Natural Forest Management
SFM for soil and water conservation
Clean stream running through a forest. ©FAO/Julia KellyThe protective role of forests includes soil and water conservation, which is particularly critical in mountain and coastal forests (including mangroves).
Globally, close to one-third of forest area is designated for soil and water protection, and about 40 percent for other ecosystem and sociocultural services. Countries reported increases of 117 million ha for soil and water conservation from 1990 to 2015, corresponding to an average annual increase of 4.7 million ha (FRA, 2015).
Related topics and programmes
Forests help regulate the water cycle, sustain water supply and maintain water quality. Forested watersheds supply approximately 75 percent of accessible freshwater and provide water to 90 percent of the world’s 100 largest cities. Resilient forest landscapes are an integral part of the water supply solution.
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.