Scaling new heights in restoring and managing forest landscapes

Highlighting the importance of ecosystems and the services they provide has been an important part of IUCN’s work to better understand the value of forests at each level of the global economy, writes Stephen Kelleher, Deputy Director of IUCN’s Forest Programme.

Malva Nut (NTFPs) Management Project under LLS _ IUCN Lao Photo: IUCN Lao

One such initiative which has generated valuable new knowledge about variations in poverty and forest dependence in communities living next to forests, has been our Landscapes and Livelihoods Strategy (LLS). For five years now—and ending its first phase in 2011—LLS has been improving sustainable management of natural resources, and the lives of people who depend on them, in more than 20 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

On a global level, we have learnt from LLS that the direct benefits from forests are worth around US$ 130 billion every year: roughly equivalent to annual ODA worldwide! We have also discovered that forest reliance worldwide varies between about 25% and 40% of total annual income.

LLS builds on the ecosystem approach in taking a ‘landscape’ perspective which looks at and manages forests as part of a broader and more complex ecological and socio-economic system. This has allowed us to deliver custom-made responses according to the specific features of each of the diverse landscapes.

To mention just one of many examples, in China, we’ve been working in the Miyun watershed, which supplies up to 80% of the freshwater used in Beijing. Worsening water shortages in Beijing have been directly linked to the disappearance and degradation of much of the original forest in the watershed. When it first recognized this, the government tried to resolve the problems by imposing a strict logging quota but the forest quality and water supply continued to be less than ideal.

IUCN’s LLS project worked with local authorities and communities to introduce a more integrated form of landscape management and restoration which recognized the multiple needs and functions of the watershed and which brought together the many different stakeholders. This included piloting a partial lifting of the logging quota. A new set of forest management practices was introduced, representing a shift from a strict protective approach, towards more sustainable resource use through active management by forest-based communities.

This has resulted in a formal agreement that recognizes different forest management and forest use regimes, merging the technical information held by government foresters with local knowledge and priorities. Forest regeneration projects are being carried out by local communities, resulting in natural forest regeneration and improvements in forest structure, quality and function.

There are other positive outcomes: A permit for harvesting timber has been secured—the first to be issued in more than 20 years—and a new system of harvesting fuel wood has been established. Community-based cooperatives are being established to develop the market potential of forest goods and services, with the aim of increasing and diversifying local livelihoods in the long-term.

In a landmark result indicating the influence LLS has had in catalyzing change beyond the working landscapes, IUCN was delighted to hear in August that the party secretary of Beijing municipal government has recommended to the Beijing Municipal Parks and Forestry Bureau that a scaling-up plan be devised, following the Miyun model.

LLS is consistent with our work elsewhere on promoting and promoting community-based, locally-controlled forests, which we see as key to sustainable forestry reaching its global objectives. At IUCN, with our partners, we have been working on many varied examples of this, and we have found in many cases that, in addressing the issues of local rights and tenure of forested landscapes, it is often small, subtle changes that can unleash wide-scale, positive change.

In the area around Mount Elgon in Uganda, for example, we worked with the local community and partners and authorities on locally-developed land-use by-laws which went on to gain government recognition and approval. This resulted in multiple benefits, including significantly increased agricultural yields, decreased soil erosion and reduced sedimentation, and also reduced tensions between stakeholders and neighbouring communities.

These are just some of the many outcomes IUCN is proud to highlight from a very important year for forests—all of which are made possible through the invaluable contributions of IUCN’s members, partners and Secretariat.

2011 was the globally-celebrated International Year of Forests, but of course every year is vital for the world’s forests and IUCN will continue to build on current success in the conservation of the world’s forests, and their enormous contribution to the survival of biodiversity and human society.

Much work remains to be done— and the potential is vast. We know from our work with the Global Partnership for Forest Landscape Restoration that the potential for working via innovative landscape restoration is truly enormous: more than two billion hectares have been identified worldwide. That is approximately equivalent to an area twice the size of Europe and represents a staggering opportunity for forests—and for all of us who depend on them and benefit from them.

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