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Results of the assessment



This part of the global assessment covers all the countries of Europe, the former USSR, Canada, the United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand. These account for a major part of the temperate forests of the world. In the northern hemisphere, three main forest types can be distinguished: the boreal forest to the north, consisting predominantly of conifers; a central band of mixed temperate forests, where broadleaves are in the majority; and the Mediterranean-type forests, also predominantly broad-leaved, in the warmer, drier areas to the south. Australia and New Zealand, separated for millennia from the rest of southeast Asia, have their own specific forest flora, which ranges from moist tropical forest through to temperate forest Savannah-type woodland.

Distribution of forest and other wooded land

The main distinction in woody vegetation made in the 1990 assessment for developed countries was between forest and other wooded land, on the basis of the definition that forest land should have a tree cover of more than 20 percent with trees usually growing to more than 7 metres in height. Other wooded land includes open woodland and scrub, shrub and brushland. The area of forest and other wooded land in the developed countries amounted, according to the 1990 assessment, to 2.06 billion ha or 39 per cent of the land area. However, the share of forest and other wooded land in total land area varies widely at the country level (see Table 3: Annex 1), from 77 per cent in Finland, 69 per cent in Sweden and 68 per cent in Japan to less than 10 per cent in Iceland, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

The largest concentrations of forest and other wooded land are on the territories of the former USSR, with 942 million ha, followed by North America with 749 million ha, Europe with 195 million ha, and the Pacific developed countries (Australia, Japan and New Zealand) with 178 million ha. Country detail is shown in annex 1, table 3.

With a population of 1.27 billion in the developed countries, there is an average of 1.6 ha of forest and other wooded land per caput but the variations are enormous: over 17 ha per caput in Canada, 3.3 in Sweden and the former USSR; and only 0.2 in Germany, Italy and Japan and only 0.04 in the United Kingdom and 0.02 in the Netherlands.

Forest (without other wooded lands) covers 1.43 billion ha in the developed countries or 69 per cent of total forest and other wooded land. The proportions are 77 per cent in Europe, 80 per cent in the former USSR, 61 per cent in North America, 98 per cent in Japan, 100 per cent in New Zealand and 27 per cent in Australia. The most extensive areas of other wooded land occur in Canada, the former USSR, the United States and Australia. Over four-fifths of Europe's other wooded land is found in the countries around the Mediterranean.

A distinction is also made between exploitable forest (shown in annex 1, Table 3) and unexploitable forest, the former being forest that is being harvested for wood or which has no restrictions on harvesting, and the latter where wood harvesting is limited by legal, economic or technical restrictions or where physical productivity is too low or harvesting costs too high to warrant wood harvesting on a commercial scale. There are almost 900 million ha of exploitable forest in the developed countries and 535 million of unexploitable, the largest areas of the latter being in the former USSR and Canada, which between them account for nearly 90 per cent of the total. These two countries, together with the United States, had 722 million ha of exploitable forest or 80 per cent of the developed countries' total, while there are 133 million ha in Europe and 43 million in the three Pacific developed countries. The country data given in annex 1, Table 3, are summarized by region in Table 10.

Data for the 1990 assessment were collected before the political changes in the countries of central and eastern Europe had occurred and therefore relate to the previous states. Information is available for some of the “new” states and is summarized in Table 11. It may be noted that the data in this table are not comparable with those in annex 1, Table 3 because of differences in classification. Information on other countries will become available in due course.

The most noteworthy statistic in Table 11 is that of the Russian Federation: an area of forest land of 771 million ha, which means that, even leaving aside the other newly independent states, it holds by far the largest temperate forest estate among the developed countries.

The pattern of ownership of forest and other wooded land is variable in the developed countries. In the former USSR and some of the former centrally planned economies of central and eastern Europe it was 100 per cent publicly owned, although that is changing with some privatization as part of the transition process. In western Europe about two-thirds of the forests are privately owned, and these holdings are in most countries of small average size (less than 4 ha on average in western Europe other than the Nordic countries and about 40 ha in the latter). The Nordic countries, Austria and Portugal have a high proportion (over 70 per cent) in private hands. Sweden, Finland, Canada and the United States are the only countries where the forest industries have large holdings. In some countries, such as France and Switzerland, municipalities are sizable forest owners, but generally the State or regional governments, e.g. the Provinces in Canada, are the main public owners. In North America, there is a marked difference between Canada where over 94 per cent of forest and other wooded land is publicly owned, and the United States where only 28 per cent of it is. Of the 72 per cent privately owned, 15 per cent is held by forest industries.

