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Striving for sustainable forest management

Sustainable forestry was practised in Central Europe in the 19th century and the culture of sustainable use has survived until today in some parts of the region, particularly in Slovenia. In many parts of Western and Central Europe, however, monocultures, especially those consisting of fast-growing commercially valuable coniferous species, have displaced indigenous broadleaved forest species; they are unable to support high biodiversity and are more vulnerable to acidification.

All countries in the region are making efforts to decrease wood production from natural forests and enhance biological diversity and other environmental services and protection functions by managing them in a more sustainable manner. To support these efforts, a framework for Pan-European Forest Certification (PEFC) provides a voluntary mechanism for forest certification and makes provision for mutual recognition of different European national systems and non-European schemes. National PEFC governing bodies have been established in 15 European countries (FAO 2001b).

Another solution to the problem of deforestation is the imposition of fines and other economic instruments on illegal as well as legal cutting. In Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania and Poland revenue for forest protection and reforestation activities is generated through timber extraction charges or fines. In Romania, however, the abolition of self-imposed restrictions on wood exports in 1995, combined with increased prices for sawn timber, have led environmentalists to fear increases in illegal cutting and overexploitation (REC 2000).

In addition to national actions, European countries are parties to international collaborative efforts which directly or indirectly address forest issues. Several broad international agreements covering the protection of species, such as the CBD, CITES and RAMSAR Convention, also indirectly protect forests. The European Community Council Directive 92/43/EC on the conservation of natural habitats of wild fauna and flora (the Habitats Directive) entered into force in June 1994. However, two of its requirements - incorporation in national legislation and the submission of national lists of Natura 2000 candidate sites - have not been fulfilled by all Member States.

There have been three Ministerial Conferences on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFEs) since 1990. The second (Helsinki 1993) agreed on a common definition of sustainable forest management (see box). The third (Lisbon 1998) put special emphasis on the socio-economic aspects of sustainable forest management. Resolutions were adopted on People, Forests and Forestry, on Pan-European Criteria (see box) and on Indicators and Operational Guidelines for Sustainable Forest Management (MCPFE Liaison Unit 2000). The resolutions are now being integrated into an overall work programme (FAO 2001a).

Pan-European criteria for sustainable forest management

'Sustainable management means the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems' (Resolution H1, 2nd meeting, Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE)). Criteria for sustainable forest management adopted by MCPFE in 1998:

  • maintenance and appropriate enhancement of forest resources and their contribution to global carbon cycles;
  • maintenance of forest ecosystem health and vitality;
  • maintenance and encouragement of productive functions of forests (wood and non-wood);
  • maintenance, conservation and appropriate enhancement of biological diversity in forest ecosystems;
  • maintenance and appropriate enhancement of protective functions in forest management (notably soil and water); and
  • maintenance of other socio-economic functions and conditions.
Source: MCPFE Liaison Unit (2000)