Report assesses measures to mainstream forest biodiversity

FORESTS harbour most of the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity. Tropical rainforests alone harbour over 50 percent of terrestrial species. Forests and their biodiversity serve as a safety net for humanity, providing clean air, regulating water cycles, sequestering atmospheric carbon, mitigating natural disasters, and bolstering livelihoods.

Forests also have an important role in maintaining human health and psychological well-being, as well as in sustaining our economies. A large proportion of the world’s poorest people are dependent on forest resources, although all people in the world benefit from forests and the products of their biodiversity.

Even though biodiversity conservation has been on n the global agenda for at least three decades, forest biodiversity continues to be lost at an alarming rate.

Globally, 18% of the world’s forest area (726 million ha) is in legally established protected areas. A much larger percentage of the global forest area (30% or 1.15 billion ha) are managed primarily for the production of timber and non-wood forest products. The remaining forest area may be managed for multiple purposes, including the provision of ecosystem services, or is being used primarily for production without being officially designated as such. There is abundant evidence that well-managed forests can support significant biodiversity and underpin valuable ecosystem services.

A report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Main-streaming Biodiversity in Forestry, says that “main-streaming biodiversity is “the process of embedding biodiversity considerations into policies, strategies and practices of key public and private actors to promote conservation and sustainable use of natural resources”.

The report identifies deforestation, illegal forest activities and corruption and the low profile of conservation outside protected areas as critical barriers to main-streaming biodiversity, along with insufficient capacity, financing and regulatory oversight, and a lack of Indigenous Peoples and local community participation.

The report also assesses the following measures as critical for integrating biodiversity in forest management:

  • Assessing and managing risks of forest operations to biodiversity. All forest operations have at least some impact on forest biodiversity. During planning and before initiating any major operations, forest managers should undertake biodiversity risks assessments, and implement measures to mitigate identified risks. The high conservation value (HCV) approach provides a robust framework for identifying and managing the ecological, environmental and social impacts of forest operations with the engagement of relevant stakeholders. The implementation of reduced impact logging techniques has been shown to greatly improve biodiversity and environmental outcomes.
  • Establishing and managing set-aside areas. Biodiversity outcomes in production forests can be improved by delineating and preserving judiciously located set-aside areas to protect old-growth forest and vulnerable habitats, as well as to maintain habitat connectivity. While standards vary among countries, a minimum of around 15% set-aside is often required within a managed forest. These set-asides not only protect threatened habitats and the species they harbour, but also their contribution to local livelihoods and the cultural values they represent. The HCV approach serves as a valuable tool for prioritizing areas for set-aside.
  • Protecting critical biodiversity resources. The impacts of forest management on biodiversity can be further mitigated by retaining and protecting key biodiversity resources within production stands, such as rare plants, nest sites, large trees, hollow trees, dead wood, fruit trees and seed sources for the maintenance of tree genetic diversity.
  • Sustainable management of timber resources. Timber harvesting is a major threat affecting a huge number of tree species. The biggest determinant of the impact of timber harvesting is the volume of timber extracted. Therefore, lower harvesting volume combined with a longer rotation period would result in higher time-averaged biodiversity value overall. In order to ensure long-term viability of commercial timber species, carefully implemented harvesting operations with appropriate limits need to be combined with appropriate silvicultural treatments.
  • Regulating non-wood forest product harvest. Harvesting of NWFPs, including plant resources and animals, has substantial impact on biodiversity. Therefore, appropriate regulation of NWFP harvest and sustainable management of these species are required to ensure their sustainability. NWFPs come from a diverse range of species, and each species requires case specific management.
  • Sustainable management of forest genetic resources. The conservation of genetic diversity and sustainable management of genetic resources in production forests is an often overlooked aspect of forest biodiversity conservation. Intraspecific diversity is likely to be essential for climate change resilience. Steps that can be taken to maintain and enhance genetic diversity of tree resources include: establishing set-aside areas; reducing damage to residual stands and the under-storey during forest operations; maintaining forest connectivity; and integrating genetic diversity considerations in tree planting.
  • Managing and controlling invasive species. Some forest management activities can increase the risk of invasive species. Invasive species may arrest natural regeneration or dominate naturally open habitats, increasing fire risks and negatively impacting biodiversity. Thus, forest managers should implement an invasive species management plan, including the monitoring and eradication of invasive species that enter the forest area and controlling already-established invasive species that pose a threat to the forest ecosystem.
  • Protecting forests from illegal and unauthorized activities. Production forests are often susceptible to encroachment as well as unauthorized and unsustainable harvesting of NWFPs, which is a major cause of biodiversity loss. To address this issue, forest managers should put in place forest enforcement teams to prevent and monitor illegal activities. Cooperation with local communities, including co-management of NWFP resources, is essential to building a social fence for forest protection.

Read Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Forestry here


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