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A Visionary Approach to Sustainable Forestry

by Patrick B. Durst and Thomas Enters
The Asia-Pacific region can boast of rich native forests--with unique forest management challenges.
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Patrick Durst and Thomas Enters are, respectively, the senior forestry officer and forestry sector analysis specialist for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand.

Forestry faces a dilemma: Consumer demand for forest products is rising, yet so is social demand for less destruction from timber harvest. Many people see a solution to the dilemma in reduced-impact logging.

From a purely technical standpoint, reduced-impact logging is all about harvesting with fewer soil disturbances and less incidental damage to remaining trees. But reduced-impact logging involves much more than merely learning new techniques or practices. It calls for changes in attitudes and behavior, and-perhaps most importantly-a sincere commitment to sustainable forest management, translated into actual changes on the ground.

Changing behavior and generating commitment require a visionary, long-term, step-by-step approach. The Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission, one of six regional forestry commissions in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, is taking that approach. Since the mid-1990s, the commission has sought to bring diverse stakeholders together in the forestry sector to work toward improved forest management.

In 1999, the Commission published its Code of Practice for Forest Harvesting in Asia-Pacific. The Code has helped guide harvesting practices while providing a model for national codes in several countries. It has won increasing political support, including endorsement by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Ministers for Agriculture and Forestry and Senior Officials on Forestry.

The Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission also helps countries implement national codes. It supported the development of a regional training strategy and disseminates information about reduced-impact logging, including information on the contentious economic and institutional implications of reduced-impact logging. With support from the USDA Forest Service, the commission maintains an electronic list server called RILNET. The server provides members worldwide with a forum to discuss and share information on reduced-impact logging.

In early 2001, the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission organized the International Conference on the Application of Reduced Impact Logging, held in Kuching, Malaysia. Cosponsors included the USDA Forest Service, International Tropical Timber Organization, Center for International Forestry Research, and other organizations. The conference attracted more than 250 participants from 35 countries. Proceedings are scheduled for publication in September 2002.

The conference made several important recommendations for promoting and implementing reduced-impact logging. The enthusiasm and commitment of participants justify cautious optimism that behavior and attitudes are slowly changing. However, considerable challenges lie ahead. Governments, industry, research institutions, and international organizations must intensify their support for reduced-impact logging. Without its widespread adoption and vigorous implementation, the future of the region's valuable native forests remains uncertain.

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