Part III Forest development and policy dilemmas

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I. Forests in transition


The world's foresters must have welcomed the 1987 report by the Brundtland Commission, which urged sustainable development, as a long-awaited recognition of their core principle. It is in the context of forestry, after all, that the basic elements of sustained resource management originated many centuries ago. The Chinese grappled with questions of long-term sustainable timber supplies in the fourth century BC. In India and Sri Lanka, rulers began establishing forest reserves, controlling cutting and regulating hunting more than 2 000 years ago.

Western cultures later developed similar protective measures. The Canton of Schwyz in Switzerland passed legislation in 1343 to maintain forests for a constant supply of fuelwood and timber and for protection against avalanches.' In the sixteenth century, German states tried to prevent deforestation by imposing ordinances to regulate wood supplies; laws required households to plant hedges and dig ditches instead of building wooden fences, forced builders to substitute bricks for wood shingles in roofs and regulated charcoal making. Saxony called for all new houses to be built entirely of stone and permitted only designated foresters to decide which trees were to be cut, even in private forests.

Over time, forestry policies and management practices evolved and adapted to changing economic demands, social needs and political circumstances. For centuries, European governments set aside forest reserves to maintain a reliable source of wood for warships. Later, forest management looked on trees as the primary fuel source for the industrial revolution. By the middle of the nineteenth century, European foresters had developed sustained yield practices to balance timber utilization with forest growth. North American foresters then broadened the sustained yield concept to include the conservation of non-timber values and ecological services.

While the term "sustained yield" may mean different things to different foresters, this tradition of managing forests for the indefinite future has remained a guiding principle of forestry thinking. Foresters developed biological models to maximize long-term timber production, pioneered economic techniques for evaluating optimal harvest rotations and introduced an ecosystem approach to sustainable forest management. This experience should provide a model for balancing economic and social demands with nature's productivity. Instead, the competency of foresters to manage and control forest practices is being increasingly questioned and criticized by the public.

A widely held public opinion is that we are "cashing in" our forests; an initial reading of many vital signs does not reassure us that we are doing otherwise. A frequently cited study by the international Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) asserts that fewer than I million ha of tropical forests out of the 828 million ha within ITTO member countries were under sustained yield management in the mid-1980s. FAO estimates that 15.4 million ha of tropical forests were lost each year during the 1980s and that the area of severe forest degradation is perhaps even larger than the area of forest depletion.

The general perception is that commercial logging is the major cause of accelerating tropical deforestation and temperate forest degradation. Critics point to the lack of attention paid to forest values other than timber 6 including the value of wilderness, wildlife, non-wood products, environmental services, ecological linkages and biodiversity. When logging operations conflict with these values, people believe forestry policies favour the timber industry. This discontent about how forests are managed as well as concern for the natural environment are increasing the pressure on governments to develop policies that address the multiple and competing demands on forest resources.

Forests are complex ecosystems capable of providing a wide range of economic, social and environmental benefits. Forests and woodlands are essential for human life, but their benefits and services are valued differently by different people and different groups. Local, national and international interests in forest resources also differ greatly across landscapes. Moreover, the numerous roles that forests are expected to play in local, national and global development change dramatically over time.

These multiple benefits and changing roles in the development process are challenging concepts and institutions that evolved during simpler times when forests were regarded as distant reserves to be managed as sources of public revenue and foreign exchange, treated as reservoirs of new land for cultivation or protected as nature reserves. Today, forests are no longer viewed as being separate in space, narrow in political interest or sectoral in their economic function. They directly affect and are affected by local, national and international concerns.

The roles of forestry (i.e. the knowledge, concepts, institutions and practices through which diverse and competing demands on forest resources are sought) are changing as well. The changes began in the 1970s, when growing awareness of how local communities control and depend on forests prompted efforts to strengthen local stakes in forest management, programmes and activities. New types of cooperative activities emerged between local communities and national governments, including community forestry, farm forestry, joint forest management and small-scale forestry enterprises. These activities highlighted the role of forests in broader rural development and, at the same time, eroded confidence in exclusive state control. Forests became symbols in a larger debate over centralized and decentralized governance.

