EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
Lester R. Brown

Chapter 8. Protecting Forest Products & Services: Sustainable Forestry

There are many definitions of sustainable forestry, most having to do with the sustainable yield of timber. A more appropriate definition, a broader and more relevant one, includes the capacity of the forest to supply both products and services sustainably. In many situations, the latter is now far more important than the former.

Despite the high value of intact forests, only about 290 million hectares of global forest area are legally protected from logging (See Table 8-3.) An additional 1.4 billion hectares are unavailable for harvesting because of economic deterrents. Of the remaining area available for exploitation, 665 million hectares are undisturbed by humans and nearly 900 million hectares are seminatural and not in plantations.24

One type of forest that is marginal in economic terms is that supporting only low-quality wood, with few, if any, commercial species. Protected from timber harvesting by their poor quality, such forests continue to provide services. In other forests, logging is precluded solely because of physical or infrastructure constraints. Unfortunately, these areas can quickly become accessible to the chainsaw if the forest products industry or a government invests in transportation or other infrastructure.25

A large share of the forests that are protected by national decree are safeguarded not so much to preserve the long-term wood supply capacity as to ensure that the forest can continue to provide services. Countries that take this step often have been heavily deforested. The Philippines, for example, has banned all logging in old-growth and virgin forests largely because the country has become so vulnerable to flooding, erosion, and landslides. Once covered by rich stands of tropical hardwood forests, the Philippines was a major exporter of forest products. But after years of massive clearcutting, the country became a net importer of forest products. It lost both the goods and the services provided by its forests.26

Although some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been working for years to protect forests or restrict their exploitation, public institutions such as the World Bank have only recently begun to consider sustainable forestry systematically. The Bank's current goal is to have 200 million hectares of forestland in its client countries under sustainable management by 2005. It proposes to have 50 million hectares of natural forest that is high in biological diversity under protection by 2005.27

For many landowners in the tropics who lack access to timber markets, trees are seen simply as an obstacle to agriculture or ranchingsomething to be burned or cut down. They are not interested in either the goods or the services provided. These forests are difficult to protect.

Where forest products are exported, access to timber markets can often be used to ensure that forests are managed sustainably. NGOs and governments in many importing countries are requiring that all timber marketed, including both domestically produced and imported timber, be certified as coming from sustainably managed forests. (For further discussion of forest certification, see Chapter 11.)

There are several forest products certification programs, which have varying success in promoting sustainable forestry. These link environmentally conscious consumers with the management of the forest where the product originates. Some certification programs are national while others are international. Some of the latter originate with the importing countries and others with exporters.

The most rigorous international program that is certified by a number of NGOs worldwide is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Some 24 million hectares of forests in 45 countries are certified by FSC-accredited bodies as responsibly managed. Among the leaders in certified forest area are Sweden, with 10 million hectares; the United States, with nearly 3 million hectares; Bolivia, with over 1 million hectares; and South Africa and Brazil with just under 1 million hectares each.28

On the export end of the sustainable forest products industry, Brazil has also developed a national certification program. It is called Cerflor, a System for the Certification of Origin of Forest Raw Materials. This initiative was economically motivated so that Brazilian pulp and paper products would have an ecolabel to ensure access to the European Union market. The label aimed to distinguish Brazilian forestry products from those of other countries that might not be managing their forests sustainably. In the case of Brazil, this was a relatively easy goal to reach simply because so much of its paper comes from plantations.29

Although the world is far from managing its forests well, the concept of sustainable forest management is taking root to some degree in many parts of the world. It at least holds out the hope that the annual forest loss of 13 million hectares in developing countries can be reduced and eventually eliminated as balance is restored between the production and harvesting of forestry products. Arresting the deforestation would also help protect the services that forests currently provide.30


Table 8-3. Area of World Forestland Available and Unavailable for Wood Supply
(million hectares)
    Available for wood supply
    Unavailable for wood supply
    Legal restrictions
    Economic restriction
  Physical reasons
  Transport or infrastructure constraints
    Total forested area
Source: See endnote 24.


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24. Table 8-3 from FAO, op. cit. note 6. The total forested area of 3.2 billion hectares differs from the figure of 3.9 billion hectares cited throughout the chapter because it is from an older FAO assessment that uses a more narrow definition of forest cover.

25. Ibid.

26. Johanna Son, "Philippines: Row Rages Over Lifting of Ban on Lumber Exports," InterPress Service, 17 April 1998.

27. World Bank, Forests and Forestry Sector, www.worldbank.org, viewed 26 July 2001.

28. World Wide Fund for Nature, The Forest Industry in the 21st Century (Surrey, UK: 2001); Forest Stewardship Council, Forests Certified by FSC-Accredited Bodies, www.fscoax.org, updated 30 June 2001.

29. Steven Schwartzman and Molly Kingston, Global Deforestation, Timber, and the Struggle for Sustainability: Making the Label Stick (Washington, DC: Environmental Defense, 1997), p. 51; FAO, "Brazil," in FAO Advisory Committee on Paper and Wood Products, The State of the Industry, Forty-first Session, Rotura, New Zealand, 2-3 May 2000.

30. Forest loss from FAO, op. cit. note 6, p. 156.


Copyright © 2001 Earth Policy Institute