Deforestation/degradation of forests
Large areas of forest in the Asia Pacific region will undoubtedly continue to be allocated for timber related purposes. A large number of issues surround the future use and management of these lands, however. Management will, as noted above, increasingly be multi-purpose, imposing constraints on how timber objectives are to be pursued. Seven sub-issues have been identified related to this topic.
Forests are increasingly seen as complex ecosystems where the woody tree species are but a part of a more significant whole. Pressures for the maintenance of component ecosystems is widely accepted as legitimate, even at the cost of lower productive efficiency or long term output. To a large extent, the non-conifer forests of Asia Pacific are seen as complex structures systematically undergoing selective degradation for commercial exploitation of the more highly valuable components at the risk of reduced long term biodiversity. As forestry in the Region continues a transition from natural forest exploitation towards sustainable managed forest systems, the role of more uniform managed stands (including the incorporation of exotics) will be questioned. Equity issues surrounding biodiversity maintenance and enhancement can place domestic interests in economic development in conflict with broader international conservation interests. Mechanisms of cost sharing and compensation will likely emerge as major aspects of working out of acceptable international standards and incentives for biodiversity and conservation of forest ecosystems. Working definitions of practical concepts of biodiversity, sensitive to domestic needs, and strategies for setting local, national, regional, and global priorities will confront policy makers at each level.
The degree to which forest management is compatible with biodiversity and preservation of ecosystems will itself become a much larger policy issue. Is a managed forest meaningfully 'diverse'? Are natural systems always 'better'? Biodiversity, if achievable through forest management interventions will certainly differ from conventional approaches oriented towards volume of growth and value maximization over time.
Forest conservation and management in the next century will be headlined by issues of sustainability. Forests in many parts of the world have been approached from the perspective of utilizing or extracting values for society from a naturally accumulated 'stock' resource. A form of 'mining', this approach sought to transform huge accumulations of timber and forest capital to other forms of wealth represented by the diverse forest products menus around the globe. A combination of concerns regarding the long term productivity of forests (however measured), inter-generational distribution of wealth, and trade-offs between commodity and non-commodity values and components of forest system have firmly grabbed front page attention over the past decade and command lead recognition in almost any forum seriously engaged in forestry planning and decision-making. The conversion from natural forest/stock extraction towards man-made managed/production forest remains unfinished and poorly understood around the world in spite of considerable public debate and attention. Numerous major conferences and workshops of policy makers, professionals and the public have highlighted the concerns and fears regarding sustainability.8 "Agenda 21" is now a recognized short-hand for the numerous issues surrounding the concern for conservation of forests and sustainable management. The debate is ongoing regarding definitions and measurement of 'sustainability' in forestry, but the issue is without question central to the future of the forestry sector. Most immediately, resolution of the diverse concepts of sustainability will heighten national sensitivity to concerns about harvest rates and methods, both critical to the continued production, consumption and trade in forest products, and directly linked to this the flow of economic benefits to various producer and consumer groups.
8 The publication "After UNCED: Implementation of Agenda 21 and the Forest Principles in Asia and the Pacific" (FAO, 1995) is an excellent and thoughtful analysis of the issues surrounding sustainability as well as many other policy related issues confronting the Region. This report should be central to any discussion of policy matters affecting the Asia Pacific forestry sector development and planning.
Closely associated with forest management are the many issues surrounding the trends in deforestation (including land use conversions) and degradation of remaining forests. Maintaining a forest land base of high productivity is central to achieving and continuing high level sustainable timber production. The smaller the land base available to the forestry sector the lower the sustainable output that can reasonably be achieved given all other factors and consideration. Likewise, a degraded forest is simply less productive than a healthy, fully stocked, and well protected forest. Excessive pressures for forest utilization in the near term can be 'met' by over-exploitation of current forest stocks, resulting in a longer-term decline in productivity. Forests can be sustained, but only at a reduced level under such conditions. Conditions of land tenure, investment of capital and labor, and distributional issues surrounding forest rents and economic returns over time are central to the infrastructure required for successful approaches to this downward spiral. Divergence between regulation and incentives as strategies for enhancing the role of forest management under such conditions has been only recently recognized as a significant issue. Means of organization and institutional capacity, including participation of local peoples and the private sector, are largely untapped in the Asia Pacific Region beyond the major developed countries. Productive forests, of course, depends upon the scope and purpose of use. "Fully stocked" for timber purposes can be quite different than when fuelwood or soil conservation is the primary objective.
Causes of degradation and deforestation are also critical to dealing with these issues. Institutional arrangements, tenure, beneficiary participation, etc. all create the decision-making environment of those close to the land. Protection of forests, in the broadest sense, is required if maintenance of productive and healthy forest is to be achieved. Many of the contributing causes of deforestation and degradation are external to the forestry sector, including socio-economic variables such as population, population growth, density, levels of economic development, per capita incomes, etc. These factors dictate that solutions and approaches cannot be simple sector based or forestry technology absent the proper identification of the more pervasive causes.