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Domestic Linkages:
Addressing the Four Threats in an International Context

The Chief of the Forest Service has identified four major threats to the nation's forests and grasslands: fire and fuels, loss of open space, invasive species, and unmanaged recreation.
Increasing population and demand for resources have led to:

  • ·An increase in the magnitude and severity of wildfires;
  • Conversion of forests and other open spaces to agriculture or urban lands;
  • An influx of exotic invasive species; and
  • Damage to resources from unmanaged recreation.

Just as these issues spill across boundaries and affect our nation's public and private forests, they also cross international boundaries. Through International Programs and other partners, the Forest Service is working to define and address the four threats in an international context. Our work focuses on sharing domestic experiences with international partners and learning from the experiences of countries that are addressing similar issues.

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This overview provides a brief look at how the US Forest Service and partners throughout the world are addressing the four threats in an international context. The four accompanying discussion papers provide an in-depth look at the programs, initiatives, and agreements that the world community uses to tackle issues of common concern. We hope these papers give a greater sense of the global context in which the sustainable management of forests in the United States occurs.

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Scope of the Four Threats

Global Extent of Wildland Fire
In recent years, wildfire has been more frequent, intense, and extensive, mostly because human activities over the past 100 years have altered the fire regimes under which forests developed. An estimated 300 to 400 million hectares (ha) (750 million to 1 billion acres) of tropical forest are affected by wildfire each year (Rosenzweig et al. 2003).

Global extent of land use conversion
In 1990s, the world lost 14.6 million ha (35 million acres) of forest per year when those lands were converted to agricultural and urban uses. However, we gained 5.2 million ha (12.8 million acres) per year worldwide in plantations, reforestation, and natural expansion, for a net loss of 9.6 million ha (23.7 million acres) of forest per year (FAO 2001).

Global extent of invasive species
In the past century, at least 4,500 species of non-native plants, animals, and microbes have become established in the United States, of which about 15% are considered harmful (OTA 1993). In other parts of the world, the problem can be even more severe, such as in New Zealand where 47% of plant species are non-native (WRI 2003). As global travel and trade continue to expand, the threat of non-native species introductions will continue to rise.

Global extent of unmanaged recreation
Internationally, the issue of "unmanaged" or inappropriate recreation often is addressed through a focus on ecotourism, typically in the context of travel to protected areas. Globally, 12.4% of forests are classified as protected by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) (FAO 2001). Tourism is the world's largest industry, supporting approximately 200 million jobs worldwide and generating industry revenues in excess of $475 billion (TNC 2001). The hope of capturing ecotourism dollars can provide incentives for the protection of the world's great natural and cultural resources, although experiences in the 1990s have tempered many forest managers' expectations about the economic returns of ecotourism.

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Lack of Reliable Information Globally

Despite the concern for such issues, there continues to be a lack of reliable and regularly collected data to inform management of the threats globally. For example:

  • Fire and fuels--Little accurate or timely information is available on the number of fires, area burned, and biomass consumed annually at the national, regional and global scales, or about the social economic and environmental costs of these fires (Truesdale and Goldammer 2003).

  • Land use conversion--Information on land use change is unavailable in a timely manner or at spatial scales where managers can use it for much of the world. Furthermore, there is no universally accepted way to measure fragmentation.

  • Invasive Species--The unpredictability and sheer numbers of possible invasive species mean that new invasions may go undetected until they are already established. Invasive species may behave differently in their introduced environment than they do in their native ecosystems.

  • Unmanaged Recreation--Because much outdoor recreation is dispersed through relatively undeveloped areas, accurate estimates may be difficult to obtain. In addition, statistics on ecotourism trips may be indistinguishable from more general figures on international tourism.

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Links and Lessons: How Can International Activities Help Address the Four Threats

Multilateral Policy and Technical Forums
Through periodic meetings, conferences, technical workshops, and publications, international organizations and agreements facilitate joint action and shared learning about the issues facing the world's forests. Regular meetings may look at a broad range of issues affecting forests; specific workshops or sessions may focus on particular issues, including the issues addressed in the Chief's four threats.

