III. Forests in national policy

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Policy choices and forests

Governments tend to deal with forests through programmes and projects rather than as elements of a national system. Forests are nonetheless analogous to other systems of national interest such as infrastructure, education, finance, transportation and energy. Policies chosen to express and serve these interests influence the aggregate quality, composition, distribution and use of a country's forests,

Governments are concerned with several types of national policy interest, including: i) maintaining national sovereignty and a balance in international relations that preserves the discretion of a nation to set its own course; ii) stabilizing socio-economic forces to permit the security, growth and effective use of national discretion; iii) sustaining economic growth; and iv) distributing wealth and power in ways that serve security, equity, stability and growth. Any national policy engages all of these concerns in varying degrees.

In terms of forests, sovereignty is most obviously related to the right to: i) use forest products for export or for import substitution (e.g. for energy, as industrial raw materials, to enhance foreign exchange balances and to reduce dependence on external sources of capital); ii) accept or reject international provisions (e.g. for biodiversity, carbon storage, watershed protection and forest or wildlife management), depending on the relative gains and losses in financial, economic and political terms; and iii) develop a natural reserve system (e.g. to encourage, discourage or channel tourism and its economic and social effects).

Stabilization interests of forests tend to focus on specific needs. For example, rates of forest exploitation are increased or reduced to help avoid excessive fluctuations in economic performance: the forest is used as a treasury to dampen cycles through both subsidies and forced savings, perhaps simultaneously among different groups. Pressure by landless groups for agricultural land or demands for more reliable electricity supplies (which require reservoirs) encourage policies that accelerate forest clearance.

Rapid industrialization may require the preservation of forests for their infrastructural, material supply and environmental stabilization values, or to satisfy the recreational and amenity demands of a growing middle class.

Growth interests include the conversion of forests to other forms of capital, to agricultural land uses, or for immediate income and consumption. On the other hand, governments may expand forests to provide a source of productive capital, infrastructure or renewable fuel to conserve fossil fuels. They may preserve forests to earn future income or obtain capita( for global environmental services or they may enhance educational opportunities and human skills through study, practical involvement or by using forests to finance educational facilities.

Distributional interests of forests relate to policies that: modify access to public forests; redistribute public holdings to private owners or communities; develop cooperative systems of forest management between national and local governments; shift relative subsidies or taxation of farm forestry and other farm products; and change market and industrial structures that determine the amount and distribution of forest benefits.

Forests are closely tied to the overall policy configurations chosen to affect nationwide political, social and economic relations. These policy configurations create different incentives and opportunities for forest use throughout a country. How forests are used in any one location depends on the degree of competition for non-tree uses of land, the degree of access to markets and resources for tree growth, the rights provided to local forest-dependent communities, the cost of alternative sources of forest values and the social basis for the negotiation and enforcement of rules. Such factors reflect the nation's economy and society as a whole as well as the policies a nation chooses to affect them.

The urban, hydrological and jurisdictional preserve models of landscape formation presented in Box 18 suggest means of recognizing, explaining and directing the policy interactions that influence how people use forests. These landscape formation models have close counterparts in national policy models that differentiate the urban or industrial and the rural or agricultural sectors. They provide a basis for examining, comparing and coordinating the effectiveness of policies that otherwise appear to lack a common denominator.


Three broad paradigms of forest transformation are suggested from historical evidence. They are dynamic models driven primarily by urban or industrial development, water development, and enforced public protection of forest boundaries.

The complex urban or urban and industrial mix of demographic density and concentrated economic and political activity i) penetrates a receding hinterland with its roads, markets, administration and technologies; and ii) pulls people and primary products towards it. Land-use and associated forest patterns change because of the opportunities and the controls to which the urban system allows access. The following is one example of a model of the urban system's effects on forest distribution.

The classic hinterland forest - extensive, sparsely populated areas of trees disappears as roads and authorities penetrate it for commerce, settlement and control. Trees rise instead near population centres and along roads, where authorities are strong enough to protect them, where the urban economy creates a slack in land use by attracting farm labour to non-farm jobs and where urban land markets increase their value for nonagricultural ownership.

As the wealth, power and urban base of a nation increases, trees radiate outwards from its population centres and roads to form growing starlike aggregations, between which the gaps are filled in over time. The hinterland forest still recedes, but at a slowing rate. This retreat eventually stops when the growth of non-farm jobs surpasses the growth of the labour force at which point the radial forest approaches and then protects hinterland boundaries by satisfying the needs that would otherwise encourage people to breach them.

During this process, the forest grows first where boundaries are enforceable within homesteads or on lands of wealthier, secure owners and public agencies and on sites where, for ecological or institutional reasons, trees are the sole, the best, or a complementary potential use; the forest grows last where social cohesion and compensatory external powers for protection are absent.

