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Only 5% of tropical forests managed sustainably

May 25, 2006 By Michael Hopkin This article courtesy of Nature News.

Progress has been made but more is needed, report warns.

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Almost all tropical forests are still in danger of degradation, according to the most comprehensive survey yet of how these resources are managed. Only 5% of tropical timber is managed sustainably, says the report.

Although progress has been made in sustainable forestry, only an area the size of Germany is truly in good hands, say the authors of the survey, published by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), an intergovernmental organization based in Yokohama, Japan, and compiled with the help of 33 countries representing almost all of the world's tropical forest.

For the remaining 95% of forest, the challenge is to ensure that any logging is carried out in a way that is both profitable and sustainable, the report adds.

At least the trend is in the right direction, says report co-author Duncan Poore, a forest-conservation expert based in Inverness, UK. In 1988, the first time that the ITTO surveyed the status of tropical forests, less than a million hectares were classed as sustainably managed — defined by the organization as "making it possible to maintain a forest without degrading its values, while allowing society to benefit from its resources". That figure has now grown to some 36 million hectares.

But that is a tiny fraction of the 814 million hectares designated as 'permanent forest estate': land that should be preserved as forest rather than given over to agriculture or other land uses (see Timber: going down).

According to government reports, about half of this permanent forest estate is being logged or otherwise exploited, and the remaining half is designated as 'protected'. Whether this protection is being monitored or enforced isn't well known.

In jeopardy

"It is clear that the security of most tropical forests is still in jeopardy," says the ITTO's executive director, Manuel Sobral Filho, "which demonstrates a collective failure to understand that forests can generate considerable economic value without being destroyed."

This economic value is the key to progress, says Poore. It's not a question of ring-fencing forests and excluding human activity. Rather, governments should stress the value of sustainable forestry by encouraging accreditation, and by clamping down on illegal logging. "People are willing to pay a price for timber from sustainable forest," he says.

"Not buying timber is harmful," adds Poore. "And buying it from non-sustainable forest is just as harmful. What we recognize as being most important is making the entire enterprise gain a reasonable profit."

ITTO experts are meeting in Mérida, Mexico, next week to discuss how countries can make sustainable forest management a reality. "It is far easier for forest operators to make a plan than it is for them to implement it," says the ITTO's Steven Johnson, one of the report's editors. "Companies can appear to comply with requirements for sustainable management, while continuing to employ poor logging practice and to run the forests into the ground."

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References

  1. Status of Tropical Forest Management 2005 (International Tropical Timber Organization 2006).

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