A great international forester, René Fontaine, died on 22 March 2000, in his eighty-ninth year, in Évian-les-Bains, France.
He was born on 30 August 1911 in the same town. After shining in his high-school studies, in 1933 he gained entrance to the Institut national agronomique in Paris, where he obtained a B.Sc. in agriculture. He then entered the École nationale des eaux et forêts in Nancy, where he obtained an M.Sc. in forestry.
He was appointed as a junior forestry officer in Wissembourg, Alsace, but two years later, with the outbreak of the Second World War, was called up to serve with a military engineering battalion and was later captured in northern France. After his release in 1941, he was assigned to Beaune in Burgundy, and was then active in the liberation of his country by the allied armies, starting in 1944.
After the war, in 1946, the French Ministry of Agriculture sent him to work at FAO, which had been established only a few months earlier, on 16 October 1945 in Quebec, Canada. From 1946 to 1951, he was assigned to the European Regional Office in Geneva by the Forestry and Forest Products Division, one of FAO's six technical divisions at that time. One of his tasks during these five years was to organize and repatriate the archives of the International Forestry Centre, an independent unit of the International Agricultural Institute established in Berlin, Germany at the end of the 1930s.
Together with two of his compatriots (Marcel Leloup, who was the first Director of the division, from 1946 to 1958, and Tony François) and other foresters, of whom Egon Glesinger and Jack Westoby were the best known, René Fontaine was thus part of the small team of "founding fathers" who established forestry within the United Nations system in 1946.
When FAO headquarters was shifted from Washington, DC, United States to Rome in 1951, René Fontaine rejoined his forestry colleagues and worked his way up the hierarchical ladder, succeeding Tony François as Chief of the Forest Policy Branch in 1962, and later being appointed to head the Forest Management Branch. In 1970 he became the first Director of the Forest Resources Division, at that time one of the two technical divisions of the Forestry Department (formerly the Forestry and Forest Products Division). He retired in 1973 at the age of 62, FAO's mandatory retirement age.
During his 27 years of work for FAO, René Fontaine laid the foundations for international dialogue in the spheres of forestry policy and management, notably by means of a number of intergovernmental bodies that he helped to establish (the European Forestry Commission and its subsidiary bodies, the Committee on Mediterranean Forestry Questions Silva Mediterranea, the International Poplar Commission, the Committee for Forestry Development in the Tropics, etc.). He was a man of ideas and dialogue who throughout his life promoted a multifunctional approach to forestry management, within the framework of a concept of integrated rural development that reaches beyond a sectoral and production-oriented vision. He played an important role in preparations for the UNESCO Conference on Man and the Biosphere in 1968 and the first UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, Sweden, 1972), which brought environmental problems strongly to light on the global level.
For more than ten years after his retirement, he continued contributing to the development of ideas regarding the management of forests and natural environments, for example helping to draw up a UNESCO report on tropical forest ecosystems, and taking part in the activities of the learned societies and committees of which he was a respected member, particularly the French Agricultural Academy, the Italian Academy of Forestry Sciences and the Scientific Committee of the Vanoise National Park in the French Alps.
A cultured man of great humanity, during his decades in the United Nations system and other international organizations, René Fontaine personified the tradition, knowledge and continuity of a forestry discipline with multiple objectives and which is open to other sectors, other professions and other land uses.
Logging bans: no simple solution for forest conservation challenges
In response to the rapid decline of forest resources, and sometimes in reaction to natural calamities believed to be exacerbated by forest loss (e.g. floods in China, landslides in Thailand), several countries in Asia and the Pacific have imposed total or partial logging bans in an attempt to promote forest conservation. Several other countries in the region have indicated their intention to impose similar bans or restrictions.
An FAO study has indicated that while logging bans are an important tool for avoiding or minimizing the negative consequences of inappropriate forest use, they seldom correct underlying problems of misuse and conventional harvesting.
The study on the efficacy of removing natural forests from timber production as a strategy for conserving forests was presented at the eighteenth session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC), held in Noosaville, Queensland, Australia, from 15 to 19 May 2000. Prepared at APFC's request, the study comprises six country case studies (for China, New Zealand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam) and a regional overview.
