How forests measure up

forest monitoring

The information obtained from forest monitoring can sway investment, policy and management decisions. Having scant information about land and forests can lead to poor, unrealistic, impracticable and often irreversible decisions, resulting in a host of socio-economic and environmental consequences.

Land managers and policy makers need reliable information about forests to work toward their sustainable use and protection. With the number of people on the planet growing exponentially, the demand for forest products, such as wood, is rapidly rising, which makes monitoring an essential tool for planning a sustainable supply for the future. If a sudden insect infestation occurs, for instance, it is important to be able to understand exactly the extent of the damage sustained by the forest. If policy makers have good information before and after an incident occurs, they can then plan salvage and regeneration options and minimize the impact on local economies.

In recent years, public interest in the world’s forests has grown due to increased awareness of biodiversity and the role of forests in climate change. For example, past forest monitoring has provided us with critical data on how forest conversion adds greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. Knowing how a forest is expected to be impacted by climate change in the long term allows for better management practices to be selected. In addition to wood production, forests are monitored for various other reasons, such as watershed protection, biodiversity conservation and the provision of many other environmental services including carbon storage.

Over the past 60 years, forest monitoring and assessment methods have evolved. Now a number of different methods can be used, and most tend to combine field measurements with aerial photography or satellite imagery. While the latest technical tools are attractive, will they add value to time-tested methods?

Do local knowledge and citizen science have a role in monitoring and inventories in your area?

Monitoring forests obviously has a cost attached to it. Evidence shows that there are tangible returns on investments in forest monitoring. But who benefits and how? The World Forestry Congress (7-11 September 2015 in Durban, South Africa) will provide an opportunity to discuss the tangible and qualitative benefits to forest monitoring for multiple purposes.

Read more about the sub-theme “Monitoring forests for better decision-making”.

Picture courtesy: Marco Simola (Center for International Forestry Research/CIFOR)

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