Natural Forest Management
Soil and water conservation
Alaska, Mendelhall glacier with fringing forest ©FAO/Bill Ciesla / FAOThe protective role of forests includes soil and water conservation, which is particularly critical in mountain and coastal forests (including mangroves). The protection of soil and water resources – for example through avalanche control, landslide protection, sand dune stabilization, desertification control and coastal protection – is the primary objective in about eight percent of the world’s forests.
All forests and woodlands, including production forests, play protective roles, to varying degrees, and these roles can often be increased by changes to the management regime. It is not only a matter of maintaining forest cover but also ensuring that the forest is of sufficient quality (for example, has sufficient biomass, biodiversity and health) that it can fulfil soil and water conservation functions.
This might mean that forest owners must forego a certain amount of income or incur higher forest management costs (for example, by avoiding harvesting on critical sites for soil conservation or by introducing less-damaging but more expensive harvesting practices). Nevertheless, the value of forest environmental services to human welfare, health and economies is increasingly being recognized and taken into account in the sustainable management of forests, the restoration of degraded forests and the rehabilitation of areas that have lost forest cover. In some cases, payment schemes exist or could be implemented to help compensate forest owners and managers for providing such services.