensive future assessments of the status and trends in forest management at the country and ecoregional levels.


Number of countries/areas

Countries and areas with national-level data


% of region’s forest cover













North and Central America








South America









Poore, D., Burgess, P., Palmer, J., Rietbergen, R. & Synnott,T.1989. No timber without trees – sustainability in the tropical forest – A study for ITTO. London, UK, Earthscan.

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