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Criterion 7: Legal, Institutional, and Economic Framework for Forest Conservation and Sustainable Management

Criterion 7 contains 20 indicators and addresses the crucial question of whether current legal, institutional, and economic structures are adequate to sustainably manage the Nation’s forests. Most of the indicators in the criterion, however, are not amenable to concise quantified measurement. Characterizing national trade policies in terms of their affect on forest sustainability, for example, entails an analysis framework and synthesis of information more appropriate to a full research paper than to a limited set of numerical indicators presented in a two page brief. Consequently, much of the indicator development for Criterion 7 in the 2003 report relied on separate narrative assessments that identify key concepts and policy components, but had little in the way of quantifiable information and were difficult to update in a consistent fashion.

For the 2010 report, we have used a more systematic approach, applying a common framework for analysis across all of the indicators in the criterion. This framework characterizes the various policy elements covered by the indicators in terms of their scale (e.g., national or local); their mechanisms (e.g., command-and-control or market-based); and their approach (e.g., process-based or outcomes-based). This framework has lead to a more integrated approach entailing more front-end theoretical development than the other indicators, as described in the introduction to Criterion 7 indicator briefs.

The application of this approach to Criterion 7 indicates that a wide variety of legal, institutional, and economic approaches exist that encourage sustainable forest management in the United States, at all levels of government. Public laws govern public lands, which comprise about one-third of the Nation’s forests. They dictate management and public involvement in various specific ways. Federal and State laws also provide for technical and financial support, research, education, and planning assistance on private forest lands. Federal and State environmental laws protect wildlife and endangered species in forests on all public and private lands, and foster various levels of forest practices regulation or best management practices to protect water quality, air quality, or other public goods depending on the State. Private markets allocate forest resources on most private forest lands, and market contracts for goods and services, or cost minimization at least, are integral parts of forest management on public lands. Many new market based mechanisms, including forest certification, wetland banks, payments for environmental services, conservation easements, and environmental incentives are also being developed to implement sustainable forest management in the United States.

Ideally, the new approach taken in addressing Criterion 7 will help us develop a better understanding over time of the ways in which policy and institutional capacity affects forest sustainability. It should be noted, however, that the MP C&I revised the Criterion 7 indicators in November 2008, due in part to the difficulties experienced in addressing them in the 2003 report. The outcome of this process will determine the extent to which the work on Criterion 7 presented in this document becomes a foundation for future reporting. In any case, the analysis presented here should provide a useful way of characterizing and understanding a broad and complex topic area.

Of the many indicators in the criterion, Indicator 7.58 stands out as a special case. It provides a summarization of data adequacy for all of the indicators addressed in the report.

Source: National Report on Sustainable Forests — 2010

Criterion 7 Indicators