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Special issues



In the section of Chapter 2 on the results of the 1990 forest resource assessment in the developed countries, a brief account is given of some of the main findings relating to the role of forests in providing environmental and other non-wood goods and services. The intention of this section is to show the results in a little more detail and to discuss some of the problems involved in collecting and analysing information about these goods and services. This may serve the purpose of providing guidance about the scope and methodology of carrying out future assessments in the developed countries. Changes in society, including demographic movements, rising standards of living and mobility, urbanization , and its counterpart, rural depopulation , improved educational standards.

The multiple role of forestry, while by no means a new concept, has been more and more widely recognized and stressed, together with the need to find solutions to the problem of optimizing the combination of benefits derived by society from the forest and minimizing the conflicts. All this calls for a much wider and deeper knowledge about forest ecosystems and their potentials than is obtainable from traditional forest inventories.

The first international attempt to meet this need by collecting information about the non-wood goods and services of the forest was made in the 1980 forest resources assessment of the developed countries. This experiment was sufficiently encouraging for the decision to be taken to repeat it, with some modifications, in the 1990 assessment. The objective was to bring together as much information as countries could provide on the importance they attach to the different functions of the forest, how their importance is changing over time and how they interact or conflict with each other. Such information should be useful for planners, policy-makers, managers and others responsible for the development and conservation of the forest resource.

The approach adopted was to ask countries to provide whatever quantitative data they had on the non-wood benefits. However, given that in most cases only qualitative information would be available, descriptive accounts and expert estimates were heavily relied upon. It was recognized that, inevitably, these estimates were subjectively arrived at by the correspondents replying to the questionnaire. Despite the difficulties in handling a complex enquiry, thirty-four countries replied in varying degrees of detail; only four were not able to provide any information.

Importance of forest functions

The forest functions rated according to their importance were: wood production; protection; water; grazing; hunting; nature conservation; and recreation; with separate assessments for four categories of forest and ownership: public and private forest; and public and private other wooded land. In practice, most countries concentrated on the first two categories. The rating system of “high”, “medium” and “low” importance is explained in the annex on methodology. Because of the wide variations between countries, and even in the same country between the perceived functions of public and private forests, aggregation of countries' replies has limited relevance, but figure 6 still gives some idea of the important ratings in Europe. Wood production has the highest rating, followed by hunting and recreation.

Figure 7 shows replies from selected countries for one of the functions, hunting, clearly indicating the marked differences between the high importance attached to this function in France and Poland, on the one hand, and the low importance in Ireland and the Netherlands, on the other. Similar contrasts are found for the other functions, and can generally be associated with certains factors such as types of forest, extent of forest cover, population densitry, topography, standard of living, and so on.The way in which national correspondents understood the questions asked and handle them in their replies also appeared to vary considerably, thereby limiting the extent to which country information is comparable.

One key question that policy-makers would like to have answered is the importance of the different functions relative to each other: if wood production, for example, is more important than recreation for exemple, how much more important is it? Such a question is impossible to answer until comparable measures, e.g. in monetary terms, of the functions are available. In any case, it may be answerable at the level of a stand or forest unit, but not for a country's forests as a whole. Until the question of comparability can be effectively handled, use will have to be made of information of the type collected in the 1990 assessment and of subjective judgements.

An alternative way of looking at the information obtained from the 1990 assessment is shown in figures 8 and 9 for Europe in aggregate, and the United States, respectively. The more convex the curves are for the different functions, the higher their importance rating. This suggests that for Europe wood production and hunting have the highest ratings, and grazing, protection and water the lowest ones; and for the United States protection, water and wood production the highest and grazing the lowest. It may be mentioned, however, that in the United States nature conservation has a convex curve (relatively high importance) in public forests but in private forest a concave one (less importance), exemplifying the point made earlier about differences in ratings that may occur between different categories of ownership. There are other examples: in Spain, the protection function is much more important in public forests than private ones; in the former Yugoslavia, grazing is more important in private forests than public; and in the United Kingdom, recreation is rated more highly in public than in private forests.

National parks, nature reserves and other protected areas

A supplementary question concerned the number and area of national parks and nature reserves and the extent to which they consisted of forest and other wooded land. In the 22 European countries providing information there were over 220 national parks with a total area of 7.7 million ha. While the size of these parks varied considerably, the average was 34 000 ha. The same 22 European countries had about 10 500 nature reserves with a total area of around 9.6 million ha or an average of 91 ha. In the former USSR 21 national parks covered 2.24 million ha, an average of 107 000 ha. The area of the United States' 339 national parks was not given, but in Australia the area of its 514 national parks was 18.6 million ha averaging 36 000 ha.

The area of forest and other wooded land in 15 European countries' national parks and nature reserves was about 2.7 million ha, corresponding to between 2 ˝ and 3 percent of the total area of their forest and other wooded land. It is probable that if the same information is requested in the 2000 assessment, the areas of forest and other wooded land in national parks and nature reserves will have become noticeably higher than in the 1990 assessment as a result of policies to transfer more forest areas to such uses in many developed countries.