The importance of forests to local communities led governments, NGOs and donors to consider a variety of rights, obligations, incentives and supports that would motivate people to invest in growing and managing forests. Countries throughout the world paid greater attention to local interests in forests and the capacity of communities to manage them alongside national interests. They explored new organizations, structures, rules and tenurial forms to enhance the productivity of forests, protect environmental qualities and empower rural communities to use forest resources for economic and social needs. As these various interests and objectives were not necessarily compatible, they gradually expanded rather than resolved contentious forest issues.

By the 1980s, countries began to recognize that forests have a global role in the stability of the biosphere, in the maintenance of biodiversity and in the protection of threatened indigenous and traditional cultures. This expanded role placed additional pressures on national governments. While in the 1970s they were compelled to develop better means to work with local communities, governments of the 1980s were expected to act as intermediaries between international interests in forests and local actions and demands for forest resources. Forestry policy-makers searched for ways to balance growing international expectations with the dispersed, diverse activities and needs of households and local communities.

Forests again became symbols in a larger debate; this time the subject was the sovereignty of nations and their right and capacity to govern land, and therefore people, in the national interest. While forests had played an international role as sources of tradable commodities for decades, their role in the provision of nontradable global services now required a much more diverse range of international relationships.

In the 1990s, forests are a primary focus of policy discourse about sustainable development. Despite its message of harmony, the concept of sustainability raises tensions between market-driven economic growth, social pressures for a more equitable distribution of economic opportunities and the need to maintain environmental productivity, ecological services and biodiversity to fulfil future economic and social aspirations. The forces behind these pressures are unlikely to meet their goals without some compromise.

The policy challenge

Society's shifting and sometimes conflicting expectations create difficult policy challenges related to both the forest sector and national development. Earlier centralized and sectoral policies were often motivated by the need to generate revenue and foreign exchange for national economic development. New national development strategies require policies that integrate forests in rural development efforts and that balance economic and environmental needs among national, local and international interests. Moreover, these strategies must acknowledge that forest conditions are a consequence of development, displaying the imprint of competitive uses.

Forest resources are now in the forefront of national policy debate about how to restructure entire economic and political systems as well as how such structural changes can be made consistent with national interests in local action, social and sectoral distribution, international obligations and sovereignty. Today's governments are searching for pragmatic policy frameworks that deal coherently with both the contributions of forests to development and the institutional and organizational structures required to make better use of these contributions.

International organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and research centres are producing important studies aimed at helping policy-makers address these complex issues. FAO, the World Bank, the regional development banks, the ITTO, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWR the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and the World Resources Institute (WRI), among others, are gathering, analysing and distributing information to raise the public's awareness and improve its capacity to respond to forestry problems .

Concern about forestry's evolving roles moved on to a crowded stage at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in June 1992. UNCED highlighted forestry development and environmental issues by developing a set of "forest principles", devoting a chapter of its document Agenda 21 to combating deforestation (Chapter 11) and focusing on the importance of non-wood functions of forests in the biodiversity and climate change conventions. A number of countries have launched specific international programmes to follow up on UNCED forestry recommendations. This broad consensus on principles of sustainable forest management represents the first-ever commitment of responsibilities beyond national boundaries. Turning these principles into practice, however, presents a more formidable task,

Developing effective forestry strategies and policies involves an array of difficult choices. For example, while we know that forest clearing for crops and pasture, overcutting for fuelwood, uncontrolled commercial logging and expanding infrastructure all contribute to deforestation and degradation, the fundamental problem facing policy-makers is how to address the underlying causes, which include poverty, hunger, access to land, a lack of jobs and income-generating opportunities and growing economic demands for forest goods and services.

Ironically, some government policies frequently exacerbate these underlying causes, producing intense and lasting impacts on forest resources. A growing body of literature now demonstrates convincingly that taxes, terms of forest concessions, administered prices, controlled transportation of forest goods, land and tree tenure insecurity, tariff and non-tariff barriers to international trade, investment incentives, agricultural sector strategies and macroeconomic policies all affect economic motivations as well as the management and conservation of temperate and tropical forests. In many cases, these policies directly encourage or unintentionally subsidize deforestation and degradation.

Today, countries are seeking more appropriate economic policies, regulatory mechanisms, financial incentives, organizational structures and tenurial arrangements to promote sustainable forestry practices. In many countries, the search for policies takes place alongside a wider examination of the role of government as regulator of the market place, as landowner and as forest manager. This examination is prompted partly by governments' own need to optimize resource efficiency, and partly by public dissatisfaction with government performance and, in particular, with the performance of forest services and their policies.

