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The IUFRO position on sustainable management of tropical forests

IUFRO policy and research issues
Definitions for sustainability - Sustainable management
Sustainable forest management and global initiatives: IUFRO's role
Rational management of tropical forests
IUFRO initiatives and scientific contributions

Heinrich Schmutzenhofer
IUFRO Secretary
International Union of Forestry Research Organisations
Vienna, Austria


IUFRO is an international, independent organization promoting international cooperation and forestry research. It is a non-political union, but it is a political element in the development of world forestry. It maintains links to international initiatives; its International Council issues Congress Resolutions and Declarations to be submitted to governments and different organizations.

IUFRO does not provide a special definition for sustainable forest management, but carries the definitions of sustainability as expressed in the broad sense of the Helsinki Process. A position with reference to the national management of tropical forests was individually elaborated and adopted by the IUFRO Executive Board. All functions of forests and forestry are considered, the protective as well as the productive ones. The importance of sustainability, of all functions of forestry and of biodiversity was fully acknowledged.

The need for and the meaning of a research network like IUFRO and the scientific output were referred to; so were IUFRO's positive contributions to gain and disseminate scientific results as presented.


IUFRO is a non-profit, non-governmental, independent, non-political, international organization, legally a registered association, which was established in Germany in 1892. It is non-discriminatory in its practices and seeks solely to promote scientific cooperation. Its mission is to promote international cooperation in forestry research and related sciences. IUFRO's vision aspires to bring together scientific knowledge on all aspects of trees and forests for the sustainable use of forest ecosystems.

A series of goals and objectives helps to implement the mission and forms part of IUFRO's strategy. At present IUFRO counts 720 member institutes with together approximately 15.000 scientists in 115 countries of the globe. In the IUFRO Structure, there are more than 250 working units in six divisions covering all fields of forestry and forest products research led by approximately 650 voluntarily contributing office holders.

As a research organization IUFRO shall not draw up policy but shall issue Congress Declarations to advise governments of participating countries and to present IUFRO's position. The declarations should provide publicity on IUFRO, serve as a tool for research directors for political purposes and be guidance for the Union.

Forest scientists of IUFRO have a role in advising on policy formulation and in solving problems that inhibit the achievement of such policies, IUFRO's forest scientists are involved in national and international agencies and in various political initiatives. They express their personal views and the position of their employers. Position statements of IUFRO are issued only by the International Council of the Union or after agreement of this supreme, legislative organ of the Union.

IUFRO policy and research issues

The Declaration of the XIX IUFRO World Congress issued in its Considerations (IUFRO 1990) that the importance of the world's forests and trees have dramatically increased to humankind. Forests are essential to the economic, social and environmental well-being of all citizens of the world. Forests and trees contribute to the conserving of soil and water resources; to an essential supporting role for agriculture; to ameliorating local and global climates; to providing carbon sinks important to intervention strategies in global climate change; to enhancing urban and rural aesthetics; to serving recreational and spiritual requirements; to meeting food, fuelwood, fiber and medicinal needs of people; to international trade of important diversity thereby providing a legacy for future generations.

The 1986 IUFRO World Congress in Ljubljana recognized the problems of air pollution and tropical deforestation. IUFRO responded through special programmes. Air pollution and deforestation continue to be major issues. Since then, there has been a dramatic increase in concerns for the sustainability of forests, the role of forestry in socio-economic development, the impacts of global warming on forests, the effects of forests on global warming and the status of forests among changes in land uses.

These concerns over the use, management and protection of forests, their productivity and their many values lead to an unprecedented urgency for developing and applying new professional and scientific knowledge. Interactions among such pervasive issues as global climate change and air quality, on the one hand, and temperate and tropical forests of the world, on the other, are inadequately understood. Increased knowledge of both the biological and physical aspects of forests as well as socio-economic policy and cultural dimensions are essential.

Forest science and the forestry research institutions are central to resolving the complex issues facing forestry. Globally, the capacity for forestry research has not kept pace with the growing magnitude of the problems. In many developing countries it has actually declined.

Forest science becomes even larger and more complex as forestry links to agriculture, the environment and sustainable economic development. Science will focus increasingly on tropical forests. Especially important is the need to coordinate the numerous forestry research activities among developing countries and to increase cooperation with ongoing programmes in agriculture. The expanding task now recognized for the conservation and management of forests brings great urgency to the work of IUFRO and world forest science.