Changes in area of forest and other wooded land

Official data on changes during the 1980s could not be provided by all developed countries, but the picture that emerges is of a net gain in area of forest and other wooded land in Europe of around 2 million ha over 10 years, as follows (in million ha):


of which

    + 3,8


    + 2,5

    Natural extension

    + 1,3

Shift to other uses

    - 1,8

Net gain

    + 2,0

There were also increases in New Zealand and Australia, but a decrease of 3.2 million ha in the United States, mainly to make way for urban and infra-structural development. Official data are not available from Canada, but an authoritative source estimates that the net change in forest area over the past decade was negligible.

The former USSR reported a net increase in forest and other wooded land of 22.6 million ha between 1978 and 1988. However, another authoritative source reports an increase in forest area by 21.7 million ha, partly offset by a decrease in other wooded land of 11.1 million ha. In view of these conflicting reports, estimates of forest area change for the former USSR have not been included in annex Table 4.

The problems of obtaining reliable data on area changes for the developed countries and the need to improve this situation, given the increasing interest in such information, are discussed in annex 2 which describes methodologies.

Growing stock and woody biomass

The standing volume of forest and tree resources, (including, in some cases, trees outside the forest) in the developed countries has been estimated at around 170 billion m3 overbark (o.b.). This is certainly an underestimate, as it does not include large volumes that are not covered by the inventory in some countries, e.g. for trees outside the forest. A more realistic estimate of volume may be well over 200 billion m3 o.b. Standing volume comprises growing stock and dead trees; the latter are a relatively small proportion in managed forests, but more significant in natural stands.

The volume of growing stock on exploitable forest in the developed countries is estimated at 112 billion m3 o.b., of which 45 per cent in the former USSR and 34 per cent in North America. Coniferous species account for 68 per cent of the total, but the share varies considerably from country to country. In the former USSR and Canada it is around three-quarters and in the Nordic countries and Austria over 80 per cent. On the other hand, Hungary has 85 per cent broadleaves, and other countries with substantial shares of broadleaves are France and Romania with around 60 per cent, former Yugoslavia with 70 per cent, the United States with 43 per cent and Australia with 85 per cent.

The volume of growing stock per hectare, which is dependent on growing conditions but also on management policies and objectives, varies widely. In the developed countries the growing stock per ha of exploitable forest averages 125 m3, but in some parts of central Europe it exceeds 300 m3, while in areas with less favorable growing conditions it is under 100 m3 per ha.

Since the time of the first energy crisis in the early 1970s, interest has grown in the potential for biomass in general and wood in particular to make a greater contribution to total energy supply. In the developed countries, wood's share is still very small, although looked at from another angle, namely the share of total wood removals that sooner or later finishes up by being used for energy purposes, whether as fuelwood, chips, forest and industrial residues, pulping liquors, or recycled wood and paper products, is significant: it has been estimated to be as much as two-fifths in Europe.

The frequently used methodology for deriving estimates of woody biomass is described in annex 2 on methodology. However approximate the results may be, they do give a general order of magnitude, which can be summarized as follows (estimated mass of above-ground standing volume of biomass in billion oven-dry metric tons):

Developed countries total


Former USSR


North America






Increment and fellings

Up to now, inventory information on increment could be measured only for forests under regular management and has in consequence been obtained mainly for the developed countries. Furthermore, as for growing stock, information is more complete for exploitable forest than for other parts of the forest resource. Net annual increment is estimated at 2.4 billion m3 o.b. on exploitable forest in the developed countries, of which 968 million in North America, 700 million in the former USSR, 577 million in Europe and 163 million in the Pacific developed countries. Net annual increment per hectare varies greatly for the same reasons as for growing stock, mentioned above, but in addition it is heavily dependent on the intensity of management. In natural, unmanaged and mature or over-mature stands, such as exist over large parts of the former USSR and Canada, natural mortality may more or less equal gross increment, leaving a negligible volume of net increment. This explains the low net annual increment figures for those two countries, 1.7 and 1.9 m3 o.b./ha/year respectively, compared with an average estimated at 2.6 for the developed countries as a whole, 4.3 for Europe and 3.9 for the United States.