The current public pressure on governments for rapid innovation and institutional change is tremendous. The contributions of forests to national development depend on how well this challenge is met.

Purpose and scope

The purpose of this special chapter is to enhance our understanding of how economic and social policies affect forest resources. While it does not attempt to lay out an agenda for action or establish a set of correct policy choices, the chapter aims to raise awareness and inform a full range of professional and public interests so that forest issues can be better understood and appreciated.

Choosing policies to influence and manage forest ecosystems are among the most controversial challenges facing the world community. The political mainstreaming of forestry issues has forced the forestry profession to reassess its knowledge, roles, attitudes, limits, responsibilities and practices, this process has involved productive debates leading to innovative responses to public concerns. Here an attempt is made to encourage further debate, stimulate thinking about the way we manage and use forest resources, promote change and help interest groups recognize that some goals are incompatible, that not all groups can achieve every one of their goals and that, without cooperation and compromise, none may achieve their objectives.

The perspectives and demands of politically diverse groups are proliferating, placing a significant strain on current institutions and policies. The analysis presented here illustrates that macro and sectoral policies are blunt instruments that attempt to encourage behaviour across broad sweeps of land with diverse social and ecological settings. Economic, social and environmental impacts depend not so much on the effect of policies on one forest, but their net effects across these diverse settings. This special chapter stresses the need to view forests from this macro perspective and to map out the ecological potential, social motivations and organizational capacities which provide the basis for judging the net impacts of national policy.

The chapter is organized in five sections. This first section reviews the current state of forest resources and their importance to economies, societies and the environment.

Section II provides an overview of the changing role of forestry in development strategies and national economies. It describes how forests have evolved out of a narrow sectoral prerogative to enter mainstream political interests involving highly diverse groups.

Section III discusses key issues facing policy-makers and examines how economic policies affect forest resources. It reviews the literature examining macro, intersectoral and forestry sector policy implications. This section also introduces the concept of landscape formation models as an example of how to recognize, explain and direct policy interactions that influence how people use forests.

Section IV explores the relationship between forest trade policies, forest management practices and their environmental impacts. The costs and administrative implications of certification schemes for forest products are reviewed and compared.

The final section examines future directions for forestry policies in contributing to sustainable development. It suggests that a major task for governments is to develop national frameworks to deal explicitly with the consequences of their overall policy choices on forests and to establish priorities between forests and other national interests.

The state of forest resources

Forests are classified, assessed, described, mapped, evaluated and studied in a variety of ways. Despite several decades of attempts, no single, widely accepted forest classification system exists. Even common definitions are difficult, in part because nature is not easily compartmentalized, and in part because different cultures, languages, professional disciplines and interest groups view forests from their own perspectives.

Forest assessments estimate the extent and evaluate the condition of various forest zones. Forest vegetation is classified and then divided into these zones based on geographic-climatic features or physiognomic-structural characteristics. Physiognomic-structural classifications combine forest appearance (e.g. open woodland or closed forest) with Vegetative structure (e.g. evergreen or moist deciduous). Each classification has a number of variations which reflect different economic, geographic and biological information. Each approach has its advantages, depending on who is collecting, using and evaluating the information.

Extensive knowledge about forest regions and ecosystems is indispensable to today's foresters, policy-makers and scientists. For instance, forest geneticists have shown that the geographic source of tree seed used to regenerate forests is crucial to their survival, Building this knowledge base, however, is a daunting task. Foresters are asked to provide information about entire forest ecosystems and their internal processes, which can involve thousands of species interacting in a constantly changing environment. Forest ecologists must characterize and classify regions and geographers must delineate them in a way that describes meaningful ecological zones. A recent attempt in Canada resulted in the identification of 5 428 forest ecodistricts.

FAO's first forest assessment, the 1947 World Forest inventory, focused on wood production capacity. Over time, new concerns emerged and the need to evaluate forests for their many other values became more apparent. Subsequent FAO global forest assessments continued to cover wood production capacity but also attempted to capture information about fuelwood resources (1970s), tropical deforestation (1980s) and forest fragmentation, logging intensity, biomass conditions and plantations (1990s). The 1990 temperate forest resources assessment included a review of forest functions by area.

