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Environmental, Campaign & Website News > Save Secondary Forests Too

Save Secondary Forests Too

Date : 23rd May 2002, Source : Newsgroup

The Jakarta Post
Monday, May 20, 2002

Cesar Sabogal, CIFOR scientist, Bogor, West Java

"Save our forests" has been a familiar catchphrase in the media for the past 20 years. And the message has been pretty much the same during that time: More effort is needed to save the pristine rainforests in South America, Indonesia and around the world.

Such demands deserve the attention of each and every one of us. However, in focusing only on saving unspoiled forests, we overlook the millions of hectares of damaged primary forests and secondary forests.

This in no way suggests we should write off primary forests in favor of secondary forests. Primary forests must remain at the forefront of our thinking. But at the same time, it is appropriate we now acknowledge that if they are managed properly, damaged primary forests and secondary forests can contribute significantly to the world's environmental and economic well-being. In doing so, these damaged and secondary forests can provide an alternative resource to primary forests and lend resonance to the "save our forests" cry.

Secondary forests are of major interest to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) Council, meeting this week in Bali. The ITTO is one of the world's largest forums for countries that produce and consume tropical timber. Items for discussion at the ITTO session in Bali include guidelines for the management of secondary forests, the restoration of degraded primary forests and the rehabilitation of degraded tropical lands.

The management of secondary forests is particularly relevant to Indonesia, where 21 percent of forestland is degraded. Certainly it is an issue the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry is addressing by developing production forest management units for managing forest concession areas, including post-extraction secondary forests, based on conservation, sustainability and sound business principles.

Degradation of forests is primarily the result of human activities and is exacerbated by poverty and population pressure on the one hand, and human greed on the other. In addition to excessive logging, human activities that profoundly impact on forests include over-harvesting, over-grazing and repeated fires.

Degraded primary forests and secondary forests include all forests and forestlands that have been altered beyond the normal effects of natural processes through unsustainable use. Degraded primary forests refers to forests whose old-growth cover has been so affected by unsustainable use they no longer have the capacity to fully recover in the near to medium term without management intervention. Secondary forests occur where land has been cleared of its original forest vegetation and woody vegetation has taken over.

If properly managed, both types of forests have the potential to generate significant environmental and economic benefits. Under certain conditions they can reduce pressure on primary forests through their potential to produce both wood and non-wood forest products. Furthermore, they fulfill environmental functions and can play a useful role in biodiversity conservation.

Of major interest to the ITTO is the implementation of its guidelines for improving the world's estimated 500 million hectares of degraded tropical forests. Prepared by several environmental agencies, including the Indonesian-based Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) the guidelines advocate a collaborative approach that recognizes the priorities and objectives of concerned stakeholders in rehabilitating degraded forest areas and secondary forests.

Degraded and secondary forests are often used by the poorer segments of rural populations to supplement their livelihoods. They are accessible to local people and can provide a range of goods that meet immediate livelihood concerns, such as timber for village dwellings, fencing and posts, spices, herbal medicines and culturally important artifacts.

A large portion of these lands can also support food production with improved land use practices such as agroforestry techniques. In addition, degraded primary forests and secondary forests are today the largest land reserve for agriculture and livestock production. If conversion into these land-uses is adequately planned and the converted areas properly managed, they can minimize local pressure on the remaining primary forests.

There remain, however, large tracts of degraded and secondary forests that cannot be economically converted specifically for agriculture or intensive tree crop development. They are also financially less attractive for commercial timber exploitation.

In many instances, however, they have considerable potential to be rehabilitated and managed productively and sustainably under collaborative arrangements as multiple-use forests.

Properly restored, managed and valued, secondary forests can occupy an important role for the less intensive production of timber, wood and non-wood forest products for local and national use, and even international trade. Ultimately, this will help reduce poverty.

CIFOR is playing a significant role in helping achieve this in Indonesia. Working closely with Indonesia's private and public sector, CIFOR is researching the sustainability and productivity of small plantations on degraded and low potential land in the tropics. But the challenge for the government, as it is for CIFOR in its research, is to ensure the redevelopment process of secondary forests has the full participation of all stakeholders, especially those at the grassroots level who depend on forests for their day-to-day survival.

For too long the emphasis on the "save our rainforests" message has meant we have almost completely ignored the importance of secondary and damaged primary forest. While few would dispute the need to save the remaining pristine jungles around the world, it is time we accepted that damaged primary forests and secondary forests are more the rule than the exception. As important environmental assets and a vital source of local livelihoods, they deserve proper management.

It is time the environmental and socio-cultural benefits of the restoration and management of degraded and secondary forests were fully recognized and endorsed at the national and international levels. If sustainably developed, damaged and secondary forests can provide an economic alternative to exploiting primary forests.

Save our secondary forests too, and help save our primary forests as well.

Document last updated on Wednesday 01 August 2018

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