Forests: maintaining the balance

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Forests are a vital and productive resource able to contribute sustainably to the quality of human life in multiple ways. Human history is intimately linked with forests and virtually all of the world's forests have been modified or managed by human societies since time immemorial. Until recently the impact of much human intervention has been to enhance or maintain forest values to people. Some 400 million people in the developing world still depend on these traditional forms of forest management. Forests are now threatened by our more inter-connected and resource hungry world. Forests contribute at least 3% - 6% of GDP in most countries, the contribution often being higher in poor countries with limited economic opportunities. In many places, however, these benefits are being captured in perverse ways by corrupt elites or squandered by unsustainable exploitation. Concern at this inequity and irretrievable loss of biological resources has provoked an environmental backlash manifested in calls to put forests off-limits. The debate on forests has become polarised between those who advocate full-blooded commercial profit maximisation and those who want to lock-up the remaining forests in museums. The way forward requires that people abandon these extreme positions. It must be recognised that people will conserve forests when it is worth their while to do so. The objective of forestry must be to achieve balance between the multiple products and services provided by forests and not to focus exclusively on narrow interests, whether short-term profit or permanent preservation. Management must not be determined either by urban lobbying groups or sawmill operators. Forest uses must balance the legitimate requirements of the full range of local and distant interested parties. Conservation agendas must be pragmatic and set by people who are in touch with the realities of both nature and society.

    Cadman, H. ed.. 2000. The food and environment tightrope: proceedings of a seminar conducted by the Crawford Fund for International Agricultural Research, Parliament House, Canberra, 24 November 1999. 47-58

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    Sayer, J.A.


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