Plantation forests can provide most goods and services that are provided by natural forests. These include timber, nontimber forest products, protection of clean water and clean air, soil erosion control, biodiversity, esthetics, carbon sequestration, and climate control. Nonetheless, as the value of environmental services from natural forests is higher than that from forest plantations, the demand for conservation of natural forests is stronger. It is possible that a division of land, with some land specialized in timber production and other land in providing environmental services, would produce more forest-related goods and services to society. Because forest plantations grow much faster than natural forests, forest plantations are seen as an increasingly important source of timber supply. Should more forest plantations be developed, more natural forests might be saved.
In 1995, natural forests contributed some 78% of global industrial timber supply, and the remaining was from forest plantations. With growing concerns about the status and loss of natural forests, the rapid expansion of protected areas, and large areas of forest unavailable for wood supply, plantations are increasingly expected to serve as a source of timber. The general trend of the sector is for timber supply to shift from natural forests to plantations.
A simple simulation of global timber supply and demand, allowing forest plantations and their productivity to extend at the current rate, has shown that logging on natural forests could fall by half, from about 1.3 billion m in 2000 to about 600 million m3 in 2025. Thus, forest plantations will have an increasingly significant role in substituting products from natural forests, even if they cannot replace harvests from natural forests for a long period of time.
One side impact of forest plantation development is that the supply of large quantities of low-cost timber could perhaps undermine the value of natural forest stands, leading to more rapid destruction, especially where legal frameworks and law enforcement are inadequate. Therefore from a global perspective, the transition from natural forests as the primary source of timber supply to forest plantations will take a long time. Nonetheless, the transition has been completed in some countries such as New Zealand and Chile.
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