What is Sustainable Forest Management?

It is difficult to explicitly define what sustainable forest management is. However, several recent international meetings have suggested that the following seven thematic elements are key components.

(1) Extent of forest resources;

(2) Biological diversity;

(3) Forest health and vitality;

(4) Productive functions of forest resources;

(5) Protective functions of forest resources; 

(6) Socio-economic functions;

(7) Legal, policy and institutional framework. 

These thematic elements, acknowledged by UNFF, are based on the criteria of the nine on-going regional/international processes on criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, and were acknowledged by the International Conference on Criteria and Indicators in Guatemala in February 2003 (CICI 2003) and by the FAO Committee on Forestry in 2003. In February 2004, the FAO/ITTO Expert Consultation on Criteria and Indicators recognized that these elements are important for facilitating international communication on forest-related issues. The thematic elements are also used in the FAO-led global forest resources assessment (FRA) as a reporting framework.

The following draft descriptions of the seven themes are currently proposed:

1. Extent of forest resources

The theme expresses an overall desire to have significant forest cover and stocking, including trees outside forests, to support the social, economic and environmental dimensions of forestry. For example, the existence and extent of specific forest types are important as a basis for conservation efforts. The theme encompasses ambitions to reduce deforestation and to restore and rehabilitate degraded forest landscapes. This theme also includes the important function of forests and trees outside forests to store carbon and thereby contribute to moderating the global climate.

2. Biological diversity

The theme concerns the conservation and management of biological diversity at the ecosystem (landscape), species and genetic levels. Such conservation, including to protect areas with fragile ecosystems, ensures that diversity of life is maintained, and provides opportunities to develop new products, for example medicines, in the future. Genetic improvement is also a means to improve forest productivity, for example to ensure a high wood production in intensively managed forests.

3. Forest health and vitality

Forests need to be managed so that risks and impacts of unwanted disturbances are minimized, including wildfires, airborne pollution, storm felling, invasive species, pests, diseases and insects. Such disturbances may impact social, economic as well as environmental dimensions of forestry.

4. Productive functions of forest resources

Forests and trees outside forests provide a wide range of wood and non-wood forest products. The theme expresses the ambition to maintain a high and valuable supply of primary forest products, while at the same time ensuring that production and harvesting are sustainable and do not compromise management options of future generations.

5. Protective functions of forest resources

The theme addresses the role of forests and trees outside forests to help moderate soil, hydrological and aquatic systems. This includes to maintain clean water including e.g. healthy fish populations, as well as to reduce risks or impacts of floods, avalanches, erosion and droughts. Protective functions of forest resources also contribute to ecosystem conservation efforts. Protective functions of forest resources have strong cross-sectoral aspects, as the benefits to agriculture and rural livelihoods are high.

6. Socio-economic functions

The theme addresses the contributions of forest resources to the overall economy, for example through employment, values generated through processing and marketing of forest products and energy, trade, and investments in the forest sector. The theme also addresses the important functions of forest to host and protect sites and landscapes that have high cultural, spiritual or recreational values, and thus include aspects of land tenure, indigenous and community management systems, and traditional knowledge.

7. Legal, policy and institutional framework

The theme includes the legal, policy and institutional arrangements necessary to support the above six themes, including participatory decision making, governance and law enforcement, and monitoring and assessment of progress. The theme also addresses broader societal aspects, including fair and equitable use of forest resources, science research and education, infrastructure arrangements to support the forest sector, transfer of technology and capacity building, and public information and communication.

last updated:  Friday, December 5, 2008