Data on wood production (fellings, removals) collected in connection with forest inventories provide indications of the wood drain on the forest and allow comparison with other parameters, such as increment. A distinction is made between fellings and removals, the difference being the volume of timber felled but not extracted from the forest. Total fellings in the developed countries around 1990 are estimated at approximately 1.9 billion m3 o.b., which is probably an under-estimation. Coniferous species accounted for two-thirds of the total.

A comparison of fellings with net annual increment on exploitable forest, which accounts for over 90 per cent of the total and for which the data are the most reliable, provides an interesting indicator of the level of harvesting intensity, although it should be underlined that net annual increment cannot be equated with allowable cut. The latter may be higher or lower than increment, depending on a number of factors, one of the most important being the age-class distribution of the stands. In all the developed regions, and in practically all developed countries, fellings have remained below net annual increment, in some cases by a substantial margin. Fellings in 1990 on exploitable forest in the developed countries of an estimated 1.78 billion m3 o.b. compare with the estimate given above of 2.4 billion for net annual increment. Fellings were thus 26 per cent less than increment, and there are differences of a similar magnitude in the regions: 20 per cent in North America; 26 per cent in the former USSR; 29 per cent in Europe; and perhaps as much as 50 per cent in the three Pacific countries together. This does not seem to be a new development, and indeed there is evidence that increment in Europe has exceeded fellings for 40 years at least, and probably for a much longer period, thus explaining why there has been a long-term build-up in growing stock in Europe.

It would seem that even in countries where the area of exploitable forest has been declining, such as the United States, total growing stock on the remaining area has been rising, especially of broadleaves. In Canada also, additions to growing stock are estimated to have exceeded fellings and natural losses by 69 million m3 annually between 1977 and 1986.

Environmental and other non-wood goods and services of the forest

An attempt was made to assess the role of forests of developed countries in supplying environmental and other non-wood goods and services (non-wood benefits) information. The results of this part of the assessment are discussed in more detail in Chapter III (Special issues), while the methodology employed for collecting information is described in annex 2. A summary of results is presented here. One most obvious conclusion is that generalizations are impossible, given the diversity of the replies on the benefits and functions of the forest from countries, which can be attributed to varying conditions such as extent of forest cover, population density, topography, standards of living and so on, as well as differences in approach to answering the questionnaire by national correspondents.

Developed countries' responses are unanimous, however, in showing that the environmental and other non-wood goods and services of the forest are of increasing importance to society, both in absolute terms and relative to wood production. Nonetheless, the latter remains the single most important function of the forest nearly everywhere. Although it is not possible to rate the relative importance of the different functions, even at country level, or to aggregate the replies, they suggest that after wood production, the most important are hunting, recreation and protection.

The majority of countries expect increasing emphasis in policy and planning to be given to the non-wood functions of the forest, in particular protection, water regulation and quality, nature conservation, including protection of biological diversity, and recreation. The prevailing importance of wood production will be maintained, while the importance of hunting, grazing and the supply of certain specified non-wood products will also remain about the same as in the past. The implication is that policies for the multiple use of the forest will be strengthened, and furthermore forests will be expected to provide not only a wide range of goods and services but to do so more nearly to the limits of their capacity on a sustainable basis.

The assessment also showed that public attitudes towards the forest and forestry have been changing over the past decade, with increasing concern being expressed in many countries for the protection of the environment, conservation of forests, biological diversity and meeting society's demands for non-wood benefits. Conflicts do arise between different functions of the forest, most commonly between wood production and one or more of the other functions, notably environmental protection, hunting, nature conservation and recreation. Forest policies of a growing number of countries take this into account, and methods are being improved for reconciling such conflicts.


Of the main findings of the 1990 forest resource assessment of the developed countries, two stand out as being common to most of them, so far as their significance for the long term and likely implications for policy are concerned. They are:

1) the continuing expansion of the forest resource, notably in terms of growing stock but also in most countries of area as well; and

2) the increasing importance, in relative as well as absolute terms, of the non-wood functions of the forest.

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