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Chapter 5 : Overview of forest accounting

Forest accounts provide a framework for a) linking forest asset (balance) accounts with flow accounts for timber, NTFP and forest ecosystem services in physical and monetary terms; and b) linking forest asset and flow accounts with SNA. SEEA provides a measure of forest values that is more comprehensive than SNA in two respects. First, SEEA forest accounts include both cultivated and natural forests in the asset accounts. Second, SEEA forest accounts attempt to include all forest goods and services, both market and non-market, in the flow accounts. This section begins with a brief discussion of forest goods and services and how they are represented in SEEA forest accounts. It then presents the definitions and classifications used for the forest accounts

5.1 Forest goods and services

Forest accounts address the total economic value of forests, that is, all the goods and services provided by forest ecosystems. Economists divide these economic benefits into several categories, first of all distinguishing between use values and non-use values (Text Box 1.1). The former include direct use values, indirect use values and option values. Direct use values include economic benefits obtained from direct use of the forest, which can be extractive (e.g. timber, fuelwood, edible plants, game and medicinal plants) or non-extractive (e.g. recreation and tourism). Indirect use benefits refer to environmental services provided by forests that are of indirect value, such as carbon sequestration, the provision of habitat to protect biodiversity or various ecosystem protection services such as the ability to reduce soil erosion and the siltation of rivers. Option value refers to the value people may place on maintaining the option to enjoy the direct or indirect use values at some time in the future, including preservation of a natural gene bank.

Non-use values are of two kinds: bequest value and existence value. Bequest value refers to the desire to leave natural capital to future generations. Existence value refers to the benefit obtained simply from knowing that certain wilderness areas, or species, are being conserved. For example, many people will never have the opportunity to see the Amazon rainforest, yet are willing to pay for its preservation.

Wherever possible, all these values would be represented in both physical (forestland in hectares, timber harvested in cubic metres) and monetary units in the accounting framework. Box 5.1 shows the goods and services most commonly included. Because of measurement problems, forest accounts have been limited to use values, direct and indirect. Direct use values include market or near-market goods whose physical volume and monetary value can be measured. Many of these goods either have market prices (e.g. commercial timber) or have prices that can be readily estimated by closely related market goods and services (e.g. own‑account fuelwood, edible plants and game). In principle, these goods should be included in SNA although in practice the estimation of non-market goods and services may be quite limited in some countries. Indirect use of forest services such as for biodiversity protection and hydrologic function are often represented in physical terms only because of difficulties with valuation.


Box 5.1:                 Forest goods and services included in forest accounts


Use values

Examples of goods and services in forest accounts

Direct use values: direct use of forests to extract resources such as timber, tree products, wild game and plants and other non-timber forest products; and the direct use of forests for non-extractive purposes such as recreation and cultural activities


Non-timber forest products

Recreation and tourism

Livestock grazing

Indirect use values: indirect environmental services provided by forests, such as carbon storage, habitat and biodiversity protection, hydrologic function.

Carbon storage

Biodiversity protection

Hydrologic function

Soil protection/stabilization

Option value: value of maintaining the option for use of forest, direct or indirect, in the future.

Not included in forest accounts

Non-use values


Bequest value: value of nature left for future generations

Not included in forest accounts

Existence value: intrinsic value of forest ecosystems, including biodiversity, the value people place simply on knowing that a forest exists even if they never visit it.

Not included in forest accounts



Indirect use of forest services for carbon storage is relatively easy to measure in physical terms and there is some international consensus on valuation. But use of other indirect services, such as biodiversity protection, is represented qualitatively through physical indicators. In the economics literature, a range of economic techniques has been developed to estimate these values, but there is no agreement on valuation at this time, so monetary forest accounts have omitted them.

In the forestry economic literature, quite a bit of work has been done to estimate option value and non-use values. However, these values are rather experimental at the present time; neither SEEA nor any official forestry accounts have attempted to include these values. In future, when there is greater consensus on these values, they may be included.

5.2 Representing forest goods and services in the accounts

Forest accounts consist of the four major components described for environmental accounts at the beginning of this chapter. The representation of forest goods and services in the four components of forest accounts is shown in Table 5.1. Chapter 3 discussed the usefulness of accounts for regions or specific forests; for large countries, like Brazil, with extensive forest values that vary by region, it is especially useful to construct these accounts on a disaggregated level.

Table 5.1:        Components of SEEA forestry accounts

 1. Forest-related asset accounts


Wooded land: land area and economic value by main species, natural and cultivated forestland, available for wood supply or not available, etc.


Standing timber: volume and monetary value of by main species, natural and

cultivated forestland, available for wood supply or not available, etc.

Depletion and depreciation of standing timber

 2.2. Flow accounts: forest goods and services (volume and economic value)


Forestry and logging products (market and non-market production)


Non-timber products



Output of game, edible plants, medicinal plants, etc.