Forest products other than wood

Countries were asked to list the main products of their forests and, to the extent possible, give statistics of quantities and values. Many countries provided lists of products; fewer could provide statistics either of quantity or value. The main food products, listed in terms of the number of countries naming them are: berries and nuts of different kinds; mushrooms; game meat; and honey. Of the non-wood products, the main ones reported are Christmas trees; aromatic and medicinal plants, decorative foliage (greenery); resin; and fodder. There are a number of products that are of major economic importance to individual countries or even areas within countries. The most obvious example is cork and its economic and social importance to southern Portugal.

Policy and planning activities relating to forest functions

For most of the non-wood functions of the forest, supply and demand are generally not regulated by the market mechanism. Government at various levels often has to intervene to regulate supply. Consequently, it was considered useful to find out how the emphasis in policy and planning has been changing over the past decade and whether there existed explicit plans to change the emphasis given to these functions during the 1990s. The problem with this is that it is not known how much emphasis was being given in policies to a particular function in the first place and consequently it is difficult to judge the significance of any changes that are forecast.

With this reservation in mind, it emerged that increasing emphasis has been and is expected to continue to be given to policy and planning activities relating to four functions: protection; water; nature conservation; and recreation.

For grazing, hunting, and products other than wood, more than half the replying countries expected the level of emphasis in policy making to continue at about the same levels as before. The same was true for wood production, although slightly more were expecting an increase in emphasis than a decrease, which might suggest that, if anything, policy toward wood production might be slightly strengthened during the 1990s. This might seem to be contrary to the evidence coming from other quarters, but on the other hand may reflect growing concern about the economic and ecological consequences of the long-term build-up of growing stock in many developed countries.

Areas of public concern and conflicts between forest functions

A change in public attitudes towards the forest and forestry sector and growing public demands on the resource have become increasingly evident over recent decades. More and more opinion-formers have expressed concern about the need to protect the environment in general and the forests, both tropical and temperate, in particular. Foresters have not always been adequately prepared for this increasing attention, and the profession has sometimes lost credibility by appearing to be slow in reacting to public concerns. Attitudes to the possible impact of air pollution on forests was a case in point.

It is an indication of how far and how fast public debate has evolved in recent years that work on the 1990 assessment of the developed countries had already been largely completed by the time of the first Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe in Strasbourg in December 1990 and the results published by the time of UNCED in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. Consequently, what are today major issues such as the habitat of the spotted owl in the northwest of the United States were only just beginning to emerge (they were not mentioned in the US reply to the 1990 questionnaire), while “biological diversity” is only briefly mentioned and “sustainable forest ecosystem management” not at all in the replies to the questionnaire.

Conflicts between forest functions cover a wide field and vary considerably between one country and another. Generally speaking, however, problems most frequently arise between wood production and another function, notably environmental protection, hunting, nature conservation or recreation. This is perhaps inevitable while wood production remains the most important individual function in most countries and is the main revenue-earner. The problem may arise over the use of certain types of equipment, such as harvesters compacting the soil and damaging standing trees, harvesting systems such as clear-felling, or chemicals (pesticides, fertilisers). Other conflicts arise between nature conservation or environmental protection on the one hand and recreation on the other: damage caused to young plants by skiing, increased risk of fire in tourist areas, excess visitor numbers in sensitive ecosystems or where wildlife is disturbed, litter, and so on.

The debate continues on the extent to which forests can and should be managed on a truly multiple use basis, or whether it is better to separate uses to the extent possible, either by zoning or timing. For example, visitors may be encouraged to keep to paths and away from, for example, bird nesting sites; or silvicultural or harvesting activities may be timed to take place when the forest is not being used for other purposes, or vice versa. Another matter for discussion is the extent to which it is justified to have single-use functions, for example, wilderness areas and nature reserves, which may effectively exclude other functions.

It would be idle to pretend that the 1990 assessment could do much more than draw attention to these questions, but it probably served a useful purpose in showing policy-makers and managers in different countries that they are not alone in having to face such problems and that there may be ways and means of reconciling conflicts between functions, or at least alleviating them. In Chapter 2.3 it was pointed out that in virtually all developed countries the wood production potential is currently not being fully utilized. This is also probably true for the other functions, and a major challenge for policy-makers and managers must be to develop multiple use systems that will allow the capacity of the forest to be used more fully for a range of functions on a sustainable basis. It is to assist towards this objective that better information on the functions and uses of the forest should be collected and that improvements to the present collection methods should be sought.