In its most recent resource assessment, FAO estimates world forest area to be 3.4 billion ha, or 26 percent of the earth's land area. FAO's definition of forests includes ecological systems with a minimum of 10 percent crown coverage of trees. in addition to areas classified as forests, 1.6 billion ha contain woody vegetation and other woodlands consisting of shrubs and scrub. Woodlands often have forest characteristics but do not meet the minimum tree cover definition of open or closed forests.

The regional distribution of world forest cover is presented in Figure 9.

Four countries account for more than 50 percent of the world's forests: the Russian Federation (22 percent), Brazil (16 percent), Canada (7 percent) and the United States (6 percent). Table 7 lists the most forested countries in the world according to total land area, proportion of land area and forests per inhabitant.

Figure 9: The world forest cover, 1990 (Thousand ha and percentage of regional total land area); Source: FAO

Some of the least-forested countries have extremely arid climates, for example Algeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Others include countries which were once heavily forested but which cleared most of their original forests for agriculture, human settlement and infrastructure. Examples include Bangladesh, Haiti and the United Kingdom.

Temperate and boreal forests: resources and issues

Temperate and boreal forests occupy 1.64 billion ha, just less than half of the world's forest cover. More than 70 percent of these are located Russian Federation (45 percent), Canada (15 percent) and the United States (13 percent). In general, the aggregate size of temperate forests in industrial countries is stable or even increasing slightly through afforestation efforts. In Europe, the forested and wooded land area increased by 2 million ha between 1980 and 1990.

The temperate zone includes two basic ecological formations: mixed temperate forest and boreal forest. The mixed temperate forests comprise coniferous, broadleaf, deciduous, evergreen and other forest types found in the non-tropical zone and on mountain ranges in subtropical and tropical countries. The boreal forests extend between the arctic tundra and the temperate zones in a circumpolar belt of mainly coniferous trees. The boreal forests are vast; they cover 920 million ha, make up 27 percent of the earth's forest area and contain more than 70 percent of its coniferous forests.

Temperate zone forests are widely recognized for their enormous contribution of global industrial timber supplies as well as for their non-wood products, recreation and environmental services. However, they are often less appreciated for their plant and animal life than the tropical rain forests, even though they contain some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world. North America's redwoods and Douglas firs and Australia's eucalyptuses can grow to almost 100 m, and some bristlecone pines in the southwestern United States are estimated to be more than 4 800 years old. The pharmaceutical value of biodiversity in the temperate zone is also substantial. For example, the Pacific yew contains the chemical taxol, which is an effective medicine against several forms of cancer. A recent study found that 28 percent of Canadian trees have medicinal properties." Box 11 presents an overview of the carbon storage and biodiversity values of temperate and boreal forests.

Table 7: The top ten most forested countries, 1990

Table 7A: total forest area

Country forest cover Total Percentage of land area Hectares per caput
Former USSR 754958 35 2.6
Brazil 561107 66 3.7
Canada 247164 27 9.3
United States 209573 23 0.8
China 127780 14 0.1
Zaire 113275 so 3.1
Indonesia 109549 61 0.6
Peru 67906 53 3.0
Colombia 54064 52 1.7
India 51729 17 0.1


Table 7B: Proportion of total land area

Country Percentage
of land area
Total forest cover Hectares per caput
Suriname 95 14768 36.6
Guyana 94 18416 17.7
French Guyana 91 7997 86.9
Belize 88 1996 11.0
Brunei Darussalam 87 458 1.7
Papua New Guinea 80 36000 9.0
Guinea-Bissau 72 2021 2.1
Gabon 71 18235 15.6
Cambodia 69 12163 1.5
Brazil 66 561107 3.7
Finland 66 20112 4.0


Table 7C: Forest area per caput

Country Hectares
per caput
Total forest cover Percentage of land area
    ('000 ha)  
French Guyana 86.9 7997 91
Suriname 36.6 14768 95
Guyana 17.7 18416 94
Gabon 15.6 18235 71
Botswana 11.1 14261 25
Belize 11.0 1996 88
Central African Rep. 10.5 30562 49
Congo 10.0 19865 58
Namibia 9.4 12569 15
Canada 9.3 274164 27


Forest quality and management issues in the temperate zone. Public concern about how temperate forest resources are managed and used is widespread and growing. 12 Forest quality, health and vitality are the major concerns: interest groups are questioning the ability of current forest policies, management practices and ownership structures to balance forest quality with competing demands for timber, jobs, wildlife conservation, water resources, landscape and recreational benefits.

