Global Forest Resources Assessments

Putting the spotlight on the boreal primary forests

Photo: @Graham Stinson

23 November 2020 – Representatives from Canada, China, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russian Federation and USA shall gather with a number of international experts in a virtual 5-day workshop to discuss and develop innovative ways to improve data and information on primary forests in the boreal biome.

Accurate and consistent global reporting on the extent of primary forests is crucial to understand the progress towards commonly agreed biodiversity conservation targets. It is also important for interpreting trends in the indicators measuring progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal 15 and the goals of the United Nations Strategic Plan on Forests 2017-2030.

According to the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020 (FRA) the world still has at least 1.11 billion hectares of primary forest, which represents 27% of the world’s forest area. Primary forests continue to decline globally. Since 1990, 81 million hectares of primary forests have been lost worldwide.

However, the status and trends are based on incomplete and inconsistent data, as the measurement, monitoring and reporting of primary forests present significant challenges.

“Globally, forests host 80% of the terrestrial biodiversity and the primary forests are of tremendous value because of their biodiversity and other ecosystem services they provide. Having up-to-date, reliable and comparable information on them is crucial for informed policy formulation and decision making”, said Anssi Pekkarinen, FAO Senior Forestry Officer and FRA Team Leader.

While the definition of primary forest  is broadly accepted, there is considerable variation in how countries apply it in their own circumstances and which proxies they use to measure the actual area. This, in part, limits the possibilities to draw solid conclusions of the status and trends in primary forest area at regional and global levels.

Learning more on how to monitor an invaluable resource

The workshop will review the data on boreal primary forests and discuss different approaches countries have adopted to monitor and report on these invaluable forests. The participants will also discuss emerging methods and technologies with experts from several international organizations that are involved in primary forest monitoring.

“As one of the countries with largest primary forest in the world, Canada is excited to host and facilitate this workshop. We’re looking forward to sharing our experiences in monitoring on primary forest and to learning how the other countries are doing it”, said Lyn Warner from the Canadian Forest Service.

This workshop is the first of a series of events that focus on improving the consistency of global reporting on primary forests. The results of this special study will be used to further improve existing guidelines and propose methodologies on reporting on primary forest area and its changes to enhance consistency, comparability, completeness and quality of the data countries report to FRA.

From FAO 2018, FRA 2020 Terms and Definitions ( Primary forest in FRA 2020 is defined as the naturally regenerated forest of native tree species, where there are no clearly visible indications of human activities and the ecological processes are not significantly disturbed.

Explanatory notes:
1. Includes both pristine and managed forests that meet the definition.
2. Includes forests where indigenous peoples engage in traditional forest   stewardship activities that meet the definition.
3. Includes forest with visible signs of abiotic damages (such as storm, snow, drought, fire) and biotic damages (such as insects, pests and diseases).
4. Excludes forests where hunting, poaching, trapping or gathering have caused significant native species loss or disturbance to ecological processes.
5. Some key characteristics of primary forests are: - they show natural forest dynamics, such as natural tree species composition, occurrence of dead wood, natural age structure and natural regeneration processes; - the area is large enough to maintain its natural ecological processes; - there has been no known significant human intervention or the last significant human intervention was long enough ago to have allowed the natural species composition and processes to have become re-established.