Good News, Bad News in World Forestry Report

WASHINGTON, DC, December 28, 2000 (ENS) - The authors of a landmark report released Wednesday say the world should be thinking of forest quality, not just forest quantity.

The report by the Washington based World Resources Institute is called "Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems: Forest Ecosystems." It is the first attempt to analyze the condition of forests worldwide, based on their ability to provide a wide range of goods and services.

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The WRI report states, "irreplaceable ancient forests continue to be felled for fiber that could, in principle, be produced from plantations." (Photo by Neville Judd)
"We are not running out of trees, especially in the developed countries," said lead author Emily Matthews. "We are, however, running through our old growth or primary forests."

The report found that forest areas in developed countries continue to increase slightly, while clearance for agriculture, development, and logging in developing countries are reducing forests by at least 140,000 square kilometers every year.

Three forms of human interference in forests are studied by the report: the spread of "transition zones" - agriculture practiced at the margins of intact forest, road construction, and the use of fire.

The report explains how roads, even in Central Africa where transportation systems are less developed than in the West, have fragmented dense forest into smaller pieces.

Worldwide, fires started by humans now account for more than 90 percent of all wildland fires in forests and savannas.

As well as detailing the changes in forest area, the report reveals striking changes under way within many of the world's forests. Demands for timber, fuel, mineral resources, and food production are altering the distribution, density and size of trees, and radically affecting many other species that depend on forests.

These goods and services also include medicines, environmental services like water purification, carbon storage, and rich habitat for biodiversity.

The report stresses that typically, forests are assessed too narrowly, with only their size and capacity to produce commercially valuable fiber taken into account.

On the positive side, production of all wood fiber products - from logs to pulp - is keeping up with demand. But the bad news is that nearly 80 percent of it comes from primary or secondary growth forests.

This means, "irreplaceable ancient forests continue to be felled for fiber that could, in principle, be produced from plantations," said the report.

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Illegal logging is rampant in the Congo Basin, in Central Africa. (Photo courtesy World Wide Fund for Nature)
Much of the wood production in developed countries takes place in secondary growth, or managed forests, noted the report. The authors highlighted an encouraging trend toward more environmentally and socially responsible forestry practices.

Nature conservation and amenity value are increasingly important in forestry management decisions, said the report. But the report warned that increased production from plantations will not necessarily decrease harvest rates in natural forests.

The authors recommend that governments encourage production from plantations and intensive forest management in selected areas, while discouraging old growth harvesting.

"Currently, many governments subsidize logging but not tree plantations," said Matthews.

Here are broad findings from the report, which can be found in full at http://www.wri.org/wri/wr2000