A few examples of international agreements and organizations in which the US Forest Service participates include the:

  • UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO);
  • UN Forum on Forests (UNFF);
  • World Conservation Union (IUCN);
  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD);
  • International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO); and
  • Montreal Process for Sustainable Forest Management.

Other international gatherings are more directly focused on particular components of the four threats. For example, the 3rd International Wildland Fire Conference was held in fall 2003 in Australia. Also in fall 2003, the IUCN hosted the World Parks Congress in South Africa, where the issue of recreation in protected areas was a key topic. Delegations of US Forest Service and other U.S. Government professionals attended these meetings to share the lessons learned here in the U.S. and to bring back the best practices in use around the world.

Cooperative Learning and Capacity Building
International meetings and technical forums offer opportunities for U.S. forest managers to exchange information, foster international cooperation, and facilitate the pooling of resources to improve both domestic and international capacity to address the issues. Whether specific activities and exchanges are developed and adopted at a formal policy or technical session or simply evolve out of growing international networks, cooperative learning and capacity building can go a long way toward addressing the four threats more consistently and effectively worldwide. For example:

  • Fire and fuels. Wildfire management is a good example of an arena in which the world is adopting common approaches to the problem while still maintaining the flexibility to address specific conditions for the area in question. General Guiding Principles for Wildland Fire Management were adopted at the 2003 Wildland Fire Summit (Hamilton et al. 2003). The incident command system has been adopted as the standard model for wildfire response, facilitating cooperation in fires that cross international boundaries or emergency response when an emergency exceeds the capacity of a particular nation. The Nature Conservancy's Fire Learning Networks (TNC 2003) provide regional and local forums for managers to share lessons learned and build support for appropriate fire restoration, mitigation, and suppression training and policies.

  • Invasive Species. Special databases, such as that hosted by the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), provide a central repository where managers can learn about potential invasive species threats and response actions.

  • Land use conversion. Environmental credits for water, carbon, or wildlife may provide an incentive to help address the problem of land use conversion. Many countries, from Australia to Costa Rica, are experimenting with environmental-credit approaches, which can provide lessons and can serve as serve as models for similar programs here in the United States.

  • Unmanaged recreation. Classification systems such as IUCN's scheme for protected areas provide a common background for discussion and might provide a framework for the management of appropriate recreational use in various areas. In addition, international experiences with ecotourism-including potential certification systems for "green" ecotourism concessionaires-might provide another tool for recreation managers in the United States.

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Shared information, tools, networks, and a broader perspective can help U.S. resource professionals sustainably manage America's forests in the face of the four threats. The United States has much to share with-and has much it can learn from-the world in addressing these issues.

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For more information on international aspects of the four main threats to our national forests, click on one of the US Forest Service International Programs' discussion papers below (in PDF format):

  • Hamilton, L., G. Morgan, and J. Williams. 2003. Guiding Principles for Wildland Fire Management. International Wildland Fire Summit Paper #1. Sydney, Australia. <> [accessed 5/20/04].
  • Rosenzweig, L., J. Rickards, and J.M. Frausto. 2003. Cultural Practices of Fire Management in Indigenous Communities with Forestry Resources and its Effects on the Economic-Ecological Environment. Proceedings of the 3rd International Wildland Fire Conference and Exhibition, 3-6 October 2003, Sydney, Australia.
  • The Nature Conservancy [TNC]. 2001 Special Report: Ecotourism. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, Virginia.
  • The Nature Conservancy [TNC]. 2003. The Nature Conservancy's Fire Initiative. Brochure. <> [accessed 11/3/2003].
  • Truesdale, D. and J. Goldammer. 2003. Strategy for Future Development of International Cooperation in Wildland Fire Management. International Wildland Fire Summit Paper #4. Sydney, Australia. <> [accessed 5/20/04].
  • United Nations [UN] Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO]. 2001. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000. FAO Forestry Paper #140. FAO, Rome, Italy. 482p.
  • U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment [OTA]. 1993. Harmful Non-Indigenious Species in the United States. OTA-F-565. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.
  • World Resources Institute [WRI]. 2003. Bio-invasions Website. <> [accessed 15 October 2003].

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For More Information

International Programs contacts:

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