Forests play a critical role in the global environment, population and economy. They are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. They are valuable to local communities in that they provide food, shelter and work to them.
The forest sector contributes to a geographical region’s economic well-being. Healthy forests also help in combating climate change and even adapting to it.
Deforestation and Forest Degradation
Although around 31 percent of the world’s land area still consists of forests, they are being destroyed at an alarming rate. The tropics lost 12 million hectares of tree cover in 2018. Deforestation and forest degradation are the biggest threats to forests worldwide.
Forest degradation is reduction in forest ecosystems’ capacity to produce services, such as carbon storage and wood products, because of man-made and environmental changes. The scale of it cannot be gauged easily as it can happen in many ways, different forms, and with varying intensity.
Examples of environmental changes are storm, drought, fire, etc. Man-made disturbances can be direct or intentional, such as logging or grazing, and indirect or unintentional, including introduction of a destructive non-indigenous species.
Impact of Loss of Forests
The loss of trees and other vegetation in forests can cause a lot of problems.
Biodiversity: Forest biological diversity is a broad term encompassing all life forms in forests and the ecological roles they perform. The loss of forests threatens the survival of all these species. While it would take thousands of years for some tropical forests to recreate their biodiversity, others would be irreversibly harmed, as species would become extinct if their habitat is destroyed.
Dwellings and livelihoods: Around 40 percent of the rural poor live in forest and savannah areas and are dependent on forest products, goods and services for income and even basic subsistence. Many indigenous tribes who live in forests know no other way of life. Deforestation and forest degradation have a tangible, severe impact on the lives of all such communities.
Climate mitigation and adaptation: Trees absorb greenhouse gases, which cause global warming or climate change. Forests are massive carbon sinks, without which reducing climate change is next to impossible.
They also play a vital role in climate change adaptation. Forests reduce risks from disasters, such as soil erosion and coastal flooding, and retain water and topsoil. They buffer atmospheric temperature and vapor pressure, thereby developing microclimates that help species under their canopy from climate changes.
Everyone uses forest-based products daily, in some form or the other. Some might feel that the best way to prevent deforestation is to stop using forest products. However, a better, more realistic approach is to use and promote products from sustainably and responsibly managed forests.
More importantly, by sustainable forest management (SFM), you can support the resilience of forests, helping them to adapt to climate change, and natural disasters and disturbances. According to the United Nations Forum on Forests, SFM is a dynamic and evolving concept that aims to preserve and enhance the value of all forests. It ensures that they are protected for future generations.
SFM addresses deforestation and forest degradation at multiple levels. It contributes to income generation and employment. It also helps the environment in many ways, by conserving soil, water and biodiversity.
Social Significance of SFM
Forests generate short-term profits if they are cleared and the land reused to produce in-demand commodities, such as palm oil, cattle and soy. Although the financial incentive to cut down the world’s forests is high, many people are now aware of the intrinsic value of forests.
Businesses recognize that massive deforestation could translate into huge market-wide losses and adverse effects on the agriculture sector. Moreover, pressure from environmentally conscious consumers and strict regulations also influence them. So, they are now increasingly choosing suppliers who support SFM and responsible forest resources consumption.
SFM Principles and Best Practices
Sustainable forestry will help protect the forestland you own or manage, while conserving its valuable resources. Many credible forest certification programs are available to assist you in your SFM efforts. Some examples are the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®).
All such certification programs are based on the following principles and best practices.
- Practicing sustainable forestry to meet the needs of the present and future generations.
- Maintaining the forestland’s health and productivity by active reforestation.
- Ensuring forest renewal by cyclical harvesting and allowing regeneration after harvest.
- Providing ecosystem services, such as conserving soil, air, water, carbon, biological diversity, and wildlife and aquatic habitats.
- Protecting forests from damaging agents, such as wildfire, diseases, and invasive species.
- Protecting water bodies and riparian areas, and maintaining water quality.
- Managing forests to protect and promote biological diversity.
- Preserving ecologically, geologically or culturally important lands.
- Involving communities dependent on forests and spreading awareness of sustainable forestry practices.
- Recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples and respecting their traditions.
- Using and promoting scientifically credible sustainable forestry practices.
- Complying with all applicable laws, statutes, and regulations.
- Continually monitoring, measuring and reporting SFM performance.
- Supporting advances in SFM through scientific research.
- Improving the practice of sustainable forestry through training and education.
- Broadening the understanding of forest certification by documenting audits and publishing the findings.
Forests are an integral part of our daily life and a major player in the global economy. SFM is necessary to manage and use resources in a way that forests retain their health, vitality, biodiversity and social significance.