Forest services



Direct intermediate inputs to other sectors, e.g. livestock grazing



Recreation and tourism



Carbon sequestration



Protective services:

    Biodiversity and habitat preservation

    Protective services such as prevention of soil erosion


Supply and use tables for wood products, forestry and related industries


Degradation of forests due to forestry or non-forestry activities, such as defoliation


Environmental degradation caused by forest-related activities, e.g. soil erosion from logging, water and air pollution from wood processing industries

 3. Expenditure on forest management and protection


   Government expenditures

   Private sector expenditures

 4.  Macroeconomic aggregates


Value of forest depletion and degradation


Measures of national wealth, national savings and net domestic product adjusted for forest depletion/accumulation

 Memorandum items  (examples)


Employment, income, exports from non-timber goods and services


Number of households dependent on non-timber forest products


Rights of forest exploitation


Stumpage fees and other taxes or subsidies for forestry and related industries


Manufactured assets like roads, buildings and equipment for forestry, logging, tourism and other uses of forestry


5.3 Definition and classification of forests and wooded land

Forest accounts are based on two integrated assets: wooded land and standing timber. The definitions and classifications of forests in SEEA-2003 as well as the European framework for forest accounts are based on the UN-ECE/FAO temperate and boreal forest resource assessment 2000. The definitions are summarized here; more detailed discussion may be found in SEEA-2003 (UN et al., 2003, p. 341-344) and the Eurostat report (Eurostat, 1999a pp 13‑18).

5.3.1    Wooded land

SEEA-2003 divides wooded land into forests and other wooded land, both excluding land predominantly used for agriculture.

EA.23 Wooded land


&nb sp;

EA.231 Forested land




EA.2311 Forests available for wood supply



EA.2312 Forests not available for wood supply


EA.232 Other wooded land


Forested land is defined as tree crown cover (or equivalent stocking level) of more than 10 percent and an area of more than 0.5 hectares. The trees should be able to reach a minimum height of 5 metres at maturity in situ.

Other wooded land is defined as land with a tree crown cover (or equivalent stocking level) of either 5-10 percent of trees able to reach a height of at least 5 metres at maturity in situ, or a crown cover of more than 10 percent of trees not able to reach a height of 5 metres at maturity in situ and shrub or brush cover. Areas with tree, shrub or brush cover of less than 0,5 hectares in size and less than 20 metres in width are excluded and classified as other land (UN et al., 2003 p. 342).

Although this definition does not cover all land with trees, it has been used so that data may be harmonized at the international level. In implementing forest accounts, countries may choose to revise this definition for more policy-relevant information.

Forested land is further subdivided into forests available for wood supply, even though harvesting may not be occurring at the present time, and forests not available for wood supply, where legal, economic, or environmental restrictions prevent any significant wood production.

Forested land available for wood supply may be further disaggregated by the degree of “naturalness” of the forest, ranging from completely uncultivated to plantation forests. It is important to make this distinction because SNA calculates the production of the forest industry differently for cultivated and natural forests. SNA treats natural growth of cultivated assets as a process of production, and hence it is accounted for as output of the forest industry. Natural growth of non-cultivated forest is, instead, a natural process and therefore not treated as a productive activity. SEEA recommends the FAO classification of forests:

Natural forests - forests with natural species and ecological processes and for which there has been continuity of ecological processes over a very long period of time (the time period of continuity is sometimes quoted as being of more than 200 years but this may not be relevant for all types of forest).

Semi-natural managed forests - management has substantially altered the structure and ecological processes of the forests but growth is still mainly a natural process with no regular and continuous human intervention.

Plantations - forests for intensive fuel or industrial wood production, planted or artificially regenerated and made up of exotic (non-indigenous) species and/or monocultures. (UN et al., 2003, p.343).

Forested land may also be classified by the dominant tree species (constituting at least 75 percent of the tree crown): coniferous (gymnospermae), broad-leaved (angiospermae), bamboo, palms, etc. (gramineae, etc.) and a residual category for mixed forests. Forested land not available for wood supply may be classified by the degree of restriction (for example, using IUCN categories) and by major tree species.

The forested land classification developed by a given country may not include all these sub‑classifications and there may be difficulties in cross-classifications, for example between naturalness of the forest and dominant tree species. More detailed classifications of wooded land may be most appropriate for regional forest accounts, with national accounts compiled for more aggregate classification. 

5.3.2    Standing timber

The definition of the volume of standing timber is

The volume of standing trees, living or dead, above stump measured over bark to the top. It includes all trees regardless of diameter, tops of stems, large branches and dead trees lying on the ground that can still be used for fibre or fuel. It excludes small branches, twigs and foliage. (UN et al., 2003, p.346)

Standing timber is classified in the same categories as wooded land: by availability for wood supply, tree species, naturalness, etc. It also includes a category for trees outside wooded land, which includes trees in areas less than 0.5 hectares in size and less than 20 metres in width, such as scattered trees in meadows and pastures, hedgerows, trees along rivers, in urban areas, etc.

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