It therefore was recommended to governments, to international development agencies and forestry research organizations, to encourage international cooperation and coordination of research addressing needs identified in the Tropical Forestry Action Programme. Further because of the implications of air pollution, climate change, and deforestation, to encourage initiation, expansion and redirection of basic and applied research concerning the role of forests. IUFRO urges that the building, strengthening and maintaining of institutions for forestry research, and the education of new scientists receive urgent attention. Further, that the international forest science community is obliged to inform others of scientific findings and their implications for forest practice and for public information. IUFRO's Divisions, Programmes and Task Forces have a particular role in addressing this need. IUFRO encourages forestry scientists to participate in and support the decision processes in forestry issues.

Definitions for sustainability - Sustainable management

"Sustainable management" and "sustain-ability" are old and traditional forestry terms! They are now in worldwide use in all kind of policy issues and of course again in forestry.

The first definition (1713) for sustainability refers mainly to productivity, but already Hartig's definition of 1804 includes "benefits" which certainly means more than wood productivity (Schmutzenhofer, 1992).

IUFRO agrees to the ITTO 1992 definition and signed the Helsinki Resolution in 1993. That implies the acceptance of the here republished Helsinki definition of sustainable management in the broadest sense, including all mentioned functions of forestry and forestland.


1713, Hans Carl von Carlowitz, Silvicultura Oeconomica, expressed concern for the future of European forests and presented silvicultural methods to increase forests productivity (Paavilainen, 1994).

1804, G. L. Hartig: "Every wise forest director has to have evaluated the forest stands without losing time, to utilize them to the greatest possible extent, but still in a way that future generations will have at least as much benefit as the living generation" (translation from German)

1992, ITTO: "Sustainable forest management is the process of managing permanent forest land to achieve one or more clearly specified objectives of management with regard to the production of a continuous flow of desired forest products and services without undue reduction of its inherent values and future productivity and without undue undesirable effects on the physical and social environment."

1993, Helsinki Conference: "Sustainable management means the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in such a way, and at a rate that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfill, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems." (Paavilainen, 1994)

"Many foresters individually or collectively are asked to provide professional or 'official' definitions of sustainable forest management and to provide guidelines for its achievement and assessment. However, with such a wide range of forest types, management objectives and political systems, it is difficult for IUFRO to obtain consensus, even among professionals. The Executive Board of IUFRO felt that it should not attempt to produce a consensus statement on behalf of IUFRO but rather to publicize activities and views to familiarize IUFRO members with the initiatives currently in progress, thus facilitating their interventions in whatever national processes are open to them." (Burley, 1994)

Sustainable forest management and global initiatives: IUFRO's role

The following is based on the paper by J. Burley (1994) published in IUFRO News.

A number of initiatives are in progress to seek criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management and, although official attempts will be made to bring these together for UNCSD, foresters and scientists should seek their own individual and collective ways of influencing the UNCSD decisions through these processes. IUFRO and its individual scientists have a key role to play in bringing to the attention of policy-makers all the available management experience, published information and ongoing research while indicating urgent new research needs for future management of forests for all their benefits. The success of all these efforts will clearly depend on the capacity of national institutions to carry out the desired research, development and management work as well as seeking the political support.

International Initiatives

IUFRO officials participated in and contributed to the following initiatives.

Bandung Initiative. The Global Forest Conference, Bandung, Indonesia, February 1993, called on world leaders, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and other agencies to act immediately to develop, enhance and strengthen global partnerships and to work towards attaining sustainable forest development. It appealed to the UNCSD to accord forestry the highest priority.

Helsinki Process. The second Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe was held in Helsinki in June 1993. It reviewed progress since the first conference in Strasbourg, December 1990, to control forest degradation and to implement UNCED decisions on forest conservation and development. Ministers committed themselves to initiate action consistent with the "Forest Principles" and this has become known as the Helsinki Process. There were four "Helsinki Resolutions" of which the first two sought guidelines for sustainable management of European forests and the conservation of their biological diversity. A first Expert Level Follow-up Meeting in Geneva, June 1994, adopted a list of 6 European Criteria and 27 Most Suitable Quantitative Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management. It also initiated action on several of the Strasbourg and Helsinki resolutions, some of which specifically referred to IUFRO.

Delhi Declaration. The Forestry Forum for Developing Countries (FFDC) is composed of developing member countries of the FAO Committee on Forestry. The First Ministerial Conference of the FFDC, New Delhi, September 1993, called on national and international agencies to enhance support for forests, their benefits and beneficiaries.

