We have to focus way beyond the forest sector to save forests
What are the most threatening trends concerning forests worldwide?
- If you want a really high level answer to that question, you could boil it down to loss of forests, or deforestation, and degradation of forests. And broadly speaking the issue of forest loss is concentrated in the tropics where we have an expansion of the agricultural infrastructure frontier and basically conversion of forest to other land use such as palms. In the temperate regions we have less of a problem of outright forest loss, but we have much bigger problems around degradation of forests and disturbance to old-growth forests.
In what ways has the WWF’s work on forests changed over the years?
- If you look at the history of WWF, we first started working on species protection, on parks for species. Then, as that evolved, we had a mantra of ‘protect, manage and restore’. So that meant we were working in the forests on a combination of protecting them, improving the way they were logged and also restoration of forest where they have been severely damaged in the past. Then the third evolution is where we are now - when we recognize that many of the threats to forests are coming from outside of the forest. So this is the expansion of agriculture and infrastructure, investment flows. And it’s a problem that forests can’t compete with other land uses that get higher short term gain. So the third phase is to recognize that we have to focus way beyond the forest sector to save forests.
Some governments in Central and Eastern Europe say that they’d prefer to work for the economic development of their country and think later about nature or, say, protecting the forests. What are your thoughts?
- I think it’s a dangerous strategy, because there are certain aspects of ecological services and biodiversity that are irreplaceable once they are lost. If you decline to a point, recovery of some sort may happen over the long term but certain things would be lost forever. And it’s a bit like running down your natural capital. It’s like having a bank account and running it down to zero. It’s better to use your interest and to keep your capital and to use the “natural interest” which comes from the growth in forests. And that means to extract wood at a rate in which it can be replaced, stewardship strategy rather than run it down to the ground and to try to recover what can’t be recovered.