Sustainable Forest Management

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), sustainable development "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and does not imply in any way encroachment upon national sovereignty". It also implies "the maintenance, rational use, and enhancement of the natural resource base that underpins ecological resilience and economic growth". Sustainable development also implies incorporation of environmental concerns and considerations into developing planning and policies (UNEP Statement on Sustainable Development, Governing Council 1989, in Higman et al. 1999). Sustainable development is economically viable, environmentally benign, socially beneficial, and balances present and future needs (Higman et al 1999).

Sustainable forest management (SFM) is management of natural forests in such a way as to minimize the problems associated with timber extraction. SFM has been described as forestry's contribution to sustainable development. It aims at maintaining the productivity of the forest for timber and other human needs through preservation of soil fertility and hydrological stability. In addition, sustainable forest management maintains levels of biodiversity that occur naturally in the forest (Dawkins and Philip 1998). A more complete definition of SFM is given by Bruenig (1996):

... management should aim at forest structures which keep the rainforest ecosystems as robust, elastic, versatile, adaptable, resistant, resilient and tolerant as possible; canopy openings should be kept within the limits of natural gap formation; stand and soil damage should be minimized; felling cycles must be sufficiently long and tree marking so designed that a selection forestry canopy structure and a self regulating stand table are maintained without, or with very little, silvicultural manipulation; the basic principle is to mimic nature as closely as possible to make profitable use of the natural ecosystem dynamics and adaptability, and reduce costs and risks . . ..

Many SFM systems have been designed to follow these guidelines as closely as possible.

In the following section, we describe the principal systems of tropical forest management that have been or are still being used in different regions of the world. Then we focus on some recent initiatives that seek to standardize management techniques with the overall goal of increasing sustainability through the establishment of criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management, along with the development of "better management techniques" for forest management, such as reduced impact logging (RIL).

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