Montreal Process. Under the aegis of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), a seminar of experts on Sustainable Development of Boreal and Temperate Forests, Montreal, September 1993, produced two summary documents on environmental and socio-economic criteria and indicators of sustainable forest development. At a follow-up meeting in Washington, DC, December 1993, European countries indicated they would continue to work within the Helsinki Process, while Canada initiated an informal meeting in Kuala Lumpur, April 1994, that established an informal Working Group on Criteria and Indicators for Conservation and Sustainable Management of Temperate and Boreal Forests. This Group also met after the meeting of the Indo-British Initiative described below. It was agreed to seek convergence with the Helsinki Process criteria and indicators.

US-Japan Keystone Meeting. A further meeting was planned for non-European temperate and boreal forests in Washington State, late in July 994.

Malaysia-Canada Initiative. The Intergovernmental Working Group on Global Forests (IWGGF) met in Kuala Lumpur, April 1994, and covered five issues including criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. A second meeting is planned for Canada in October 1994.

Indo-British Initiative. The Indian and British governments hosted an international workshop in New Delhi, July 1994, with representatives of 39 countries and several international agencies. They produced a Draft framework for reporting to the third session of the Commission on Sustainable Development in 1995.

FAO Ministerial Meeting. This is being planned in conjunction with the regular meeting of the Committee on Forestry. It will allow the international forests community to bring together the conclusions of all the other initiatives prior to the UNCSD consideration of forestry in 1995. It is essential that this meeting is well informed by the profession and that the Ministers are encouraged to influence their environmental ministerial counterparts who lead their national delegations to UNCSD. It should be noted that the UNCSD has invited FAO, the United Nations' specialized agency responsible for forestry, to play a leading role in preparing the papers for UNCSD's consideration of forestry. FAO's regional forestry commissions will also be preparing meetings at which contributions to the process will be made.

CIFOR International Dialogue. The Centre for International Forestry Research (Indonesia) convened 45 individual specialists in November 1994 to review experience, sources of information and research needs related to sustainable forest management.

Rational management of tropical forests

The following part is taken from the Discussion Paper by J. Whitmore (1994). J. Whitmore is Coordinator of IUFRO Division 1, Forest Environment and Silviculture. The paper was adopted by IUFRO's Executive Board and authorized for publication as an official document.

The Division Coordinator stated: "There is divergence of opinion within IUFRO and elsewhere, over the protection, management, silviculture and utilization of tropical forests. Although tropical deforestation is associated mainly with clearing for agricultural purposes, improper logging practices are also a factor. Considerable pressure is exerted by preservationists to prevent harvest of products, especially wood-based ones. Those in favour of unrestricted harvest of the resource are equally vocal. Countries with tropical forests develop their own policies but these are often ineffectual because of opposing pressures from both within and outside the country. IUFRO, a non-political organization, represents a major portion of the worldwide scientific expertise on forest research issues, tropical or otherwise. Research is a fundamental element of forest management. The following is an attempt to summarize one IUFRO officer's view on rational management of tropical forests. This phrase, as used here, refers to sustainability of the ecosystem, including all of the desired socio-economic benefits that derive from it.

"1. The health and productivity of tropical forests are of vital interest to both local people and to present and future generations worldwide. This is directly tied to the well- being of the people who reside near or in the forest. We cannot successfully address the one without the other.

"2. Decision-makers must base their decisions on the need to maintain healthy and productive forests for future generations, the need to produce from them a wide range of products and benefits, whether wood or non-wood, and the need to satisfy human necessities by careful management of the forest.

"3. Once a standing forest is recognized as more valuable than a felled forest, the standing forest will be protected by those who consider themselves as beneficiaries. Local people generally benefit from conserving the forest and its capacity to produce. Rational use must be practised at the local level.

"4. The conservation approach to forest management provides local people both with the benefits they require and a sense of ownership in the process and a sustainable, long- term policy for the benefit of future generations. The preservation approach often severely restricts access to large areas and quells the spirit of stewardship. Under such conditions, local people tend to ignore restrictive policies and extract forest products with no regard for future generations, nor for forest regeneration.

"5. Biodiversity values should be a consideration in the management of any tropical forest. However, some sites, chosen as representative of a nation's various ecosystems, need to be protected with maintenance of biodiversity being the main objective. The number, size and shape of protected sites are researchable questions and much has been done, but these are determined mainly by the extent of the nation's geographic diversity. These sites are not used for commercial or subsistence level products, but the vast majority of forests are left available for such use under management, and for biodiversity values.