Attempts to measure and define "forest quality" show how differently it is viewed from different standpoints. To forest industries, the old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest of the United States may be overmature. To conservationists, this forest is the perfect age for a biodiversity reserve. To most vacationers, old-growth forests are aesthetically more pleasing than the cropped rows of even-aged plantations.

The strongest pressure for changing timber management practices comes from groups interested in non-timber forest functions. In Europe, these groups are calling attention to the expansion of intensively managed single species plantations, the afforestation of rare ecosystems and water acidification related to afforestation. North American groups are especially concerned about logging practices, stumpage fees and the rate, level and intensity of timber extraction in old-growth forests. In Canada, land-use planning conflicts over clear-felling and timber concession policy led to a new consultative management approach and the "model forest" programme. Ten model forests cover an area of 7 million ha, in which the most ecologically sound forestry practices are to be used. Each model forest is managed for a sustainable supply of timber, but most also integrate a range of other important functions, including water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, community stability and recreation and cultural and spiritual values."

Logging in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and afforestation of the Scottish flow country in the United Kingdom have led to conflicts over bird conservation. In both countries, the disputes focused on the value of birds as an indicator of the health of forest ecosystems. in both cases, the problem was perceived as a conflict between jobs and birds and between the needs of local communities dependent on forests for employment and the interests of "outsiders" who value the forests' environmental services. Moreover, both disputes showed the high level of importance that forestry issues receive in industrial countries. the President of the United States intervened to resolve the situation in the Pacific Northwest while the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food acted on the problem in the United Kingdom.


In addition to their economic importance, temperate and boreal forests play an important role in biodiversity and the earth's carbon budget - the balance between carbon release and accumulation. Carbon dioxide (CO) is one of the main gases associated with the greenhouse effect. Because a considerable amount of carbon is temporarily stored in forests, they influence the build-up of carbon in the atmosphere, both through emission from fire, decay, harvesting and processing and through their absorption and storage capacity as they grow. FAO's Forest Resources Assessment 1990 documents the continuing expansion of temperate and boreal forest resources, which is leading to increased carbon absorption and storage.

The potential effects of global warming on temperate and boreal forests include changes in tree growth rates, in species composition, in the extent of the effects of fire, pests and disease, and shifts in forest boundaries. Some changes, such as the apparent fertilizing effect of CO. emissions on tree growth, may be beneficial. Others, including the shrinkage of the boreal forest zone from its southern boundary, could be damaging to economies dependent on forests.,

Some boreal forest countries are attempting to minimize the extent of global warming. in Canada, for example, forest managers are being asked to pay more attention to the types of forests logged, the amount of timber harvested and the effects of harvesting on forest soils, as these factors influence the amount of stored carbon. Canada's forests are a net carbon sink, accumulating 45 percent more carbon than they release. To improve the carbon budget further, Canada's policy-makers are examining ways to encourage processing and consumption that maximize the temporal extent of the carbon stored in forests.

With generally fewer tree species per hectare than tropical forests, boreal forests are considered to contain a relatively low level of biodiversity. New information, however, particularly about the soil biota and invertebrates, is encouraging a reassessment of boreal zone diversity. for instance, recent studies reveal that two-thirds of all microorganisms and plant and animal species found in Canada reside in forests.

The forests that regenerate in Canada's boreal zone following harvesting have higher proportions of poplar and birch and lower quantities of spruce and pine. In Sweden, the conversion of old-growth forests to uniform spruce and pine plantations threatens 200 forest-dwelling species of plants and animals with extinction and a further 800 with decline. These include lichens, fungi and invertebrates that depend on dead wood, a rare component in plantations. Some 880 species of beetles depend on dead trees and help to recycle nutrients in the forests. in Finland, more than 50 percent of 1 692 threatened species of flora and fauna are located in the remaining areas of old-growth forests.,'

Wider recognition of these boreal forest values has led to expanding research and protection efforts. Examples include:

The overriding requirement is to increase our knowledge of the ecological systems inherent in unaccessed boreal forests, ascribe values to the non-timber benefits and forest qualities and determine appropriate silvicultural practices from an objective understanding of sustainable forestry.

These two cases illustrate the kinds of problem that temperate forest policy-makers face in balancing competing values and interests, including those values that can be quantified in financial terms and those values that, while providing wider public benefits, as yet have no market.

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