This article, written by Barbara Fraser from CIFOR, discusses when a forest is no longer a forest due to its degradation. Read the criteria proposed by some authors.
As countries ponder incentives to slow the degradation of their tropical forests, a huge, unanswered question looms: What exactly is a degraded forest?
Programs that provide such incentives, such as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), a U.N.-backed initiative, face the challenge of accurate measurements of deforestation and degradation. New criteria can help address that problem.
“The difficulty is that what some people consider a degraded forest may not look degraded to others,” said Manuel Guariguata, a principal scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
“There are hundreds of definitions of forest degradation, but they don’t clarify where the threshold lies for defining what is degraded and what is not.”
Guariguata and colleagues aim to remedy the problem with a set of five guideline criteria that forest managers and land-use planners can use to evaluate the state of a forest and determine whether use of its resources is sustainable.
Those criteria: long-term production of forest goods and services; biodiversity; unusual disturbances such as fire or invasive species; carbon storage; and the forest’s ability to protect soil. The criteria can be given a different weighting depending on the forest-management goals.
The researchers describe the criteria and how they can be measured in a paper, “An Operational Framework for Defining and Monitoring Forest Degradation”, published in the journal Ecology and Society.
“We did not create a specific definition of degradation, but our work provides guidance about how land planners and managers can apply different dimensions of degradation to their own work,” Guariguata said.
Forest managers can decide which criteria are most important in their own situations, he said. In many cases, they can then use remote-sensing technology, such as satellite images, to continue to monitor the state of the forests.
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