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Logging bans have mixed success in conserving forests


Forestry specialists from more than 20 countries attending the FAO Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission, 15-19 May in Noosaville, Australia will be discussing whether logging bans have been successful in conserving forests. Though a partial or total logging ban is a common first-step solution to halting the rapid decline in forest reserves, an analysis of such measures in the region has shown that the results are mixed.

Workers at a timber yard in China, prepare the first harvest from a replanted forest
FAO/16136/Peyton Johnson


A fuelwood seedling nursery in Myanmar
FAO/11263/F.Botts


Clearing land for agriculture is a major cause of deforestation
FAO/10458/A.Wolstad


"In some countries, this approach has been partially successful in curbing the destruction of natural forests," says M. Hosny El-Lakany, Assistant Director-General of FAO's Forestry Department. "In others, the bans haven't had their desired effect and it has certainly made it much more challenging for countries to provide their citizens with wood products."

Forest cover in the Asia-Pacific region declined by almost 3 million hectares per year from 1990 to 1995. As deforestation grows, biodiversity decreases, water quality deteriorates, soils erode and forests' ability to contribute to reducing the build-up of greenhouse gases diminishes. Unfortunately, bans are often established in response to natural disasters, not as the result of a detailed analysis of the best way to conserve forests. As a consequence, negative impacts ranging from loss of employment to increased illegal timber harvesting can occur. A FAO study of six countries in the region highlights many of the major issues influencing the success of logging bans in conserving forests.

Timber production restrictions are most successful when accompanied by strong supportive policies. In New Zealand for example, natural forests have been placed under a separate administration that institutes policies and provides operational support and staffing. This has allowed natural forests to shift from production to conservation status. As plantations mature, reduced harvesting is allowed on private natural forests. Sri Lanka has been successful in restricting timber harvests by shifting to alternative supplies from non-forest home gardens, plantations and imports. The country has been aided in its efforts by the availability of suitable land and incentives to grow timber on non-State plantations.

China is in the early stages of introducing logging bans, and their progress is being closely watched. In the past China's reliance on natural forests for timber production led to widespread over-harvesting and environmental degradation. The current strategy is to pursue a technique of forest-zoning. In the first step of this approach, forests are temporarily closed to harvesting so an evaluation can be made on the current health and future needs of a forest. The ban remains in place in the worst affected areas so that forests can recover, while limited harvesting is allowed in other zones using reduced impact logging (RIL) techniques. At the same time, plantations are increased to ensure future timber supplies.

Viet Nam is also starting on the road to forest conservation as part of a national programme to reforest five million hectares of forest. If successfully implemented, the initiative will shift timber harvesting from natural forests to newly established plantations. Until plantations are able to meet the country's industrial and fuelwood needs, however, funding and other transitional incentives will be critical.

Unfortunately, a lack of appropriate regulatory measures in Thailand and the Philippines has made it difficult for officials to enforce long-existing logging bans. And since policies to counteract reduced timber supplies have not been instituted, the two countries have become major net importers of timber, causing concern that problems relating to over-harvesting of forest reserves have been transferred to neighbouring countries, not resolved.

Natural forest protection and conservation requirements are extremely complex and unique to each country and setting. However, some general principles emerge from FAO's study that can be helpful in guiding future policy in the Asia-Pacific region.

  • The real costs of forest conservation must be recognized and consensus must be built for public sharing of the cost burdens of conservation management.
  • "Safety nets" should be provided for individuals, communities and institutions that are disadvantaged by policy changes, accompanied by strategies for creating new self-sustaining opportunities for the future.
  • Greater recognition and incentives should be given to the private sector and market institutions through enhanced land-use rights, more secure tenure, increased private decision-making and participation in forest management.

Conference participants will also be examining the progress made on Forestry and the Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding commitment to observe a set of regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change. Another important issue, certification and forest product labelling, will be considered in a special seminar during the five-day meeting.

15 May 2000


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