"6. Whatever the objective, even when wood harvest is not a goal, forests need to be managed. Silviculture is a principal management tool in maintaining a healthy, vigorous forest at the desired state of productivity.

"Properly applied silviculture leads to renewal of the forest, which often requires cutting, and if possible, harvesting of trees. However, any wood harvest should be conducted in a way that will maintain site productivity and biodiversity, and promote regeneration of a new forest.

"7. Historically, not much of the world's tropical forest resource has actually been managed. There is a growing awareness of the need to manage these complex systems in order that they do not disappear.

"8. Given international interest in tropical forest resource management, tropical nations should seek and take the lead role in developing bilateral and multilateral agreements which could augment their own management efforts. Given the universality of much scientific knowledge and experience, no nation should need to manage their forests in isolation.

"9. With deforestation rates high in most tropical regions, many sites are available for plantation silviculture. Research on renewal of productivity to degraded sites is one of the most pressing needs. We know very little about how to manage such sites economically. Conversion of healthy, standing forest to plantations is a practice to be strongly discouraged. Productive plantations on previously deforested or non-forested sites offer important options for conservation of natural forests and forest biodiversity.

"10. Research is also needed in intensive silviculture (plantation) of native species, and in optimizing the utilization of tropical forests, for both wood and non-wood products. Mixed-species plantations, whether native or exotic, can become an important option based on local-level research.

"11. Successful extensive silviculture by natural regeneration often requires carefully controlled logging as a silvicultural tool. To be successful, controlled logging must include directional felling to reduce damage to regeneration, creation of small gaps or clearcuts to enhance regeneration, and extraction by low-impact techniques. Again, research is needed to ensure that harvesting is carried out in a way that will promote successful regeneration.

"12. We need to learn more about which forested sites might succeed for sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry, to avoid inappropriate conversion of lands. Research is also needed to answer questions on plant-animal interactions, mycorrhizal associations, regeneration processes, and biotechnology applications.

"13. There are a variety of views on the best way to reform the trade in tropical timber, ranging from complete boycotts to labelling. It is my view that boycotts will not contribute to conservation of the forest resource. Indeed, they may lead to elimination of the ability to manage forests, and to deteriorating forest health. Initiatives such as ITTO's Target 2000, or other stewardship and labelling programs, seem more likely to succeed in fostering forest conservation. We urge ITTO to strive to achieve the Target 2000 goal, as one part of the solution of the pervasive problem of tropical deforestation.

"14. However, very little of the tropical forest cut is traded internationally. Attempts to conserve tropical forests must address more than international trade. Much conservation will depend on encouraging national governments and local peoples to use the forest in nondestructive ways. IUFRO has a role in this process where knowledge and skills are lacking.

"15. Much of the tension between conservation and utilization reflects the issue of long term benefit vs. short term gain. Forestry is a profession which, of biological necessity, must take the long as well as the short term view. Compromise on the part of both preservationists and harvesters is necessary if conservationist objectives are to be realized.

"I do not pretend that there are simple or immediate solutions to the issue of sustainable management of tropical forests: quite the contrary. However, the above may serve as a common-ground starting point. Research is a fundamental element of forest management. With both on-going research and sound management practice leading to new discoveries, and with increased education and communication at all levels, I expect to see major advances in this area during the next few years. Indeed, some successes are already beginning to appear."

IUFRO initiatives and scientific contributions

IUFRO launched several initiatives to enhance the situation of forestry research by means of the establishment or the cooperation to achieve new entities, organizations dealing with forestry research in developing countries.


At the XVII IUFRO World Congress in Kyoto, Japan, 1981, a Congress Declaration was passed in which an active role of the Union with reference to improving assistance and forest science for developing countries was considered urgent. The SPDC - Special Programme for Developing Countries - was thereafter established and became operational in 1983.


IUFRO cooperated and took part in the establishment of FORSPA, the Forest Research Support Programme for Asia and Pacific, based in Bangkok, Thailand, at the Regional Office of FAO.


Together with FAO, IUFRO helped launch the establishment of a forest research programme for dry zone, subsahalian Africa.


IUFRO was one of the contributing entities for the establishment of the Centre for International Forestry Research in Bogor, Indonesia.