The configurations of policies specific to this system are generally contained within national strategies for industrial and commercial development and for strengthened central and market institutions.

The distribution of water shapes the distribution of trees. The human dynamics that change the distribution of water over space and time also create characteristic forest formations. Water control intensifies production in irrigated areas, "extensifies" or intensifies it in the uplands and stabilizes environmental conditions in the cities. By drastically modifying the relative productive potentials, agricultural opportunities and social organization of land, such changes provoke new distributions of land-use and forest patterns. The following shows the effects of the hydrological system on forest patterns.

Initially, natural riparian forests form patterns that widen on alluvial fans, at river bends and in estuaries and that narrow in steep or straight stretches. The construction of dams and irrigation systems segments these riparian forests and increases the biological, technical and financial opportunities in irrigated areas and for cities that depend on water and electricity imports as well as flood control.

In irrigation systems, people intensify production and, over time, gain a sufficient slack in land, surplus income and social stability to plant and protect trees on their holdings. The forest becomes a net of trees on bunds and paths, with scattered clumps on rises, in seeps and along residual segments of the riparian system.

People in the unirrigated upland areas suffer if irrigated production depresses crop prices. They clear forest for agricultural expansion if land is available, leaving patchy and sprinkled distributions of residual trees; they create high-rise homestead forests if land is scarce, using leaf surface to expand productive area; they migrate to towns and irrigated areas if neither option is possible.

In urban areas, water control permits the expansion of settlement and economic activity. Scattered remnants of natural forest are replaced over time by exotic species in structure-determined patterns of open space, for example yards, parks and streets. The extent of replacement depends on the strength of rural migration, thus partly on the effect of water redistribution on irrigated and upland agricultural opportunities and on relative food prices.

Over time, population densities climb and holding sizes fall in irrigated areas. People form high-rise homestead forests and shift towards horticultural production. Tree lines along bunds and paths break and decline. The forest becomes a pattern of household groves. The original riparian forest is replaced by a forest patterned by households and villages, with weak fringes or clumps of residual trees at the margins of cultivation. The upland forest has become a pattern of scattered remnants and planted groves distributed by household or village.

The configurations of policies specific to this system are generally contained within national strategies for agricultural and water resource development and for strengthened systems of specialized administration in agricultural areas and around hydroelectric facilities.

Exclusive boundaries form land-use and forest patterns around them. This last model shows the complex of forces that seal off areas from incursion in order to maintain sovereign control. Its effects on forests arise from social differentiation of opportunities among groups of people in the region of the preserve. For example:

By closing access to land and its resources, a preserve transfers human needs for land to adjacent areas and possibly into illicit activities. It generally favours those with larger holdings and political power because they are in a better position to capture opportunities that the opportunities preserve creates. It forces others towards forest clearance elsewhere and poaching in the preserve.

The resulting forest pattern has the preserve at its centre; it is a large forest island surrounded by a mix of relatively tree-covered larger ownerships amid general deforestation that leaves feathery patches in less accessible or rocky spots.

Over time, the forest island contracts to the extent that population pressures increase relative to governmental capacities for defence; it is maintained to the extent that cooperative arrangements with the surrounding populace are developed; and it grows if public investment programmes or land reforms are undertaken to enhance the stable economic base for the region.

The configurations of policies specific to this system are generally contained within national strategies for public finance, internal and external boundary control, public regulations and international relations.

Forests are living systems which evolve over time with or without human intervention. These changing forest formations create a kaleidoscopic movement of trees and land uses over space. Understanding the reasons behind these changes provides the basis for predicting the direction and consequences of future changes. Understanding how national policies affect forests provides the basis for achieving desired types of forest formations, including the aggregate contributions they provide, and the required trade-offs with other national objectives. But while the overall economic implications of national policy models are reasonably well understood, aggregate forest landscape formations have been ignored.

Forests and the resources devoted to growing, maintaining and protecting them depend on combinations of many different policies: environmental, energy, land, commodity, trade, industrial and agricultural policies; price, wage, income and investment policies; and the terms of international agreements. The analytical task is to relate policy combinations to forest consequences in diverse conditions and to identify those that are likely to serve local, national and international interests in the best way.

This task is complicated by growing global interests in forest conditions. In environmental matters, national governments increasingly function as mediators between international interests, domestic needs and local actions (as they do in international trade matters) rather than as national authorities over local resources. International cooperation requires reasonable congruence between a nation's choices and the trade-offs involved in cooperation. The task facing policy-makers is to develop national-level frameworks that deal explicitly with the consequences of their overall policy choices on forests and to establish priorities between forests and other national and international interests.

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