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The complex world of forestry – a brief introduction
The complex world of forestry – a brief introduction
News Jun 20, 2014

Achieving sustainable forest management is the aim of an incredibly diverse mix of groups, says Megan Graham.

As of January 2019, The Forest Trust has become Earthworm Foundation.


“One interesting trend observed is the growing recognition that forests and their use lie at the centre of any serious discussion of a sustainable future for planet earth. Forests play an essential role in mitigating climate change and providing products and ecosystem services that are essential to the prosperity of humankind. Forests and forestry played a central role in the development of modern civilization.” – United Nations: State of the World’s Forests 2012.

Forests are complex things. Take a forest on a hill as an example. The forest at the bottom of a hill can vary from what’s at the top, or the other side of a hill. So it’s easy to imagine the massive variation of forests across different continents and climates. Ways to look after the forests is just as varied as the forests are.

Forests can tell a story of history. Modern civilisations are based around forests and forestry, with wood often being the primary material used for development, [1] [pdf]. This has led to a number of issues, deforestation being one of them. Other more isolated forests might be ancient; much, much older than modern civilisation with truly abundant biodiversity. Or they might be a newly created monoculture tree plantation forest, destined to become part of the palm oil supply chain.

Forests are many things to many people, they are essential for the world’s food and fibre and they are homes to some of the world’s poorest people. Forests are spiritually and culturally critical. They also provide some of the planet’s biggest stores of carbon, clean air and water and they are home to stunning wildlife diversity. These are just a few of the reasons why we need to care, manage and protect the world’s forests.

Unfortunately, deforestation is still a major issue. Every year around 13 million hectares of primary forest are lost or converted for other uses[2]. Deforestation, forest conversion, and forest degradation, are caused by varied and complex pressures, pressures that are growing. To put this into context, by 2050 the world’s population is set to increase by 28%, to nine billion people[3]. Far more timber for buildings, pulp, food, medicines and biomass for energy will be needed to meet the demands of the population growth. Much of this demand will be met from forests and plantation based products. Other causes of deforestation, forest conversion, and forest degradation include:

  • Climate change: increasing fires, droughts, floods and changes to ‘predator prey’ relationships which have had a devastating effect on forests, and this is set to increase as global temperatures rise[4] [pdf].
  • Bio-energy: globally there is a very clear need to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. With many countries setting legislated targets, biomass sourced from forest or plantation products is likely to play a very real role in providing renewable bio-energy.
  • Energy poverty in the developing world: globally firewood and charcoal are the most used fuels for cooking by 2.5 billion people[5] [pdf], this has devastating consequences on the surrounding forests and the lives of those involved in the collection and cooking process, which is mostly women and children.
  • Subsistence farming: in the developing world subsidence farming or ‘shifting agriculture’ has had a very negative effect on forests and is responsible for up to a third of tropical forest as they are cleared to make way for very short term and – mostly unsuccessful – agricultural plots[6].

Understanding the problems facing forests is much simpler than developing and implementing the solutions that are required to protect them in the future. Not that protecting forests is a new concept. National Parks were first introduced in the USA to protect forests from over clearing in 1872 and forestry became a career and profession in the 18thcentury. The difference today is that the diversity, intensity and scale of the pressures that are impacting the world’s forests have grown.

But there is good news. Achieving sustainable forest management is the aim of an incredibly diverse mix of groups, including companies, governments, non-government organisations, communities and individuals. Sustainable forest management is no walk in the park, though. It demands extreme dedication and perseverance as well a co-operative approach. Those dedicated to achieving sustainable forest management include:

  • Scientists: seeking to understand what and how trees and forests are going to respond to a changing climate.
  • Ecologists: to determine the likely consequences of changes to the food chain and the impacts predator-prey relationships are going to have on pollination, seedling survival and forest health.
  • Agronomists and farmers: are under building pressure to grow more food and fibre under increasingly uncertain climate conditions.
  • Everybody: making sustainable living and ‘pro-forest’ choices.
  • Legislators: in the USA, European Union and Australia timber legislation has been implemented to ban the importation of illegally sourced timber.
  • Certification systems: to assist sustainable forest owners improve their forest management systems and to consumers who want to be confident that their choices support good forest management.
  • Governments: developing zoning and land tenure systems for the protection of communities and forests.
  • TFT, and similar organisations: help facilitate sustainable trade platforms for forest protection and conservation.
  • Carbon trading: enabling owners of forests with high carbon stores to be paid a revenue to protect their forests from alternative uses that cause deforestation or forest conversion.
  • Foresters: managing natural and plantation forests for a range of values.
  • Building engineers: to be able to meet the world’s growing need for sustainable housing using responsibly sourced timber.
  • Global alliance for cookstoves: with a goal of designing and delivering 100 million clean cookstoves by 2020, which aims to alleviate the developing world’s increasing need for firewood as well as help reduce energy poverty[7].
  • Governments, businesses and individuals: to reduce global poverty and thus the requirement for shifting agriculture and energy poverty.
  • NGOs such as Greenpeace: to raise awareness of deforestation and forest issues and apply pressure for more responsible practices.
  • Technology: developing high tech solutions to better understand the forests and to develop systems that map the world’s forests and their health, sharing through online platforms such as Google Earth[8].

Finally, humanity is reliant on the state of the world’s forests. Forests provide all of us with massive carbon storage, rainfall, nature, food, shelter and medicine, they protect the coasts and rivers and they are the world’s lungs, providing us with oxygen. For this reason alone, we need to be responsible for making decisions that support sustainable forestry.

Keep an eye out for Megan’s next blog post about how you can make ‘pro-forest’ choices that support and care for forests.


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