Monday, August 1, 2011

Can We Conserve Our Forests?

Will forests, like this one on San Juan Island...Image via WikipediaBy Wendy Moyer

Forests are mostly celebrated for their timber, fodder, fuel wood and other non-timber forest products that they provide. What is not universally appreciated is just how much forests contribute to crucial ecosystem services.

Forests are indispensable as far as protecting watersheds that are upstream and separating carbon from the atmosphere is concerned. And they must continue intact in order to conserve gene pools and guarantee biodiversity so that future generations will be able to enjoy nature's bounty and beauty.

Forest environmental services include nutrient recycling, the regulation of the climate and the water cycle, soil formation, and plant pollination.

There is an ever growing demand for the goods that forests provide mankind. That's quite obvious. What's not as obvious or as widely recognized is that there is an increased need for the services that forests provide to our ecosystem.

One of the reasons is that society at large has not assigned any financial terms or financial measures to these values. As a result, forest environmental services are usually not included in our national GDP (Gross Domestic Product) statistics. In addition, there are not many established, well developed markets for such services.

Luckily, things are beginning to change.

Our culture is becoming more aware of how we really need to pay more than lip service to these services. Many people are beginning to realize that we need to place a value on these services in order to make better decisions involving land use changes in our nation's forests.

As a result, decisions will be based on the true long term values that our forests offer instead of just the potential short term profits from the tangible goods that they provide.

In addition, there's an urgent need to cultivate the appropriate mechanisms, which may or may not be market based, that will facilitate the standardization of these approaches. What has to be done is to formulate a methodology that will offer direct incentives to institutions and communities that actively protect our forests and provide these services.

Amply demonstrating the entire range of the ecosystem and the potential economic benefits are only part of the equation.

Another part is discerning applicable methods to equitably capture the aforementioned values and benefits that our forests provide over the long term. Once this is accomplished various incentives for the private sector, local and national governments, and local communities that focus on promoting sustainable forest management can then be put into place.

It is of the utmost importance that responsible citizens who are truly interested in conserving what our forests have to offer are the people who are given the responsibility for formulating these criteria. That's because, as has been proven time and time again, economic instruments can be designed to either benefit or to undermine conservation efforts.

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