The study reveals that the experience in implementing logging bans and harvesting restrictions has been mixed, with successful achievement of objectives in some areas, and disappointment (and sometimes unexpected impacts and results) in others. In all areas, the removal of natural forests from timber production has had significant (and sometimes traumatic) social, economic and environmental impacts. The forest products sector has suffered, and neighbouring countries have experienced negative impacts as a result of both legal and illegal trade, timber smuggling and market disruptions.
All of the case study presentations reveal the great complexity and variability of the issues related to implementing logging bans and other restrictions on timber harvesting. Most logging bans have been imposed to promote concepts of forest conservation. However, most countries have conducted only a minimal degree of analysis of the social and economic impacts of logging bans prior to their imposition. Moreover, assessment of the supporting policies necessary for successful implementation has generally been inadequate.
The case studies highlight the complex array of approaches and methods that have been used in the formulation and implementation of natural forest harvesting restrictions, with varying degrees of effectiveness. It is noted that where the goals and objectives of logging bans are poorly formulated and where related legislation, policy and operational guidelines are inadequately elaborated, subsequent implementation has generally been weak.
Without an adequate conservation and protection policy and appropriate management capacity, the closing of forests that have been open for both traditional communities and commercial harvesting imposes inequities and hardships. The lack of attention to land tenure issues, alternative options for human subsistence, inadequate markets for commercial products and economic disincentives for the community and private sectors to participate in conservation and protection all contribute to continuing abuses and illegal forest activities.
In Thailand and the Philippines, in spite of bans on harvesting in natural forests, achievement of effective protection and conservation remains elusive. Both Thailand and the Philippines have become major net importers of timber since imposing restrictions on harvesting in natural forests, which has led to concern over the harvesting practices and sustainability of harvests in the countries supplying the imported timber.
Forest conservation and protection require much more than simply eliminating or reducing timber harvesting. Total logging bans, if effectively implemented, may buy time to assess long-term goals and objectives, develop criteria and implement sustainable forest management. Temporary logging bans also allow degraded forests a respite from further damage and a chance to recover.
It is, however, difficult to define a single set of conditions for the successful use of logging bans as a strategy for forest conservation. FAO has therefore listed the following preconditions for achieving successful natural forest conservation.
It is clear that a great deal can be learned from the experiences of countries that have been implementing logging bans for several years. It is expected that the APFC study will continue to attract a great deal of attention and will prove useful to many countries struggling with forest conservation issues.
Forest resources of temperate and boreal countries
An assessment of the forest resources of the industrialized temperate and boreal countries, a contribution to the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FRA2000), has recently been completed and presented to the Joint Bureaux of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) Timber Committee and FAO's European Forestry Commission. The report, Forest resources of Europe, CIS, North America, Australia, Japan and New Zealand, which is being published as a Timber Committee study paper, presents the most recent, the best possible and the most comprehensive ever information on the forest resources of the 55 industrialized temperate and boreal countries, covering practically all aspects and functions of the forest. The report is also available on the Timber Committee Web site (www.unece.org/trade/timber/).
The report gives validated national statistical data adjusted to FRA2000 standards, graphs, tabular and textual information and analysis in the following specific thematic areas: forest and other wooded land areas, ownership and management status, wood supply and carbon sequestration, biological diversity and environmental protection, forest condition and damage, and protective and socio-economic functions. It also includes an analysis of the reliability and comparability of the data.
Here are some of the facts that have emerged from the study:
This work has been an immense team effort involving the cooperation of hundreds of people and coordinated by the ECE/FAO secretariat in Geneva. Close cooperation with countries at all stages of the assessment has been an essential prerequisite for the satisfactory implementation of FRA2000.
The publication of the main report is by no means the end of the process. The next phase of the assessment has already been started: the provision of the temperate and boreal forest resources data to the FRA2000 database. These data will be fully integrated into the global data set, with the notes and comments provided by countries. The data will also be published in electronic form (CD-ROM and Internet), and some satellite papers are expected.
The success of the assessment of temperate and boreal forest resources has made it possible to identify areas that need further exploration in the interest of improving knowledge of the world's forests, e.g. protected forest areas. The data will be made available to as many users as possible, so that they can be brought to the attention of other potential users in many countries. The possibility of making the results available in many languages for national audiences is being considered.