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Sustainable use of forests

Forests are an incredibly rich source of natural resources, but millions of hectares are destroyed every year to meet the increasing demand for paper, wood and other products. If deforestation continues at present rates, the Earth may lose its forests forever.

Sustainable forest management is one way to protect the planet’s forests. This concept encourages the use of forests in a manner that maintains their productivity, biodiversity, vitality and regeneration capacity. By maintaining a balance between the demand for forest products and preserving forest health, the practice aims to manage forests in a way that benefits both consumers and the environment.

To maintain and enhance site productivity, measures are taken to prevent soil erosion, fence out livestock, reduce soil compaction, maintain a leaf layer on the forest floor and allow dead wood to naturally decompose. Tree growth and health is improved by allowing crop trees to grow to maturity, removing diseased, dying or decaying trees, using low-impact logging methods and thinning the number of trees per acre to an appropriate amount. Tree species diversity is also encouraged, and forests are monitored for outbreaks of disease and insects.

Many forests around the world are inadequately managed for a variety of reasons. In developing countries, lack of funding and human resources makes implementing, preparing and monitoring the principles of sustainable forest management difficult.

Other countries are limited in their forest management capabilities by the economic need to provide wood, and others lack the incentives, regulation and legislative abilities to foster environmentally-sound practices.

Consumers can contribute to forest preservation by purchasing only wood harvested from certified sustainable forests. The certification ensures that the wood has been harvested in coordination with replenishment efforts and has not depleted natural reserves. Certification is issued by an independent organization or independent auditors that are familiar with sustainable forest management. Requirements vary by country, but most certification programs require that forest management practices protect biodiversity, wildlife habitats and water quality, have prompt regeneration programs and have harvest levels that are sustainable.

There are over 50 sustainable forest management certification programs in the world today, but the process is still voluntary and only about ten percent of the world’s forests are certified. The approach is growing, though, as companies and governments realize the benefits of protecting one of the Earth’s most valuable resources.