Forestry is not about trees, it is about people. And it is about trees only insofar as trees can serve the needs of people. Jack Westoby

1. Introduction

The gathering, analysing and use of information at national and provincial level is strategic in nature. Its use is primarily in developing, implementing and monitoring national forest policies and sector strategies. There are at present serious shortcomings in the supply and use of the information needed for forest policy making in the forestry sector of many countries. The main weakness is often the failure to connect the supply (producer) of information to the demand (user) for it. Little use has therefore often been made of the collected information, and policies, strategies and plans that have been developed are not based on solid information. Much information has e.g. been gathered in many developing countries not because it was needed but because donors were willing to fund inventories, on traditional lines, that were vaguely thought to be potentially useful. This information is usually inadequate, however, on topics such as actual removals of wood and other products, or the usefulness of the forests, especially to the local people.

There are also changing demands for information on forests. Historically, forest inventories focused on those variables of major interest for commercial timber exploitation such as standing stock and increment in timber volume. In the last 20 years, there has been a greater interest among populations in most countries in better understanding a range of other forest values such as biodiversity conservation, water quantity and quality benefits and impacts of forest management, erosion or flood protection, carbon sequestration, recreation, aesthetic, spiritual and wilderness values. In many parts of the world, societies are rapidly urbanising. These urban populations have a different relationship and attitude to forests and are demanding different types of goods and services from them. Native forests are becoming less important for wood production and many countries are looking to produce the bulk of their wood supply requirements from relatively small areas of intensively managed plantations. As a consequence, these broader ¿natural resource management¿ issues: biodiversity conservation, water or carbon sequestration are often now more important to policy makers than wood supply information.

Policy makers also need a broad range of data in order to properly inform forest policy and management decisions. This includes assessments of social and economic dependence of communities on forests, commercial and subsistence uses of timber and non-timber forest products, assessments of forest ecosystems for conservation planning (including factors such as floristics, structure, age classes and disturbance history), recreation, heritage and other cultural values placed on forests in addition to wood supply potential.

These assessments also require new tools that allow integration and analysis of data from different disciplines and sources.

This chapter argues inter alias that the situation cannot be remedied by just improving the information supply side, i.e. introducing or improving national forest inventories and related data gathering. The reason for the shortcomings lies as much on the demand side. Policy processes including the administrative environments that affect the production, flow and handling of information are often inadequate. In the chapter we will elaborate on the questions why inventories are needed (including problem formulation), what kind of information is needed, and how the links between information gathering and policymaking can be improved.