Other uses of Forests

Forests are economically important and offer vital habitat to key species, but they also provide a range of less obvious functions which are essential to humankind and the planet.

Okhotsk-Manchurian taiga forest, the southernmost taiga forest in Eurasia.
© Eugene Egidarev / WWF-Russia

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Forests for recreation

Recreational acitivities offered by forests include camping, fishing, hiking, sight-seeing, boating, cycling and bird watching. All offer positive health benefits to participants, but can also provide great benefit, including financial reward, to local communities as well as forest authorities.

With increasing urbanisation, the demand for outdoor recreational facilities rises, and therefore forested lands near metropolitan areas must be effectively managed.

Ecotourism on the rise

The increased awareness and interest in ecotourism presents an obvious opportunity for forest managers. Opening forests to these opportunities is of economic benefit but can also promote good management practice. However, this requires special expertise to ensure visitor facilities and conservation considerations are finely balanced.

If properly managed, ecotourism can offer a viable alternative income stream to local communities previously dependent on income from unsustainable logging.
 / ©: WWF / Edward PARKER
Cloud forest Sierra Madre, Oaxaca, Mexico
© WWF / Edward PARKER


Grazing in forest areas in a planned and scientific manner can be beneficial for the land. Of course, this depends if the plants are given time for regrowth, and the area is not used too intensively.

Benefits of grazing

Research shows that cattle grazing at low intensity provides biodiversity benefits to forest areas. This is because livestock grazing on ground cover reduces competition for moisture between the vegetation.

Studies in Oregon have shown up to 50% increase in plant growth over 10 to 20 years with the integration of animals into the system.

The flip side

Though woodlands can provide useful forage for livestock, management of forest grazing resources is essential to avoid damage to plant reproduction.

Overgrazing can be counter-productive. Elimination of plant cover and compacting of soil increases soil erosion and surface run-off. Plant reproduction is affected as well, which in turn reduces forage yields.

 / ©: WWF / Michel GUNTHER
Shepherd driving his goats for grazing in the Dadia-Lefkimi & Soufli Forest Game Refuge Greece.
© WWF / Michel GUNTHER

Forests and water

The bulk of the Earth's rainfall is received by mountains. Not surprising then that mountain forests influence the quantity and quality of this precious resource. For example, forests are usually the best cover for safeguarding water quality from sediments and chemicals.

Some evidence suggests that cloud forests and older natural forests can increase net water flow. Montane cloud forests are special kinds of forests that scrape out moisture from the clouds or fog. Having relatively low water use, these forests add to the water supply of a catchment.

Economic value of watersheds

Forest catchment areas can accrue significant economic value. In some circumstances, it is possible to collect user fees from stakeholders (individuals as well as companies) who benefit from drinking water in order to help pay for catchment protection benefits provided by the protected area management.

Protecting the land

Forests can also help prevent erosion, provide better control of rain runoff and snowmelt, reducing the problem of flooding.

Some of the world's largest cities source a significant proportion of drinking water directly from protected forest areas, including:

  • New York
  • Jakarta
  • Tokyo
  • Mumbai
  • Rio de Janeiro
  • Los Angeles
  • Barcelona
  • Nairobi
  • Melbourne

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