10 Things You Should Know

5. Have special forests been protected?

For the purposes of this guide, the term "special forests" is used as a generic term for areas with unique qualities within the forest landscape (Box 10: What constitutes a special forest?). They typically need special attention and treatment. Depending on their features and significance, these forests can be identified at different scales (e.g., global, regional, local scale). Some global, course-scale maps of special forests exist, and they can be used to identify areas where a site-specific evaluation should be performed.

Some special forests are legally protected, but this is not always the case. There can be several reasons for the lack of legal protection:

  • The uniqueness of a site may not have been identified, either because of insufficient inventory efforts or because the science of conservation biology has improved since the last inventory was made.
  • The political and administrative process to secure protection can be cumbersome and slow. Another possibility is that the law does not contain provisions for protecting special forests of this particular type.
  • The site may be private property or otherwise of important economic value to a community. Incentives to gain support for special designation may be lacking.
  • An assessment process may have concluded that the area is not sufficiently special to warrant protection.
  • Stakeholders may differ in their opinion of what qualifies as a special forest.

While there is general agreement that forest management should respect legally protected areas, the situation can be unclear and complex when a legally unprotected area is claimed as a special forest. There are several possibilities:

  • The area may have been identified as special and an official government-led initiative is underway to protect it. In this case voluntary protection efforts are needed to maintain the special values of the area until it gets official protection. These can include protection measures by land managers. There may also be marketplace pressures to reject wood products harvested from the area, regardless of its legal status. This may or may not contribute to protection, depending on community reaction, and its effect on government decision-makers.
  • The area may not be slated for official protection. A stakeholder conflict may then ensue, with some environmental and/or indigenous groups trying to enforce market protection of the site pending a change of minds by the authorities. In some cases, such conflict has led land managers to agree to a logging moratorium, pending government consideration. In others it has had no effect or led to disinvestment or land sales.

In either case land ownership or tenure is significant. A public or large owner may have a greater capacity to absorb a reduction of the productive land base than a small private landowner, but also may be more affected by perceived instability. Cooperation among small private landowners such as pursuing group certification may effectively take care of the special forest. Boycott campaigns do not always have local support and can create a political backlash against the customer and other stakeholders.

Different stakeholders, including mainstream certification standards, have coined different definitions of special forests (Table 12: Definitions related to special forests). With few exceptions, the areas that correspond to these definitions have not been mapped, making it difficult to analyze the extent to which they overlap. Along with the definition, stakeholders have recommended management regimes for these special forests, including:

  • Precautionary management - ensuring that special values are identified and protected before management plans are developed.
  • Sustainable Forest Management (SFM)- integrating and balancing environmental, social and economic aspects across the landscape. Small-scale adaptations of management to promote conservation that do not significantly reduce the economic potential of the land, e.g., through protection of so-called key woodland habitats, are usually considered an inherent part of good forest management.
  • Conservation management - managing to retain or enhance the ecological and biological values, which may or may not include limited timber harvesting.
  • No management at all (i.e., leaving the forest by itself).
  • A combination of all of these across the larger landscape.

The diversity of definitions of special forests and definitions of forest in general is a major concern. International organizations such as FAO, International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and UNEP have compiled forest definitions (FAO, 2002A) but do not offer any generally accepted definition for special forests. The lack of a universally agreed upon definition of special forestsis a major concern, and the stakeholder support for each definition varies.

Factors to consider regarding special forests

  • Some special forests are yet to be located. Investment in time and resources is needed to identify them across the landscape.
  • An initial inventory and analysis of the landscape as a whole will generally make it easier to find solutions that satisfy the needs and ambitions of all stakeholders. However, some aspects require special consideration:
    • There might be many small players involved (e.g., small landowners) who need to be considered and consulted because they may be affected out of proportion to their size
    • If the demand for forest products is removed from an area, the landowner is likely to find other ways to generate revenue from the land, e.g., through land-use change to development (urban sprawl) or for production of agricultural crops.

Some forestry companies have used the following steps to overcome potential issues around special forests:

  • Engagement with stakeholders to develop a common platform of definitions and a common process for mapping of conservation values and/or field inventory.
  • Reference to, or engagement with, third-parties to define and map special forests.
  • Pursuit of legal opportunities to protect special forests by encouraging land transfers to conservation organizations or establishing conservation easements.