Red para America Latina y el Caribae

IUFRO initiated the establishment of a Latin American and Caribbean Information System Network, a special regional activity to enhance cooperation, communication and information exchange for forestry research institutes in the mentioned part of the world.

As far as the scientific contributions are concerned, IUFRO released new publications and amended its structure of research units especially for the developing world.

IUFRO World Series in Different IUFRO languages

Vol. 1 - Multilingual Vocabulary of Forest Management
Vol. 2 - Forest Decimal Classification, A Trilingual Short Version for Librarians
Vol. 3 - Forest Decimal Classification, German Long Version
Vol. 4 - Forest, Climate Change and Air Pollution, Task Force Report
Vol. 5 - IUFRO International Guidelines for Forest Monitoring (English and Spanish)

IUFRO Occasional Papers

To disseminate articles or reports to the public; in different IUFRO languages, 4 volumes up to now.

Proceedings of IUFRO Meetings and Conferences

The Union organizes approx. 60 meetings annually, 20% thereof are held in developing countries. The Proceedings are available at the IUFRO Secretariat and from the organizers of the meeting. IUFRO World Congress Reports and Proceedings are sent free to IUFRO members.

IUFRO Structure

The IUFRO Structure counts now 28 Working Parties dealing with scientific matters and issues of the Tropics.

IUFRO World Congress

The XX World Congress, Tampere, Finland, 1995, had the theme "Caring for the Forest: Research in a Changing World". In technical sessions, in interdivisional sessions and in subplenaries important issues were dealt with, referring also to tropical forestry.


IUFRO is an international, independent organization promoting international cooperation in forestry research and related sciences. Its mandate is to promote and support forestry research. The International Council is the legislative and supreme body of the Union, the organ that releases Congress Resolutions and Declarations and can carry political issues. Such issues are forwarded to governments, to intergovernmental and other organizations.

IUFRO is not a political agency, but per se it is a political element in developing world forestry. Beside all scientific activities, it is considered important to maintain links to ongoing processes and international initiatives through a modest official representation.

IUFRO has participated in most of the activities of the international community and contributed to processes in favour of developing rational, sustainable forest management, of ensuring improvement in biodiversity and minimizing negative impacts like air pollution, global warming and similar to forestry in all aspects. IUFRO intends to play a key role in world forestry.

IUFRO tries to act as the conscience of forestry considering scientific aspects. It provides a platform for scientific conferences, publishes and disseminates research results and searches for positions also in the rational management of tropical forests.

IUFRO aims to improve its research network and to enlarge its structure by creating interdivisional and interdisciplinary Research Groups and by Task Forces. A special sponsorship for scientists in developing countries to participate in the network is provided through the SPDC.

IUFRO supports the rational, sustainable management of tropical forests through its network of institutions and individual scientists competent in most issues. It is an initiative of collaborative research to solve current and potential future problems and it provides technical expertise for the implementation of research results, taking into account the status and appropriateness of current technologies.

IUFRO recognizes all functions of forests, like those mentioned in the definition for sustainability in the so-called Helsinki Process, the Conference for the Protection of Forests in Europe.

IUFRO recognizes that the productivity of tropical forests is of vital interest to local dwellers and all mankind; research into such fields is supported.

IUFRO supports research to improve plantation forestry with native and introduced species and the enhancement of environmentally approved harvesting operations.

IUFRO organizes interdivisional conferences and World Congresses to enable scientists to present research results and to offer a discussion forum to bring about a better understanding of different forms of forestry and research.

Literature Cited

IUFRO, 1990. XIX World Congress, Montreal, Canada, 1990, Report A. pp. 93-99, IUFRO Secretariat, 1131 Vienna, Austria.

Schmutzenhofer, H. 1992. IUFRO's Birthday. IUFRO News 21/1:2-3

Burley, J. 1994. Sustainable Forest Management and Global Initiatives. IUFRO News 23/3:6-7.

Paavilainen, E. 1994. The Concept of Sustainable Management in Boreal and Temperate Forests. IUFRO News 23/3:8-9

Whitmore, J., 1994. Rational Management of Tropical Forests: A Discussion Paper. IUFRO News 23/3:7-8.

Author's Contact Information

Heinrich Schmutzenhofer
IUFRO Secretary
Seckendorff-Gudent-Weg 8
A-1131 Vienna, Austria
Telephone: +43 1 877 01 51
Fax: +43 1 877 93 55
E-mail: [email protected]

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