Evaluation of the results of the assessment

A useful innovation in the publication of the results of the 1990 assessment for the developed countries was an analysis carried out by two outside consultants, Messrs. Koch and Linddal. This brief evaluation is partly based on the comments, but tries to go further by suggesting ways in which future assessments of the role of forests in supplying environmental and other non-wood goods and services might be further improved. Some of the main conclusions of Koch and Linddal were:

! it is hard to draw firm conclusions from the results of the assessment because of the variability in the quality and coverage of the country data;

! it is highly unlikely that it will be possible, in the near future, to make comprehensive inventories of non-wood goods and services on a global basis of the sort that have been done for wood resources. Therefore, more emphasis should be put on encouraging countries to collect data on non-wood benefits locally, rather to attempt to fashion a comprehensive information system covering the whole area;

! a major objective should be to study changes over time in the status of non-wood benefits, which would require better comparability of future assessments with the 1990 one than was achieved between those for 1980 and 1990;

! it would be desirable to reduce the pressure on just one or two individuals in their role of national correspondent to handle forest resource assessment enquiries and to encourage the formation of inter-disciplinary groups for this purpose. This would reduce the risk of misinterpretation of definitions and guidelines and the entry of bias or one-sidedness in the national replies;

! there is no need for the inclusion of new elements in future assessments. Instead, the emphasis should be on improving the quality of the information already being collected;

! forest information from Canada, the United States, the former USSR, Australia, Japan and New Zealand is not directly comparable with that for European countries, because of differences in population density, territorial size, cultural conditions and other factors;

! by trying to use a similar inventory methodology for non-wood benefits as for wood, the multiple aspects of non-wood benefits are lost. The latter should be inventoried in their own right and not in connection with their possible association with wood production.

Koch and Linddal conclude that studies of non-wood benefits are more policy analyses than economic or physical statistical exercises. The focus should be more on obtaining qualitative data that explain selected cases and less on quantitative data that probably, in the end, will not provide a useful overall picture. The fact that the data on non-wood benefits collected in the 1990 assessment may be useful only to a limited extent for evaluation and comparison between countries should not, however, force anyone to abandon attempts to collect the information, since “it is far better to be approximately right than to be precisely wrong”.

Since the results of the 1990 assessment of the developed countries were published, and even before, a number of meetings have been held at which the information needs that future international forest resource assessments should supply have been discussed. These have included the IUFRO Conference on Global Natural Resource Monitoring and Assessment: Preparing for the 21st Century (Venice, 1989); the Ilvessalo Symposium on National Forest Inventories (Helsinki, 1992); the Report of the UNEP / FAO Expert Consultation on Environmental Parameters in Future Global Forest Assessment (Nairobi, 1992); and the second FAO/ECE Meeting of Experts on Global Forest Resources Assessment (Kotka, 1993). These identified a number of areas in which it would be valuable to collect information at the international level, including inventory data relevant to the question of climate change and carbon sequestration, biologica;diversity and land cover and land use, including changes.

While there is no shortage of ideas about the contents of future assessments, progress has been slower on developing more effective ways of collecting information, especially that of a qualitative kind. The tabular questionnaire approach, as used in earlier assessments, seems satisfactory for quantitative information, such as general forest inventory data, but has proved less effective for gathering information about the non-wood goods and services. If the latter are to continue to be an important part of international forest resource assessments , and there seems to be no doubt that they should be, not only for the developed countries but for the developing countries as well , there is an urgent need to find better ways of gathering information about them.

Looking again at the way in which the 1990 assessment of the developed countries was carried out, one essential change next time would seem to be to ease the burden and responsibility placed on one or two national correspondents to handle the enquiries and to reduce their isolation from the overall work on the assessment by creating much closer contacts during all phases of the assessment between them and the Rome and Geneva secretariats.

The questions in the 2000 assessment should be based on the questionnaire used for the 1990 assessment of the role of forests in supplying environmental and other non-wood goods and services. This would ensure that continuity was maintained between the 1990 and 2000 assessments. At the same time, certain aspects not sufficiently emphasized in the 1990 assessment, such as biological diversity, ecological descriptions and the quality of forests (provided an acceptable definition of “quality” can be found), should be incorporated in the 2000 assessment. Perhaps by then it will also have been possible to have made progress on the difficult problem of finding a means of placing values, expressed in comparable terms, for the different functions of the forest.

One problem with the reporting of the results of the 1990 assessment of the non-wood benefits was that of comparability between countries. The framework of questions should be designed in such a way that the answers could also be presented in some kind of a framework that would be the same for all countries, thus ensuring a degree of comparability.

Whatever system may be developed for assessing the environmental and other non-wood goods and services of the forest, it should be equally applicable to developed and developing countries, its use in the latter following on its successful trial in the former. Some adaptations might have to be made for different conditions, but the general framework should be the same.

To conclude, there appears to be general consensus on:

1) the desirability of continuing to collect information at the international level about the role of the forest in supplying environmental and other non-wood goods and services;

2) the main items of information that should be collected (though these are likely to change over time); and

3) the need to limit the information collected at the international level to no more than the essentials.

A basic need now is to develop a workable global system for the collection of information on the role of forests in supplying environmental and other non-wood goods and services and to mobilize the necessary resources to make it work. This is a matter not only for the international organizations responsible for forest resource assessments, notably FAO and UN-ECE, but also and even more so for those responsible for the carrying out of inventory activities at the national level. The forestry community has a responsibility to supply policy-makers, planners, managers and others, both within the sector and outside it, with the information they need for rational decision making, and this comprises more and more elements that cannot be obtained by traditional forest inventory methods. The challenge is to devise and put into operational new methods to gather such information.

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