Wildlife and timber reserves
The second major grouping of forest sector issues surrounds the question of conservation of forest resources and the related issues of land use. As with all nations, the countries of the Asia Pacific Region face questions regarding the priority of land use in the face of dense populations, generally low levels of economic development and social wellbeing. Land is being converted to alternative, non-forestry uses as indicated by the statistics on deforestation. Cut-over lands are left idle and forests are degraded as local residents seek improvements in daily living if only temporarily achieved by land clearing, gathering of fuelwood, or premature harvesting for a subsistence income or personal local utilization.
Forest land has traditionally been defined based on a combination of current use and biological potential or capacity. Less frequently economic criteria setting priorities for land allocation have been utilized. The process of dynamic land use and periodic changes in the face of changed local conditions and priorities have frequently 'locked in' definitions of "forests" almost to the exclusion of consideration of relative land use values. Forest land use is also closely tied to legal and political issues of land tenure and ownership. Most frequently forest land is considered as a State responsibility, subject to governmental decision-making and control. Less frequently private ownership arrangements are allowed to shape or influence forest use.
A primary issue related to forests in the Asia Pacific Region is linked to the extent of forest cover - often tied to a historic or "planned" target level. Barren forest land, or degraded forests represent a loss of potential productivity and economic gain. Restoring forest vegetation to such lands, and the improvement of stocking or stand conditions is primary in many national forest sector strategies within the Region.
Reforestation has perhaps been driven by commercial timber interests, where achieving high rates of forest growth are central to maintaining or increasing timber harvest and correlated production of forest products. However, forests are increasingly seen as promoting many national and international objectives, including soil conservation, protection of habitats, watershed maintenance, and related conservation and environmental purposes. As noted in this report, the establishment of forest plantations is more frequently related to these objectives for forest cover rather than a strict product or utilitarian purpose. As also noted - in terms of total timber harvest and use, fuelwood remains the leading use of wood throughout the Asia Pacific region, outstripping industrial uses by a wide margin. Strategies for reforestation and afforestation that are purpose-driven with non-timber objectives will in all likelihood grow in importance within the Region, requiring new approaches and means to achieve the intended objectives. At the same time, land use policies may dictate that not all previously-forested lands can be simply assumed to be desirable or necessary for reforestation given land use pressures and other competing land uses. Economic justification for the strategies of reforestation and afforestation need to be clearly established and linked to specific policy objectives and goals, allowing for the potential for competing interests. Prioritization of efforts based on goals will be certainly needed in the future as investment resources will be scarce. Institutional arrangements for reforestation and afforestation will need reexamination in light of changing social conditions and concepts of land tenure rights.
Conservation goals, broadly defined, recognize that certain lands and forests have potentially greater value in non-timber use. Such alternative uses may require mutually-exclusive land allocation, as is frequently done in the case of wildlife reserves, many parks and primitive/wilderness reserves, watersheds, or related areas. Maintenance of habitat for species of endangered wildlife or flora is a growing national and international concern. Strategies and policies to efficiently recognize these interests in the allocation of available forest lands and resources directly impact the nature and level of timber-related activities. Where total independence in use is not required, increased restrictions and constraints on forest management for timber purposes can be anticipated (see discussion of "Sustainability" below). Multipurpose forestry will in all likelihood grow in importance throughout the Asia Pacific region as it has in North America and Europe. The preservation of forest ecosystems and 'wilderness' areas can be expected to rise on government agendas, reflecting both domestic and international concerns about resource conservation.