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Wood, Paper, Printing

Sustainable Forest Resources

Fir bud © Iosif Szasz-Fabian -

Sustainable Forest Ecosystems

Sustainable forest eco-systems are comprised of the balanced inter-actions of all plant and animal species present in forests, together with the atmosphere, hydrosphere and geosphere, in such a way that the presence and functioning of all these elements is maintained in perpetuity.

In this sustainable state, forests can continuously carry out functions which can be broadly grouped as follows:

  1. ecological (e.g.: rain interception & water regulation, local climate regulation, prevention of soil erosion and land-slides, maintenance of bio-diversity)
  1. economic (e.g. shelter, building materials, fuelwood, non-wood forest products and services, including hunting)
  1. social & cultural (e.g. spiritual places, active and passive recreation).

The maintenance of the ecological functions is a necessary basis for the latter two sets of functions, which depend on the presence and appreciation of Man. Where Man's active intervention is necessary to the maintenance of the functioning ecosystem, this is known as sustainable forest management (SFM).

Sustainable Forest Management (SFM)

For Europe (EU-27 + other European countries), the concept of sustainable forest management was defined in 1993 at the pan-European Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE) as:

"The stewardship and use of forest lands in a way and at a rate that maintains their productivity, biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil 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."

In other world regions, similar definitions have been derived through processes similar to the MCPFE, e.g.:

  • North America: the Montreal Process;
  • Central and South America: the Tarapoto Process.

These processes are largely compatible.

Monitoring & measurement of SFM

In the absence of a cohesive, EU-level policy, responsibilities for forestry resource policies in the EU are largely those of the Member States. In addition to national monitoring and reporting on the state of their forests, MS also participate in pan-European reporting under the MCPFE process. Amongst many other factors, the MCPFE process has also developed criteria and indicators for assessing whether forest are sustainably managed. For the EU in the annual reporting on "forest condition" (= state of health) is also assessed through the Forest Focus reporting system, in conjunction with the International Co-operative Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Forests (ICP Forests).

For SFM assessment at the local forest level, various independent and privately run schemes of forest certification have been developed and are provided on a paying basis. These interpret the above definition at national and then local levels, using criteria and indicators. Successive assessments can help monitor progress and the issuance of certificates indicating SFM may be contingent on remedial actions being carried out. The main independent SFM certification schemes operating in the EU and other European countries are:

  • The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC); and
  • The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest certification schemes (PEFC).

Together, these schemes cover (31/03/2009) some 74.7 M ha or 42 % of EU forests, compared with some 15 % globally. More than 90 % of certified forests are in OECD countries.

Unsustainable Forests in 3-D

Where SFM is not practised in managed forests or where natural forests are damaged by anthropogenic intervention, unsustainable forestry applies in three stages: degradation, deforestation and desertification.

  • Degradation: the initial phase in which natural forests become damaged, either by unsustainable logging (tree removal in an unselective or concentrated way so that the original forest canopy cannot recover) or by competing land uses such as mining, infrastructures, agriculture and the resettlement of populations. Often these occur in combination.
  • Deforestation: if degradation goes unchecked, most or all of the forest cover is lost, resulting in deforestation. Many deforested landscapes can, if left undisturbed and not eroded by the elements, recover partly or fully to their former state. However, most often the pressures from other land uses prevent this and result in permanent deforestation.
  • Desertification: in areas where the forest cover (continuous canopy) is largely or totally lost and climatic conditions (rain, wind, snow, etc.) intervene destructively so as to impoverish, deplete or remove soil, desertification is said to occur.

Remedial action

At international level, the FAO is the primary body charged with responsibilities to combat forest degradation and loss. Specifically, under the UNCTAD structure, the ITTO (International Tropical Timber Organisation) has responsibilities for trying to help reduce these processes in tropical wood-producing and exporting countries. Together, and with bilateral donors, these organisations were responsible for the TFAP (Tropical Forestry Action Plan).

More recently the UNFF (United Nations Forum on Forests) has addressed the "3-Ds" in a broader context, together with many other sectoral issues. For its part, the European Commission proposed the EU FLEGT Action Plan in 2003 (COM(2003) 257) and has since developed voluntary partnership agreements with wood producing and exporting countries as well as draft legislation on the placing on the EU market of timber and timber products. Voluntary partnership agreements have been signed with Ghana and Cameroun and are expected from Congo-Brazzaville, Malaysia, Indonesia et al. Elsewhere, FLEG processes encourage regional groupings of countries and relevant bodies to address illegal logging. These exist for Europe & Northern Asia (ENA-FLEG), ASEA-FLEG (ASEAN and SE Asia) as well as Southern America). Further information: Chatham House

REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) addresses forest loss in the context of climate change. Globally, forest degradation and loss account for 17.5% of all anthropogenic CO² emission (See the 4th IPCC Report). REDD (please consult IPCC and Chatham House) seeks to reduce these processes by evaluating the carbon-storage potential of forests and providing income based on that value for avoided deforestation or damage. However, the precise working of the mechanism needs to be designed and will be dependent on the general provisions for dealing with forests and harvested wood products which emerge from the forthcoming COP 15 meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009 under the Kyoto Protocol. In any case, it should be ensured that REDD and FLEGT are mutually supportive rather than conflictive.

EU Forest Resources

The EU-27 has diverse forests and other wooded land which occupy 177 M ha or 44 % of the Union's surface and represent 5 % of the world's forests. Over the last half century, both the area and the standing timber volume (growing stock) have continued to increase and now do so at almost + 700 000 Ha annually and …M m³ respectively. 14.25 M ha or 8% of the area are in reserves (please see the Natura 2000 website).

There are four major forest regions:

  • Boreal;
  • Central;
  • Alpine;
  • Mediterranean.

As can be seen from the map, whilst forests occur in all major EU regions, they are more concentrated in some, especially the mountainous areas and in the northern member states.

Although not blessed with such an array of tree species as tropical countries or even other temperate and boreal regions of the world, EU forests are nonetheless varied, those in most EU regions usually having mixtures of both coniferous and non-coniferous tree species. The ownership of these forests varies between MS but on average 40% are publically owned (state, local authorities, etc.) and the rest privately (individuals, companies, churches, etc.).

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