Statistical assessment of forest resources in the Mediterranean region is a far from straightforward task. Only three countries had performed a national forestry inventory by 1990 and, of these, two dated back to 1965. The essential information on forest cover comes from experts' estimations based on national statistics or, at best, from compiling local data. The many problems encountered in Chapter IV, section 3, concerning definitions, classifications and the chronological series of data have not made it possible to make an accurate assessment of the situation, still less to assess the development of the countries' forest resources. Some standardisation of definitions and classifications used by the different countries is needed to allow monitoring of forest resources at the regional level.
To help make up for the lack of reliable information on areas, remote sensing should be used systematically to monitor forest resources, now that the resolution of satellite images (< 1 ha in the case of SPOT satellites) allows very fragmented zones, as is the case with the Mediterranean forest, to be identified and interpreted.
Other data which are indispensable for managing forests in the long term, such as composition in terms of species, volume and biomass, as well as other ecological data, require forest inventories at different levels to be set up - at the forest, district, province and national levels.
Forest resources in the Mediterranean region are under much pressure from the needs of a population growing at the rapid rate of 3 per cent per year on average between 1981 and 1990. The greatest need is that of agricultural land, accompanied by grazing land for livestock increasing at the same rate as the human population. These lands are generally acquired by clearing forest areas in a more or less controlled manner. This dynamic is self perpetuating in that the resumption of erosion and desertification, which generally follow deforestation, justify further clearing.
The process of deforestation and land degradation may only be slowed down by applying a rigorous policy towards:
intensifying agriculture, enabling pressure on forests to be reduced, and degraded lands to be recovered for afforestation;
a control of livestock in terms of numbers and their grazing (intensive vs extensive farming);
long-term management of natural forests, which is all the more important in the light of their small area (0.8 per cent of the total land area) and their high heritage value (Cedrus sp.). This long term planning will have to include conservation, in national parks and other protected areas, for a significant section of the existing forest capital;
high quality yield plantations, in ecologically appropriate zones and sites, using the right seed and genetic material to reduce pressure on the natural forest for the fuel and construction wood requirements of a growing population.
The Mediterranean region possesses a forest heritage which, despite being at the level of a relic today, is nonetheless unique in terms of its biodiversity and socio-economic importance. It is the responsibility of the countries themselves, with the possible help of the international community, to preserve and manage this world heritage which, while not having the same ecological and economic value as the tropical forests, does not require any less attention, particularly when one realises that if the current rate of deforestation continues, these forests may disappear altogether sometime in the next century.