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Discovery News: Protection Gives Mighty Boost to Few Forests
The area of tropical forest under sustainable management has increased 50 percent in the last five years, a tremendous achievement but not quite a roaring success.
Though a 50 percent increase in protected forests sounds good, the International Tropical Timber Organization warns that it still leaves 90 percent of the world's tropical forests unprotected or poorly managed. The Japan-based ITTO recently released the “Status of Tropical Forest Management 2011” a comprehensive report on tropical forest management using data from the 33 countries that control almost all the world's tropical forests.
"Today's report shows that less than 10 percent of all forests are sustainably managed and that ITTO expects deforestation to continue," said Andy White, Coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative in an ITTO press release. "The report also shows that reforming tenure and supporting community forestry are needed to prevent the continued loss of tropical forests and the industrial clearing and logging that leads to deforestation, poverty, and human rights abuses."
3rd month 034"We are of course happy to see the progress that has occurred in the last five years, but it still represents an incremental advance, and some countries are still lagging behind," said Emmanuel Ze Meka, ITTO's Executive Director in a press release. "We fully support the emergence of new markets for 'green' timber and the recent push to include forests in a climate change accord, but in many countries these developments alone may not be transformational."
The ITTO classifies forest management as sustainable if it determines that timber harvesting and other revenue-generating activities (such as the collection of fruits, nuts and medicinal plants) do not reduce forest value. The forest must also have secure boundaries and a management plan. Also, there can be no significant threats of destruction.
The “Status of Tropical Forest Management 2011” found that between 2005 and 2010, the area of forests being sustainably managed in the tropics increased from 36 million hectares (89 million acres) to 53 million hectares (134 million acres). That's an increase in land area about the size of Thailand.
Brazil, Gabon, Guyana, Malaysia and Peru were some of the countries making the most progress. Whereas Cambodia, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Liberia and Suriname have all suffered setbacks in the drive to protect and manage their forest resources.
A vital first step to reducing the demand for wood products from wild forests is to develop well managed timber production forests. The ITTO reports that in the past five years the area of sustainably managed timber forests increased by a third to 131 million hectares (323 million acres).
Demand for certified sustainable tropical timber in the European Union, North America and other places has been an economic driver for the move to sustainable management of timber forests, as well as the development of in-country timber processing.
But low timber prices and the high cost of management compared to short-term profits from clear cutting can make economics work against sustainable tropical forestry. Combined with high food and biofuel prices, the economics of clearing land can overwhelm the long-term, but lower up-front, profits of a well managed timber forest.
"In some countries, we are certainly seeing a move toward the production of certified, higher-value products that would capitalize on an emerging 'green economy' and potentially help secure strong markets for sustainable tropical timber," said Jürgen Blaser, head of the Advisory Service and one of the report's authors.
"But even in rich countries, consumers seem unwilling to pay significantly higher prices for certified or legality-verified timber. Also, timber prices are generally low at a time when prices for food and biofuels are rising fast. Agriculture has always been the major driver of tropical deforestation and this seems unlikely to change in many countries, at least in the short- to medium-term," Blaser said.
"With the economics of land-use in the tropics skewed away from maintaining forests for any purpose—either conservation or production—we need to ensure that we use all available tools that provide revenue for maintaining standing forests to compete with alternative land-uses such as agriculture and biofuels," said Duncan Poore, an author of the report and former Director of the Nature Conservancy in the UK and former Director-General of the IUCN (World Conservation Union), in a press release.
Destruction of forests is not just a lost of livelihood for people who depend on them for resources, or a loss of habitat for wildlife. It is also a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions. Forest clearing accounts for 10-20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
Programs aim to Reduce Emissions from forest Destruction and Degradation (REDD), and 26 of the 33 countries studied in the report use at least one REDD program.
"REDD has considerable promise but it's essential that it evolves to recognize and support initiatives focusing on sustainable utilization of tropical forest resources, including sustainable timber production, as opposed to becoming primarily a fund to conserve forests," said Poore.
But forests can't be effectively managed and protected if no one knows who has the right to use them or prevent others from doing so.
"Sustainable forest management is unlikely to succeed unless the forest has secure tenure that has been determined transparently on the basis of negotiation between claimants," said ITTO's Ze Meka in a press release.
Indigenous communities and people who depend on the forest's survival often make the best stewards of the land, since without it they are without their livelihood.
Brazil and other countries in Latin America are leaders in this effort. Brazil has allocated 106 million hectares (262 million acres) to indigenous communities. Fifty percent of Ecuador's forests are owned by indigenous groups or local communities.
But the report notes that local communities often don't have the resources to protect and manage their forests. Cooperation between national governments, local communities and international timber purchasers is necessary to insure that the area of forest being protected continues to grow.
Posted By Jenna DiPaolo at 4:33pm on June 09, 2011
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