Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Toolbox

Forest Protected Areas

Welcome to the Forest Protected Areas Module, which is intended for forest managers and others who want to know more about the planning and management of forest protected areas and their purposes, benefits, governance, challenges, limitations and potential.

The module provides both basic and more detailed information on the planning and management of forest protected areas, links to tools to assist in addressing various facets of forest protected-area management, and case studies on the sustainable management of forest protected areas.

Forest protected areas contributes to SDGs:

Although protected areas have existed for centuries in the form of, for example, game reserves, hunting grounds and sacred sites, the term “protected area” has been used in its current context only since the late nineteenth century. The first national park was created in the United States of America in the 1870s, and the modern protected-area concept spread worldwide in the twentieth century. The early protected areas had somewhat different objectives in different regions: in North America, the first protected areas were mainly about preserving scenery; in Africa, the concern was with game parks; and in Europe, the aim was to protect landscapes. The protected-area concept has continued to evolve as norms, attitudes and values have changed.

There are now many kinds of protected areas, which vary in their level of protection depending on national enabling laws. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines a protected area as: “a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”. This definition is recognized almost universally, and it has been adopted at both national and international levels. Forest protected areas are protected areas in which a significant portion of the area is forested.

Benefits and importance of forest protected areas

Initially, many conservation advocates considered people to constitute a threat to protected areas. Forest protected areas were primarily government initiatives owned and managed by national and subnational governments, maintained and managed by government staff, and funded by annual government allocations. It is now widely acknowledged, however, that, for millennia, indigenous peoples and local communities have played critical roles in conservation through their traditional sustainable resource-use practices and culture-based respect for nature. Such peoples and communities make diversified use of forest products and environmental services and provide exemplary cases of multipurpose SFM.

As this greater understanding of the role of indigenous peoples and local communities has emerged, concepts such as protected-area network design, governance, co-management, sustainable use, and sustainable finance and management effectiveness developed to reflect a more complex view of protected areas and a more accurate view of the environmental services that protected areas provide.

Well-managed forest protected areas generate many benefits for sustainable social and economic development. Forest protected areas play important landscape roles by providing habitat, shelter, food and genetic materials, acting as buffers against disasters, and delivering stable supplies of many goods and environmental services. They will also be crucial in helping species, people and countries adapt to climate change. Forest protected areas should remain free of unsustainable human intervention and thus continue to serve, over time, as a natural storehouse of forest genetic resources, goods and environmental services.